In France, around 85 percent of newborn children are given the surname of their father.
Currently, French citizens can only adopt the surname of their second parent by going through a long and complicated legal procedure via the Ministry of Justice.
But a new law approved by parliament on Thursday will make it possible to do so, once per lifetime, via a simple form submitted at the closest mairie (town hall) to the place of birth.
A pressure group that had lobbied for the law, Porte Mon Nom, celebrated the news on Facebook, writing: “this law reminds French people that the name of the mother has the same value as the name of the father.”
Patrick Vignal, the MP who pushed the law through the Assemblée nationale, tweeted that the legislation was “a law of liberty”.
Who will this benefit?
About 3,000 French people attempt to change their surname every year according to the Ministry of Justice.
The reasons for wanting to change surname, to that of the other parent, are myriad according to the vie-publique website: “because they carry a ridiculous or difficult to pronounce surname, to make their surname more French, to avoid a surname going extinct or to reveal the identity of an illustrious ancestor.”
Some of the motivations might be darker, including wanting to abandon the name of a parent who is “incestuous, violent or neglectful.”
The new procedure will be available to around half of all people who want to change their surname every year. Those who do not want to adopt the name of another parent, but instead want to modify their family name by removing a syllable or making it more French, will still need to go through the Ministry of Justice.
French citizens over the age of 18 will be able to submit dossiers to the mairie independently.
Those under the age of 18 will need both parents to give their consent – if one parent refuses, there will be a legal process for appealing the decision. Those aged 13-17 will also need to consent personally to the name change.
This legislation has now been validated but has yet to enter into effect. You can can keep track of its progression into law here.
What about foreigners?
If you have lived in France for some time, you will be aware that the French have a strange obsession with the use of birth certificates as a proof of identity.
For some administrative procedures, such as getting Pacsé (entering into a civil partnership) or applying for a higher education bursary, you will be required to submit a copy of your birth certificate (in the former case, this must be a new official copy of the birth certificate less than 6 months old).
The reason you would be asked for a recent copy of your birth certificate is that French ones are updated to include things like name changes, marital status or whether you legally identify as a gender that wasn’t assigned at birth. A birth certificate in France essentially serves as the ultimate record of your état civile (civil status).
If you use a name which is different to the one listed on your birth certificate, many French institutions will be baffled and may refuse to validate an administrative procedure.
The only way to get around this is to legally change your name via deed poll in your home country. You will need official proof of having done so (in the UK, the process costs £42.44 and is known as an enrolled deed poll) in the form of a certificate.
You will then need to get this certificate translated by a professional recognised by the French legal system (un traducteur agréé). Once this has been done, you can submit these documents along with the rest to explain that your legal name is not the one listed on your birth certificate.