Father’s surname should not automatically be passed on to children, Italian court rules

The holy grail of all traditions lies in the bloated corpus we know as patriarchy. Whether in Italy or India, look anywhere, and the patrilineal norm of naming children after the father’s family prevails. We inherit surnames from our father by virtue of our culture and the system that insists that the male line is the place of surname and material possessions.

But an Italian court recently found that reasoning insufficient. The Constitutional Court in Rome has ruled that a baby must be given the surnames of both parents at birth – or given a new surname unrelated to both partners. This tradition of sticking only to the father’s surname, alas, is “discriminatory and detrimental to the identity” of a child, the court said, as Reuters reports. The court effectively overturned an age-old cultural convention deeply rooted in patriarchy.

Globally, this practice has a strong precedent. In many Spanish-speaking places – like Spain, Puerto Rico, Mexico – children have already receive the surnames of both parents. The question of who can pass on their surname is a legally and culturally contested conversation. Deborah Anthony, professor of legal studies at the University of Illinois at Springfield, explained that “the mother almost always loses.” “There’s this implicit understanding that having the father’s last name is inherently in the best interests of the child,” she told The Atlantic.

It is a doctrine based on the patriarchal assumption that a father’s surname would deepen the family institution or provide children with greater financial security later in life. Or, it is the easiest way to ensure the inheritance of the family name.

These are ideas loaded with regressive feelings and are enforced by legal mandates. Thus, court decisions that recognize the power imbalance become essential. For now, the country‘s parliament will have to pass a law to implement the court’s decision.


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One may be tempted to wonder what is really in a name. But even Shakespeare would agree today on the importance of names. On the one hand, the name is the most immediate sense of personality that one grows up with. “Both parents should be able to share the choice of a surname, which is a fundamental part of personal identity,” the court wrote. In a study, research psychologist David Figlio of Northwestern University in Illinois showed how a baby’s name can have a lasting effect on a child’s behavior and self-understanding – for better or better. for the worst.

Second, the insistence on including the names of mother and father is both subversive and fundamental. Several anecdotes – documented and undocumented – would show how mothers struggle to assert their rights as a parent only because the child does not inherit their name. Mothers, though often the primary caregivers, are thereby devalued and dehumanized – an extension of how the female partner in traditional marriages is expected to assume the identity of her “new” family. This rejection permeates the system itself; most forms require a “father’s name” or “husband’s name”, leaving no room for a woman to show her humanity.

The decision therefore has consequences not only for children but also for women who enter heterosexual marriages themselves: their identity will be less subsumed by their husbands, and the power of rRetaining and passing on their birth name to their children also gives them an equal interest in their child’s identity.

“Parents have equal responsibility and equal rights, no more discrimination that penalizes mothers and children,” said Laura Boldrini, a Democratic Party MP. Another minister wrote in a tweet: “[Mothers] will have the same dignity as that of the father.


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The surname saga in India in particular is tainted with class and caste prejudices. “Names are so strongly tied to identity and life circumstances that they function as a sort of shorthand within groups and societies,” Sanjana Ramachandran wrote in Fifty Two. “People subliminally judge names that correlate with lower socioeconomic backgrounds as belonging to lower-performing students, while the reverse bias benefits those with ‘high-status’ names, further cementing the findings. disparate lives.”

A report found that over 90% of India’s surnames reflect its castes; so much so that people continue to derive meaning and affirm the status quo through their surnames. In this sense, including any relative’s surname – or for that matter, the names themselves – are deeply exclusive premises.

But these are cultural paradoxes that we engage with as we go along. This does not negate the resistance gained by challenging a patriarchal culture that assumes the father’s surname is the irrefutable norm.

We just have to think beyond convention; people can use both names or come up with a new one. Or have no last name. It’s messy stuff, with no clear answers to concerns of identity and power imbalance. But that doesn’t mean a patriarchal flaw thrives unchallenged.

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