Life Style

Spouses, children: a family name on demand

Isabelle has chosen to abandon the use of her birth name to take that of her husband. “I was too proud to get married and to mark this turning point with a change of name”, she confides. Eglantine, for her part, preferred “Add the name (s) of one spouse to his”. As for Elizabeth, she juggles the two: “The name of birth at work and the marital for all that concerns family affairs.” “ Christine also made this choice, even if she sometimes confesses “To tangle the brushes” : “Once I missed the plane because I had taken tickets with my married name which was not written on my passport, she says. Not to mention the situations where I have the wrong signature. “ Dominique, on the other hand, wished to keep what was once called the “maiden name” “By fidelity” to its Corsican origins and because it is “Not recognize in another name”.

→ MAINTENANCE. “Family names have not always been hereditary”

Since the 1985 law, married women, but also men – as is less known – can use the name of the spouse as a customary name, by adding or substituting it to theirs.. An evolution compared to the traditional marital name which, contrary to popular belief, has never been compulsory. “No law obliges women to take the name of their husband, recalls researcher Marie-France Valetas (1). These are administrative practices which have obscured the law and which, by exercising a binding role, have maintained ambiguity. “

Take the name, a “custom”

Take the name of the groom “Was a custom”, adds Aline Cheynet de Beaupré, professor of private law. “Women did it out of simplicity since by marrying they became legally ‘incapable’, even if they did not lose their maiden name in the eyes of the law. “ However, this patronymic and sometimes even the first name “Customs disappeared, especially in the XIXe century when the husband was all-powerful, underlines the historian of feminism Florence Rochefort (2). A woman could be called Madame Jules Ferry, for example, and the more famous the husband, the more this custom was practiced. “

→ TESTIMONIALS. “I could even have created one”: when choosing the last name for your child becomes a puzzle

Today, the use of the married name is still very widespread in France. But the motivations of the younger generations are no longer quite the same, according to Caroline Vasseur-Bovard, author of a thesis on the name of women (3). “As soon as it becomes a choice, women can seize it, use it as a signal of a family bond, transform it into a small affectionate gesture intended for the husband, use it to hide a painful surname “ or “Take it as a means of separating professional and private life”.

A small revolution in 2002

Many also choose it to have the same name as their children when they bear the name of the father. The 1985 law admittedly authorized the mother’s name as a common name, but it was a “A right to carry and not to transmit”, notes the sociologist Virginie Descoutures (4). It was not until 2002 that the names of the mothers also became hereditary. The law, which came into force in 2005, then allowed parents to transmit the name of the father, that of the mother or both in the chosen order..

This small revolution in the civil code has not, however, upset customs. According to figures provided by INSEE in 2019, 82.6% of children continue to bear the father’s name, against 9.4% for the double name father-mother, 5.1% for that of the mother and 2, 6% for the double mother-father name. The choice nevertheless varies according to the marital status of the parents: the mother’s name, whether or not it is attached to that of the father, is more often given when the children are born out of wedlock.

Dominique is one of the mothers who did not pass on their name and she ” regret “. “When my first daughter was born, I initially thought that two names would be too long and complicated. Then I changed my mind, but I didn’t want to make a difference with the other two. My name would nevertheless have been a link between them since the eldest does not have the same father, she says to herself. But first I thought about registering him in the paternal line. The name did not seem to me then a necessary sign of belonging for the mother because of an obvious parentage. “ There is also an adage: “The mother gives life, the father gives the name.” “

“Brakes” of the administration

Raquel, too, didn’t think about it when her children were born, but then she ” succeeded “ to have their name added to their Spanish identity card. “I wanted them to keep an official trace of their dual culture”, she justifies. For Corinne, on the other hand, the transmission of her name was obvious: “Beyond a feminist approach, it was important that they take the name of my father, who otherwise would have disappeared since he had two daughters and his only brother died in the concentration camps. “ This mother of two boys is annoyed, however, that the administration has still not adapted its forms. “For lack of space, on the school documents, my children have their father’s name and only the first three letters of mine! “

The “Brakes” of the administration also led Marine Gatineau Dupré, at the origin of the collective “Porte mon nom”, to propose the double name by default at birth instead of that of the father, currently: “Otherwise, we continue to make mothers believe that their name is not important”, she is indignant. The state does not publicize the law enough, according to this activist, which penalizes divorced or separated women who cannot bear the same name as their children and who “Must constantly prove that they are indeed their mother”.

“An issue of gender equality”

The idea of ​​making better known the possibilities offered by the law does not shock the psychoanalyst Jean-Pierre Winter (5). But the automation of the double name does not “Seems undesirable”: “It is an attack on freedom since it would take steps to make another choice. However, the very fact that parents continue to mostly give the name of the father to their children shows that there is a social consensus. And not only because it is a tradition, but because it responds to a psychic necessity. The name of the husband puts a distance between the child and his mother and makes it visible that he is not the result of incest with his own father. “ Without counting, adds the specialist, that “The double name places a heavy responsibility on the child who will have to choose the next generation which name to remove”.

This dilemma is precisely what prompted Dorothée to give up: “Yet I was determined to pass my name on to my daughter. But when my partner went to report it to the maternity ward, the manager told him that I had to come too to be able to give the double name. And once in front of her, I let myself be influenced. I was so exhausted that I couldn’t think about it. Today I regret it. “ The young mother had then suggested to her husband to give only her name to her. “But there, he was no longer at all. “

Last name remains “An issue of gender equality”, reminds Florence Rochefort. “And it is the renewal of this awareness, in the XXe and in the XXIe century, which allowed an evolution of the laws. There is still resistance and changes are taking place slowly, but the important thing is that women have the right to keep their name and pass it on. “


“My husband did not want to give his name”

Alexandra, 41 years old, civil union, mother of a 2 year old girl

“Our daughter bears only my name. My husband, who is of Polish origin, did not want to give him his because it is too difficult to pronounce, while mine is very common. I offered to put it before his, so she could have both of our names, but he didn’t want to. Besides the spelling difficulties, he thought it might be difficult for her to have two names. This choice surprised many people, especially in his family, but they eventually got used to it. On the other hand, we were treated to some reflections when registering for the nursery where the director asked us if her father had recognized her, while he was in front of her with our daughter. I know this choice is not common, but I do not see why a child could not have just the mother’s name. The name of the father is a tradition, but customs change. “


The usual name

Everyone has a surname, written on the birth certificate and unalterable. But since the 1985 law, anyone can also use a customary name after making a request to the civil status service. This can be entered on the identity card and passport.

It can be the husband’s name, alone or next to his or her in the desired order, for married men and women of the same sex or of the same sex. But not for people in a free union or civil partnership. The name of the parent which has not been transmitted can also be used in the name of use. Alone or next to that of the other parent, in the order chosen. On the other hand, it is not possible to combine several use names. A customary name can be renounced at any time, which is not the case with the birth name.


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