Italy Rules It’s Unconstitutional for Babies to Be Given Father’s Last Name at Birth

Published May 2, 2022

There's been major news for parents in Italy this week and it's creating quite a stir around the world. Italy's highest court ruled that children will receive both of their parents' last names at birth instead of automatically being given their father's surname.

Yes, that's right. The Constitutional Courts ruled that the practice of only giving one surname was unconstitutional as well as "discriminatory and harmful" to a child's identity, Reuters reports.

"In the wake of the principle of equality and in the interest of the child, both parents must be able to share the choice on his surname, which constitutes a fundamental element of personal identity," said a court statement obtained by NPR.

This doesn't mean families can't decide to give the child the father's surname and only that name, but the choice now sits with both the mother and father at their child's birth instead of automatically being assigned.

The practice of a woman taking a man's last name after marriage is a long-held tradition in patriarchal societies. While it was not explicitly written into law that women had to take their husband's name, there were state laws up until the 1970s that made it difficult for women if they chose not to. For instance, women in the U.S. couldn't apply for a passport or driver's license, or register to vote without using their husband's last name.

Thankfully, laws and attitudes around this practice have changed. In 2015, The New York Times reported that only around 70% of American women in heterosexual relationships take their husband's last name after getting married. Despite that, almost all still pass down the husband's surname to their kids. But children are their own people, and assuming they should automatically take their father's last name is becoming an outdated view for some.

Photo of Lewis Hamilton and his mother Carmen Larbalestier
Lewis Hamilton and his mother Carmen Larbalestier

In fact, last month Lewis Hamilton, the seven-time Formula One world champion, announced that he would be adding his mother's last name to his moniker. Saying, "I don't really fully understand the whole idea that when people get married the woman loses her name … I really want her name [Larbalestier] to continue on with the Hamilton name."

For others, creating an entirely new surname for their kids made sense for them. LA-based couple Megan and Dennis, decided on a family name - Chapham. "Giving our children two last names would have been very long to write out. Neither of us felt very strongly possessive about our original last names. We thought there was something nice, and also symbolic, about creating a new last name as we started our new family together," Sayers tells LoveToKnow.

Photo of Megan and Dennis Chapham with children
The Chapham Family

She's grateful that her extended family was "supportive and understanding" of their decision. "Would we have gone ahead, if our parents had been strongly against it? I guess we'll never know - and we're lucky we didn't have to find out," she says.

Italy's Family Minister Elena Bonetti said the decision cements that both mothers and fathers have equal responsibility to their children, and that's now reflected in their surname.

"Today comes back to remind us that the time has come to change," she wrote in a Facebook post translated from Italian to English. "We need to give [meaning], even in the assignment of the surname, to the equal responsibility between mothers and fathers [when it comes to] parental choice," she added.

The court's ruling that it's unconstitutional to give a child their father's last name still has to pass Parliament's approval before it can become official.

Italy Rules It’s Unconstitutional for Babies to Be Given Father’s Last Name at Birth