The term bastardy used to refer to a child born to an unmarried mother. Another word for bastardy is illegitimate. Both words have fallen out of common usage. The term that is commonly used today is out of wedlock. However, for centuries bastard was used to describe a child born to unwed parents.
The word bastard was less of a legal term than an insult. In fact, the word bastardy has always been insulting, long before the informal meaning of the word developed. The word bastardy also refers to a man who has violent tendencies.
In history, the process of filing a lawsuit to determine paternity was called a bastardy proceeding. The bastardy proceeding would be filed by the unmarried mother in order to gain financial support from the father of the child.
An unmarried mother can establish paternity of a child in several ways. One of the ways is if the father signs an acknowledgment of paternity at birth. Another way is through a paternity suit. An unmarried mother who files a modern day bastardy proceeding will likely be granted some type of DNA test.
The word bastardy has a long history. Although the term is no longer used to describe the status of a child of an unmarried mother, the word is still insulting.