French May Get a Choice in Babies' Names

ByABC News
February 9, 2001, 12:27 PM

L O N D O N, Feb. 9 -- Imagine, you've just given birth to your first daughter, and you want to name her after your beloved mother Rhea. But your husband's last name is Peer.

Or perhaps you have a son and you want to name him Paul after his grandfather, but you fell in love with and married a guy named Barer. You see the problem.

Well in France, a woman has no choice in the matter of her child's surname. By law, all babies must carry their father's last name, unless the child is illegitimate and the father makes no claim.

A French mother has only one choice choose another first name for her child. Now, that may be about to change.

A Baby Step Forward

In what is being heralded as "a baby step" toward female equality, French lawmakers have passed a bill that would allow a newborn to bear the surname of either the father or the mother.

France is one of the few countries in Europe to require babies to carry their father's name. In 1994 the European Court of Human Rights ruled the practice was discriminatory, a ruling the French have up to now ignored.

Unfortunately, this change of heart does not appear to be based on a desire to promote female equality, but rather on a concern about the loss of paternal names when there are no sons to pass them on.

"The current law, which privileges the masculine line, still leads to an important loss of patrimony," said Justice Minister Marylise Lebranchu.

Safeguarding old French names, or national heritage, is the issue. Under this new law, a venerable family name name can live again when a grandson takes his mother's maiden name.

Oedipus Complex?

Despite the issues of equality and national heritage, there is still serious opposition to the measure.

"The sponsors of this bill obviously have an unresolved Oedipal complex," said Jacques Myard, a deputy of the right-wing Rally for France party.

The bill would relegates fathers "to the role of distant genitors, synonymous with a one-night stand," he said.