Babies should no longer be given only father's surname: Italian court

Italian court rules babies should no longer automatically be given the father’s surname

  • In Italy babies must be given their father’s surname, unless they are unknown
  • Automatic assignment is ‘discriminatory and harmful to identity’ of child: court
  • Children set to be given both parents’ surnames in order decided by parents
  • Italian parliament will vote on proposal after ruling by nation’s supreme court
  • Family minister Elena Bonetti: ‘It is a high priority and [an] urgent task of politics’
  • Italian babies will no longer be forced to take their father’s surname after a ruling yesterday by the nation’s highest court.

    In Italy, children automatically inherit their father’s family name at birth unless they are born out of wedlock or the father’s identity is unknown.

    In a landmark judgment the Constitutional Court deemed this ‘discriminatory and harmful to the identity’ of a child.

    ‘In the principle of equality and in the interest of the child, both parents must be able to share the choice on the [child’s] surname’, it stated, according to Reuters.

    Family minister Elena Bonetti said the proposed change will enjoy 'full' government backing

    Family minister Elena Bonetti said the proposed change will enjoy ‘full’ government backing

    The decision will now become legislation set for a vote in the Italian parliament. 

    The country’s national unity government, led by centrist prime minister Mario Draghi, supports the measure.

    The case was prompted by a couple who have two children born out of wedlock to the mother’s previous partner.

    Her children were given their mother’s surname, but when the couple had a third child they were unable to give it the same family name as the other two.

    The unnamed couple opened a lawsuit in 2020, ending up at Italy’s supreme court. 

    Babies should no longer assume their father's surname by law, the court ruled (file image)

    Babies should no longer assume their father’s surname by law, the court ruled (file image)

    Family minister Elena Bonetti responded to the ruling in a Facebook post: ‘The time has come for a change.

    ‘We need to give substance [to the ruling]. It is a high priority and urgent task of politics to do so.

    ‘I guarantee all the support of the government to the parliamentary process in taking another fundamental step to achieve equality between women and men in our country.’

    Oggi la Corte Costituzionale ha giudicato illegittime le norme che prevedono l’automatica attribuzione del cognome…

    Posted by Elena Bonetti on Wednesday, April 27, 2022

    In an interview with Corriere Della Serra, the minister added: ‘Finally the Constitution states that in family law, there is no prevalence of the masculine over the feminine.

    ‘The surname is part of the identity and personal history. [This] overcomes the discrimination against women and children.’

    Asked whether the new plan could lead to a ‘multiplication of surnames’, Ms Bonetti said it would be down to the coming legislation to decide a solution.

    Under the new plan, a baby would take on a four-barreled surname made up of both their parents’ double-barreled surnames.

    Italy's family minister said the current assumption is discriminatory to women and children

    Italy’s family minister said the current assumption is discriminatory to women and children

    One option, the minister said, could be cancelling one of the surnames ‘with the agreement of both parents’. 

    Others pointed out the move is little more than a gesture.

    Mary Ferri commented on Ms Bonetti’s Facebook post: ‘What about compulsory maternity leave, paid to 100%? […] Talk about support for families.’

    Michele Nucera added: ‘For me it is more discriminatory that there is no paternity leave proportionate to the mother’s.’

    Elena Bonetti, pictured at a book launch in 2020, said: 'Surnames are part of personal history'

    Elena Bonetti, pictured at a book launch in 2020, said: ‘Surnames are part of personal history’

    Patronymic family surnames became common in Europe during the late 11th century. They were intended to make the management and ownership of property easier.

    Women members of parliament have tried to end the enforced tradition for decades, getting close in 2006 and 2016 before failing to receive sufficient political support.

    The government’s support for the move suggests it may now happen.

    In the UK, the law does not automatically assign newborns a family name. In fact, there are virtually no rules on what a child’s surname can be.

    The Deed Poll Office states: ‘The registrar doesn’t have the right to refuse any name, except insofar as [they] might think it were something illegal.’