Up yours, Napoleon. Or: I made that child, I get to name him.

Today my son lost his name. These things do happen, even though it's just a little less improbable than losing one's shadow.

The name he lost was mine, and the one he was given instead, whether we like it or not, is his father's.

Before his big sister was born, my husband and I made a deal: if it's a girl, she gets his name, if it's a boy, he gets mine, and the second child, boy or girl, gets the other parent's name. We preferred that to the double barrel option as we thought this just wasn't sustainable across generations - and, given our names, would just sound weird. So we ended up with a two-name family (as opposed to a three-name family if we'd gone for the double-barrel option and each kept our own), and the names are equally distributed. We didn't mind the kids not having the same name as each other: it's not like they're likely to forget they're brother and sister, and none of us need a name to know that we belong together, so this worked for us.

But, it's not legal. At least in France, where a child born before 2005 must take his or her father's name if the parents are married. This is a remnant of the Napoleon code of law, which took it upon itself to tell French families exactly what they should look like. Of course, there's been some changes since. Children born after 2005 may take their mother's name, but on condition that their siblings take it too. So there's no way we could have what we wanted.
Except we did: because we weren't married when the children were born, and because no one could work out that what we did wasn't legal until the records were computerised. So when I went to get Max's passport renewed, I was told that his last name had changed. And there is nothing I can do about it. My nine-year-old autistic son, who's just learnt to say his full name, is going to have to learn a new one.

Well, there's a couple of things we can do about it. We can have him take a 'nom d'usage' which is the same sort of thing as I would be allowed to have if I wanted to take my husband's name. (So ironically, the French law does not allow me to take my husband's name officially, so I cannot have the same name as my children anyway). The 'nom d'usage' cannot be my name, but has to be a double barrel name with my husband's name coming first.  This will be recorded on passports etc, but his official name stays his father's and is also recorded on his passport. 

As far as I can see, there isn't the slightest bit of a reason why this should be so. The requirement that siblings have the same name is ridiculous at best. Increasing, families are made up of children who don't share both parents (or any, but still consider each other brothers or sisters), so the requirement can't possibly apply to them: if you don't have the same father, and your mother married twice, then by (French) law, you can't have the same name. So the law is in fact designed so as to emphasise the difference between children in 'traditional' and reconstituted families. How nice is that?

The other thing we can do about it is get Max a UK passport, to which he is probably entitled to in his own name. We'll just have to try that. It seems the French law, so concerned that (legitimate) children should have the same name as their brothers and sisters, isn't bothered that one child should have different names in different countries.

In the meantime, I feel like we have strayed in a Wilkie Collins novel, and the only reason I'm not ditching French nationality for both children and myself is because we get a better deal from the French school they go to if they're French.


JulieB said...

Interesting.... sounds like this is a more pressing issue than the recent changes stating that women are all to be known as Madame in France henceforward!

Anonymous said...

What would happen if you got your marriage legally annulled?

If you want me to start a letter writing campaign, I would be happy to do so. I'm good at it.

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Terence said...

Very interesting and awesome post.

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