The baby-name debate, Italian style

Italian law has long required that newborns get their dads' last names, but a new roster of female lawmakers is proposing some changes.

Published August 28, 2006 9:46PM (EDT)

Italy is tackling the tricky question of baby surnames this week, as the country's female lawmakers flood its Parliament with proposed alternatives to the current requirement that all newborns be given their fathers' last names (the exception being cases in which the father's identity is unknown). There are 13 proposals so far -- 10 in the Chamber of Deputies (Italy's equivalent of the House) and three in the Senate -- from both sides of the political spectrum, the Italian news site Ansa reported Monday.

The proposals mostly look around Europe for viable alternatives to the current custom. "Some propose that parents choose which family name to give their child at birth, as in Britain," Ansa noted. "Others suggest a dual-surname system be adopted, with children taking one surname from both parents, as in Spain."

Similar proposals have been pitched in the past, but conservative opposition to the idea has always scuttled new naming options. And though both the country's Supreme Court and its Constitutional Court have denounced the current law, they've had no choice to uphold the paternal naming tradition when it has been challenged. (After having to deny one recent challenge in Milan, the frustrated Constitutional Court denounced the law as a "dated legacy of a patriarchal concept of the family ... no longer consistent with the constitutional principle of equality between men and women." I'm loving these activist judges!) Happily, the country's election in April brought the number of female parliamentarians to an all-time high: 148 female senators and deputies out of 945 total members. Proponents of change hope the new center-left legislature will back one of the proposed alternatives.

Still, advocates don't yet agree on which proposed solution is best; the country's Parliament is slated to debate the issue next week. It'll be cool to see what they come up with; the surname issue remains a contentious one. Meanwhile, female parliamentarians from various parties are presenting a united front: The Italian Communist Party's Katia Bellillo said, "Italian women feel the time has come to let the parents decide which surname they give their children." Daniela Santanchè of the conservative Alleanza Nazionale Party framed her support of the proposed change in more retro terms: "Women always find a point of agreement," she said.

By Page Rockwell

Page Rockwell is Salon's editorial project manager.

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