French naming policy changes

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sun Jan 23 21:15:37 UTC 2005

>>From the NYTimes,

January 20, 2005
Blow to French Patriarchs: Babies May Get Her Name

PARIS, Jan. 19 - The gesture to the mothers of France seemed to shake the
sacred pillar of patriarchy. New Year's Day quietly ushered in a change in
France's law on last names.  It abolished the centuries-old obligation
that parents give the patronymic, or name of the father, to their
children. That means that a couple will now be able to give its newborn
baby either the mother's last name, the father's last name or both names
in the order the parents choose.

A "societal disruption," another proof that fathers are being forced "to
renounce one by one the attributes of what used to be called their
familial power," complained an editorial in Le Figaro, the center-right
daily. "This reform - we decree it silliness without a name," said a
right-wing Roman Catholic newspaper, La Croix, in an editorial, calling
the change a boon for genealogists, a nightmare for notaries. Names are
serious indicators of status in a country like France.

One of the ancestors of Charles Napoleon, the great-great-grandnephew of
Napoleon Bonaparte and a deputy mayor in Corsica, said the family's last
name was changed from Bonaparte to Napoleon "to give it imperial cachet."

Having a "de" or a "nobiliary particle" in one's last name is often proof
of nobility. To add nobility to the family name, the father of former
French President Valry Giscard d'Estaing went through convoluted
administrative procedures before he was allowed to tack on "d'Estaing,"
the name of a distant relative.

So the 26-article law, which was first passed in 2002, amended the
following year and implemented only now, needed more than 100 pages
explaining how to apply it.

The reform is important primarily because of France's changing
demographics. Forty-five percent of children in France these days are born
out of wedlock. In the absence of declared paternity, mothers are forced
to give their babies their own names. The new law will help remove the
stigma of doing that.

The reform also puts France in line with rules established in 1978 by the
Council of Europe, the 46-country body that promotes human rights and
standard legal practices among its members. At that time, the council
recommended that member countries guarantee strict equality between
mothers and fathers in transmitting last names. Much of the rest of Europe
has already complied.

"I am not a feminist and I feel comfortable in my skin as a man," said
Grard Gouzes, a jurist and the mayor of the southwest town of Marmande,
who proposed the reform in 2002 as a member of the National Assembly. "But
frankly, France was operating outside of the law."

Paradoxically, the reform reinforces the spirit of patriarchy, or at least
tradition. Aristocratic families that have produced only female offspring
no longer will have to watch helplessly as their names die out.

At the Robert Debr hospital in Paris, 29-year-old Hlne de La Porte des
Vaux and Nicolas Dudouet, a 33-year-old journalist, plan to give their
soon-to-be-born baby girl both of their names - to preserve Ms. de La
Porte des Vaux's chic name.

"If the name was ordinary, the issue might not even come up," said Mr.
Dudouet, who admits to having misgivings about the pending decision.
"There was a certain tradition with the old law. Now women are having
babies without us. They really don't need men anymore."

No one expects a big wave of mothers' last names to appear on their
babies' birth certificates. In Germany, for example, where married women
have been allowed to give their children their last names since 1976, only
about one percent do it.

At first blush the law seems like a magnanimous gesture to mothers, but
there is criticism that it does not go far enough.

It is retroactive only for children under the age of 13, and even then
only through a formal petition. Siblings must have the same last name. A
husband cannot take the last name of his wife. In the case of a dispute
between mother and father over what name to give their baby, the father

"The law doesn't follow through logically," said Sgolne Royal, the most
popular female politician in France and a former socialist minister for
family affairs. Nevertheless, she has heralded it as offering couples "a
range of choices, a real freedom."

There are jokes about the way the double-barreled last name will be put
into effect. To ensure that the world at large knows that the baby's
lineage results from the new law and not from historic cases often
involving aristocracy, two hyphens will now be required.

So the name of a baby called Martin - - Dupont becomes "Martin
double-tiret Dupont" or "Martin double-dash Dupont." "Double-dash" will
not be pronounced in ordinary speech, according to the law's instructions,
only in spelling the name.

The reform coincides with other recent initiatives, however limited and
artificial, to give women in France more equality in reality as well as
under the law.

France may be the country that produced the Declaration of the Rights of
Man and Simone de Beauvoir, but women still do not enjoy equality - in
jobs, promotions and pay.

On Jan. 1, France's divorce law was streamlined to make it less cumbersome
to get a divorce, a move heralded by women's groups in a country where 40
percent of marriages end in divorce. In cases of abandonment, for example,
a divorce can now be completed in two years instead of six.

In one of his New Year's speeches earlier this month, President Jacques
Chirac bemoaned the fact that women's salaries are 20 percent less than
men's and pledged to introduce a law guaranteeing women equal pay for
equal work within five years.

The move was immediately criticized by Mr. Chirac's political opponents
who noted that there already is a law on the books demanding that
companies pay women equally that is not enforced.

They dismissed the initiative as a transparent ploy to curry favor with
women voters should Mr. Chirac decide to run for a third term in 2007.

"The law already exists, but there has to be the tools to apply it," said
Ms. Royal, who called the initiative "a media stunt."

Ms. Royal, who is a member of Parliament, has reasons to criticize the
center-right president. She is the third most popular politician in
France, behind Nicolas Sarkozy, the head of the center-right Union for a
Popular Movement party, and Bernard Kouchner, the foreign aid advocate and
former health minister of France.

Ms. Royal said she may try to run for president on the Socialist ticket
against Mr. Chirac in two years. "Why not?" she said, adding, "There are
other candidates, of course."

One of them is Franois Hollande, the head of the Socialist Party. He also
happens to be the father of Ms. Royal's four children, although the two
have never married.

"It's not because of excessive militancy," she said of that decision. "It
just turned out that way."

As for the last name of the children? They were given the name of their
father. "If there had been a law back then," she said, "they would carry
my name as well."

Ariane Bernard contributed reporting for this article.

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