A top Italian court ruled Wednesday that newborn children should by default carry both parents’ surnames — not just the father’s, as had been the status quo.
The Italian Constitutional Court in Rome said that automatically assigning children just the surnames of their fathers was constitutionally illegitimate.
The court said parents should each have a say in their child’s surname as it constitutes a “fundamental element of personal identity.” Going forward, a child will take both parents’ surnames, with mutual agreement on the order of the names, the court said.
But the child could take only one of the parents’ names, if that is what the parents chose, the court said — which would for the first time make it broadly possible for children to solely carry their mothers’ last names.
The rule should apply to children born to married and unmarried parents, as well as adopted children, the court said.
At the center of the case that was brought before the court is a family of five from the Basilicata Region. The two older children carried only the mother’s last name, as they were only legally acknowledged by their father later.
The father and mother sought to give their newborn child the mother’s last name as well, to align with the baby’s two older siblings, but their request was denied because the law at present had only allowed for the father’s surname or both surnames to be assigned, said a representative for Domenico Pittella, a lawyer for the family. The parents had not wanted to add the father’s surname to their older children’s names, because their names and personal identities were already well established, the lawyer added.
Pittella said in a statement to The Washington Post that the ruling was a “landmark judgment” in Italy that “acknowledged that it is in the best interest of the newborn child that the choices of his parents” dictate his name, rather than being “imposed by an outdated model of the patriarchal family.”
It is standard for Italian women to keep their last names, and it is typical for mother and child in Italy to have different surnames — a situation that is similar in countries such as South Korea. The court’s ruling would align Italian naming practices with those of countries such as Mexico, where children’s surnames are often composed of the father’s followed by the mother’s.
Cecilia D’Elia, a center-left Italian lawmaker and a self-declared feminist, called the current naming procedure the “last patriarchal sign of family law.”
Giving the mother “the same dignity as that of the father,” she wrote on Twitter, was simply “a sign of civility.”
The Italian legislature is now tasked with passing laws that specify how the court’s ruling will be implemented. The Italian minister of family and equal opportunities, Elena Bonetti, said in a statement that the government backed the ruling, which was “another fundamental step in achieving equal rights between the women and men of our country.”
The practice of automatically assigning the father’s surname to a child amounted to discrimination against women and children, she told the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera.
Italy is one of the lowest-ranked Western European countries on the European Institute for Gender Equality’s latest index, coming in below the European Union average.
Italy had until now carried “a story of male biographies,” Bonetti said. “The surname is part of one’s identity and personal history, a story that we can now pass on written in the feminin