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‘Why I decided not to change my surname in Italy after getting married’

The custom of women changing their name after marriage doesn't exist in Italy. But if taking your husband's name is something you want to do, here's what you need to know.

Changing your surname in Italy after marriage is not the norm - but here's how to get through the paperwork if you want to take your partner's name.
Changing your surname in Italy after marriage is not the norm - but here's how to get through the paperwork if you want to take your partner's name. Photo by Anna Vi on Unsplash

One of the most surprising aspects of being married since we tied the knot in August has been the reaction to keeping my surname.

As a British citizen and with friends and family from that culture, the response has varied from shock, disappointment, confusion and admiration.

Coming from a place where it’s the norm to take your husband’s surname after you say ‘I Do’, I once thought I would do the same if I ever got married.

READ ALSO: The five most essential pieces of paperwork you’ll need when moving to Italy

Yet, now I have and I finally have a reason to ditch a surname that got me teased throughout my school years, I’m holding on to it.

Even though this choice is a highly personal one, let’s look at how Italy has arrived at this practice – and what you need to know about changing your surname.

What does the law say?

In Italy, women don’t change their surname after getting hitched. The custom is that the woman retains her maiden name, while any children that may come along take the man’s surname.

In fact, the Italian Consulate in London states, “In the Italian legal system, a change of name or surname is highly unusual and permitted in exceptional cases based only and exclusively on certain criteria.”

The woman is free to choose whether to add and so legally change her surname to that of her husband, but the law stipulates that her maiden name remains the official one for certifications and documents.

“After marriage, Italian women continue to keep their maiden surname for passports and identity documents. If requested, the husband’s surname can be added,” added the Consulate guidelines.

In Italian law, the Civil Code states: “The wife shall add her husband’s surname to her own and retain it during her widowhood, until she remarries.”

Further legislation clarified that the wife has the right, but not the obligation, to add her husband’s surname.

Notice the word ‘add’ not ‘change to’. Officially, therefore, the husband’s surname can be added after the wife’s maiden name with the appropriate conjunctive preposition, ‘in’.

It means that the woman has married ‘in’ another family.

So in this case, a woman choosing to do this would be called ‘maiden name in husband’s surname’.

This protocol of ‘in’ plus husband’s surname would be disastrous for me as my name would end up meaning ‘useless’ in Italian. ‘Drinkwater’ is not so bad in comparison.

What does this mean legally if you add your husband’s name?

The state dictates that, for the purposes of identifying a person, even after marriage, only the maiden name is valid and that the addition of her husband’s surname is optional.

From a strictly legal point of view, therefore, the wife always retains her identity from birth; that is to say, the identity registered at the Registry Office (registrata all’Anagrafe).

In other words, documents contain information corresponding to the birth certificate and not those relating to the marriage.

According to Italian law, a married woman may use her husband’s surname and add it to her own only to show relationship status, but for any certification or administrative documentation, the wife must sign with her maiden name.

The bureaucracy involved

For me, this aspect of changing my surname has had the casting vote.

Whether the opinion that you’re more of a family if you both have the same name or the notion that you’re building a new life together if your surnames match, just aren’t strong enough arguments for having to deal with the Italian paperwork required.

I think of all my documents and what that would entail if I decided to take my husband’s name.

My codice fiscale (tax code), tessera sanitaria (health card), driving licence, residency documents, passport, bank account and my newly acquired post-Brexit ID card, the carta di soggiorno, are just some of the ID I’d have to slog through getting amended.

Codice fiscale: How to get your Italian tax code

You need to be prepared for the authorities saying no, as approval of a change is not automatic.

Navigating Italian bureaucracy. Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

In compliance with the law, it is possible to change your last name by making a request to the Ministry of the Interior through the Prefettura (prefecture) – the body in charge of the province where you reside – who will send your application to the Ministry on your behalf.

The request must explicitly state that you wish to add your husband’s surname to your own and it must be justified by means of considerable documentation providing moral, emotional, family or financial reasons.

After that, the ‘decree’ to change your name is posted for 30 days on the municipal notice board of both the applicant’s commune of birth (if applicable) and the commune of residence, to allow for any possible objections.

It is worth remembering that even when valid reasons and documents are submitted, the request to add a second surname is only accepted in very specific cases, and in Italian law there is, in fact, no provision for adding a surname.

If your request is granted, you will urgently need to apply for a new passport and all other relevant documents such as all those listed above.

How about changing your surname rather than just adding your husband’s?

So far, the law we’ve looked at has provided for adding a surname, not dropping your maiden name and assuming your husband’s surname instead.

This also covers your husband if you both decide to change your name – either to a new one, or to double-barrel them, for instance.

This is a possibility that is provided for by law only in exceptional cases, such as when the meaning of one’s surname is “ambiguous, or ridiculous, or at the limits of shame,” as is described across various provinces’ Prefettura websites.

Or, if for example your reason is that you want to lose your father’s name after marriage, because perhaps he was guilty of serious offences and you no longer want to be associated with that surname.

Love and marriage and paperwork. Photo: Harli Marten/Unsplash

The documents you’ll need

The paperwork required to change your surname after marriage – along with your application for a change of surname – are listed on each Prefettura’s site.

Generally, the documents required for a surname change after marriage are:

  • Application with 16.00 euro revenue stamp (marca da bollo)
  • Declaration in lieu of certification
  • Certifying place and date of birth
  • Residence
  • Family status
  • Citizenship
  • Copy of a valid identity card
  • Declaration of consent of any interested parties
  • Marriage certificate

How about same-sex couples?

Same-sex civil unions have been allowed in Italy since 2016 but marriages are still not recognised, including those which take place abroad.

Couples who opt for a civil union who then wish to change their surname face some bureaucratic woes.

READ ALSO: Zan bill: Italy’s senate blocks anti-homophobia law

Double-barrelling after entering into a civil partnership is viewed by the system as a ‘name change’, which as outlined above, is only permitted in exceptional circumstances.

While there is a provision in law for women to add their husband’s name, gay couples don’t benefit from that in a civil union.

Who is eligible to change their name in Italy?

Citizenship comes into play if you live in Italy and want to change your surname. As stated on both Milan’s and Bologna’s Prefettura websites, for example, you have to be an Italian citizen to change your name.

So where does that leave you if you haven’t got Italian citizenship?

READ ALSO: What’s the difference between Italian residency and citizenship?

It means you’ll have to change your name in your home country by either contacting the British, US or Canadian Embassy, for example, and follow your relevant home country’s steps.

You’ll then need to apply for a new passport to reflect your new identity.

Once you have changed your name and have your documents in order, you’ll then have the issue of officially having a new name, but all your Italian documents will still hold your maiden name.

In this case, you’ll need to go to your relevant authorities to re-apply for each document with your new surname.

If you opted to double-barrel your surname with that of an Italian citizen, your spouse will need to go through the process above.

What do you think about changing your name in Italy after marriage? Please get in touch or leave a comment below to tell us about your experience.

Member comments

  1. I was recognized as an Italian citizen jus sanguinis in 2008 and, because we married prior to April 27, 1983, my wife automatically became an Italian citizen at the same moment (as did our son, but that’s another subject).

    My wife’s AIRE registration and Italian passport were issued in her maiden name, even though she changed her name in the US more than 26 years prior and all of her US documentation reflected her “married name.”

    Thankfully, there is a spot on page 4 of her Italian passport for “Spouse’s surname” – which can be a life saver when flying out of Italy on an airline ticket generated in the US (with her married name) as it ties her two passports together into a “one and the same person” status.

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