Thursday, March 02, 2006

Choosing a last name for your French baby!

In most countries a legitimate child still takes the father's last name . France took a huge leap forward on January 1, 2005 (joining the already progressive Germany and Denmark) by passing a law which allows parents to choose for their children among the father's and the mother’s last name, or even to give both of them, in whichever order they prefer!

This beats the already forward Spanish system, where everyone carries both last names, but it is the father’s last name that’s transmitted to the descendants.

Only in case of disagreement between the parents, the father’s name will prevail. And, whatever has been chosen for the first child, will apply to all the other siblings.

As a mum, I find this change very gratifying. As an Italian mum, I find it even more democratic and equalizing (in my home country the patriarchal leverage still reigns). So it is not just up to my brother to ensure that the family name will continue existing, I can have that perpetrating role too, for at least the space of one generation. It’s amazing how strongly we are conditioned otherwise, in this sense: I was explaining this to my mum and was telling her that I was considering adding my last name to my son. And I said “It makes even more sense, since I’ll have two boys!” And suddenly realized that it would have made exactly the same sense if I had girls! Shame on me…

This new exciting measure comes with a quite whimsical aftermath, check this out:
When choosing the double names option, the last names will be separated by a double dash (--), to avoid confusion with double last names pre-existing the law (which are still quite frequent in France).

So, in concrete terms, for the first generation there are 4 simple options:

Mr. Martin and Madame Dupont have a child, Pascal. They have the four following options:

  • Pascal Martin
  • Pascal Dupont
  • Pascal Martin -- Dupont
  • Pascal Dupont -- Martin

But what will happen when the second generation will procreate?


If Pascal Dupont--Martin meets Mademoiselle Sylvie DUCHAMPS -- DUBOIS de LACIME, their child will have no less than 14 probabilities:

  • DUPONT
  • DUCHAMPS
  • MARTIN
  • DUBOIS DE LACIME
  • DUPONT -- MARTIN
  • DUCHAMPS -- DUBOIS DE LACIME
  • DUPONT -- DUBOIS DE LACIME
  • DUBOIS DE LACIME -- DUPONT
  • MARTIN -- DUBOIS DE LACIME
  • DUBOIS DE LACIME -- MARTIN
  • DUPONT -- DUCHAMPS
  • DUCHAMPS -- DUPONT
  • MARTIN -- DUCHAMPS
  • DUCHAMPS --MARTIN


Certainly, carrying out genealogic researches in a few centuries will be no fun, however by then mega databases will be available and search engines as we know them will be a vague souvenir.

This feels like real progress to me! For once, let me proclaim "Vive la France!"

7 comments:

giovanni said...

What would you think about giving your children both last names and then let them choose when they are 18 which of the two names they prefer... No, that's awkward. When Milo would choose your last name your husband could see this as a sign... What about keeping the two names in the order your children prefer and then dropping one of the names when they get children? Gosh, I had never realized this creates so much trouble and I'm afraid a search engine is not going to solve it. It is emotions, of parents, of children, of grandchildren... Vive la famille!

Lilian said...

This is very interesting information and your discussion was HILARIOUS!! :)

In Brazil most children are given both parent's last names, but the order is not switched, like in the Spanish countries (it's mother's last name first, father's last) - and I guess people can actually choose which names to pass on. There's no such thing as hyphenated surnames in Brazil either. People always write their full names for everything (e.g. when authoring a book, etc).

I HATE the American way of making people use basically two names, first and last name, and once in a while, a "middle initial" (this middle name becomes a "dummy name"). I was used to be a person with 3 last names (I chose to add my husband's at the end of my parents') and now I can't even use my two "middle initials."

When I named my boys here in the US I decided to give my last name as their "middle" name - that way in Brazil they're OK - with both parents' last names (they have dual citizenship).

Sorry I took so much space :)

Clo said...

Giovanni, I think the choice is really up to the parents and believe me, it's not an easy one. I think fathers will not necessarily embrace the change happily. "The poor kid he's gonna have such a hard time writing his full last name in school...all his paperwork will be complicated...is there enough space on credit cards for all those names?". And yet, I think it is so lovely to pass on both identities to the child. I know I belong to my mum's family as well, but I always had a stronger affiliation with my father's last name and family. And now that I am a mum too, I think it's so wrong. After all, it's US who bear the foetus for 9 months in OUR body and go through most of the rough stuff, let's be frank! Some recognition has to be spared! Kudos to the French, viva the long last names!

Lilian,
thanks for your testimonial; in fact, when researching for the post I realized that in many other cultures and countries this is already mainstream. I could not find a comprehensive comparison, unfortunately. Perhaps we can pull a poll at babycenter's bullettin board!

Alice in Austria said...

Oh Clo (dramatic sigh). Why did you have to bring this up? LOL!!!! This has been a huge, HUGE issue for us in the past. Because of name problems we ended up having three civil marriages (two in Austria, one in Ecuador, and a church one). And I had, uh. Let me count. 3 different versions of our last name! My kids- the name they carry now is actually impossible to have in the hispanic countries because it identifies them as my husband's sisters/brothers. I'm also identified as my husband's sister ...because Austrian law didn't allow us to follow hispanic customs!

Anyway, I won't tell you the confusing details, but it's been horrible. Even though the Austrian law is progressive in the sense that we can choose whatever last name we want (from hubby or from mommy, with hyphen and in whatever order) - they are still behind when it comes to intercultural marriages and in trying to agree on a name there.

Eddie Lin said...

See, the Frogs aren't so bad. Can you deal with the waiters at your local bistro now?

Anonymous said...

Ciao. I just discovered this blog, since moving to Paris next year.

But you're wrong. Spain has beaten France again¡ LOL¡¡¡. From 2 or 3 years ago, you can choose between the mother or the father's last name to be transmited (I mean, your mother's last name can be your first last name in Spain now).

Anonymous said...

Wow! It's fascinating to learn all about the different laws in Europe in regards to names, especially the patriarcal laws, they wouldn't last here in Australia! My situation is this: My parents were not married when I was born so I was given my mothers name and became Damian Whiteley. Then my mother married my step-father (whom I consider my real father) when I was 11 months old and I got his name and became Damian Wells. Then there was a change in the Births, Deaths and Marriage act and my biological fathers name was added and so I became Damian Jessup-Wells, so now I have my biological father and my step-fathers name as my official name! However I only use Damian Wells as this is what I've always used as this is what my friends know me as, all very legal. Furthermore, if I wanted, I could use my middle name, Peter, and my biological fathers name, Jessup, and ,using my birth certificate, buy property, open bank accounts etc. using the name Peter Jessup! All perfectly legal.

I don't know if this helps but I hope it gives you an idea of another "dual name" situation.

Good Luck!

Damian.