Italy’s Constitutional Court ruled that automatically assigning a child just the surname of their father was unconstitutional, “discriminatory and detrimental to the identity of the child”, and called on parliament to change the law.
The court emphasised that both parents should be involved in choosing their child’s surname, which “constitutes a fundamental element of personal identity”.
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Under the changes, “the child takes the surname of both parents in the order agreed by them, unless they decide jointly to attribute only the surname of one of the two”, it said in a press statement.
In case of disagreement, a judge will decide.
The rule should apply to children born to married and unmarried parents, as well as adopted children, the court said.
This would theoretically make it possible for the first time for children born in Italy to carry only their mother’s last name.
In Italy, it is standard practice for women to keep their last names after marriage. As a result, it’s usual for mothers to have different surnames from their children.
The ruling means Italian naming practices now look set to become similar to those in Spain, where children’s surnames are usually composed of the father’s followed by the mother’s.
“Italian women have won a historic right,” newspaper La Repubblica said.
The Italian government is now tasked with passing laws detailing how the court’s ruling will be implemented.
The minister for families and equal opportunities, Elena Bonetti, said in a statement that the government supports the ruling, and described it as “another fundamental step in achieving equal rights between the women and men of our country.”
Among those hailing the ruling was Alessandra Mussolini, the grand-daughter of former Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, who was able to give her three children her last name only after a tortuous process.
“To be able to pass on one’s surname… is an act of civilisation,” she told Italy’s Il Messaggero newspaper.