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Name change PDF
Friday, 05 November 2010 00:00

As we know the Spanish have two surnames: the first is their father’s and the second their mother’s. Children take their father’s 1st surname and their mother’s 1st surname.  So, for example, the children of  Manuel Pérez Rodríguez and Antonia Herrero Blanco will be called Oscar Pérez Herrero and Francisca Pérez Herrero. This tradition has always ensured that the father’s  surname survives through the male line.

But not for much longer if the socialist government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero gets its way.

As reported widely in the Spanish press and in some British newspapers yesterday and today, the birth registration laws in Spain are set to change, and will end the father's automatic right to hand his surname down to his children ahead of their mother's.

Under the new proposals couples registering newborn babies would be able to opt to put the mother's surname first. If the couple does not specify an order or cannot agree on one, the names would be assigned in alphabetical order.

Critics say this will endanger surnames whose first letters are at the end of the alphabet. These will gradually be relegated to second place on the surname list and not be passed down to children and grandchildren.

"Names like Abad or Álvarez have a promising future in Spain," said the conservative Spanish daily ABC. "For others, like Zurbano or Zamora, survival will be more complicated."

The leading centre-left daily El País said the Spanish government simply wanted to extend the principle of equality to the symbolic social realm of family names.

In seeking to justify the proposed changes José Antonio Alonso, the ruling socialist party's parliamentary leader, said that there was no good reason for the father's surname to come first automatically. "This is more democratic and equal," he said.

Opposition MPs called the change an unnecessary reform that no-one is seeking and vowed to fight it in the legislature.

Conservative leader Mariano Rajoy vowed to "do battle" against the measures while Gaspar Llamazares, the spokesman for the United Left coalition (Izquierda Unida), commented: "We would prefer it was up to the will of each family, rather than the alphabet."

As pointed out lightheartedly by Giles Tremlett writing in the Guardian, famous people who chose to use their mother’s surname rather than their father’s might have been known differently if the proposed law had been in existence then.

Artist Pablo Picasso could have been known as the more common Pablo Ruiz.

The man who ruled Spain as a dictator for 36 years, General Francisco Franco, would have become General Francisco Bahamonde, while the architect Antoni Gaudí would have been known as Antoni Cornet.

The actor Antonio Banderas chose his mother's surname rather than his father’s, the more common Domínguez.

Manchester City FC midfielder David Silva also prefers his mother's surname, as does Liverpool FC striker Fernando Torres and FC Barcelona striker David Villa.

Aforementioned prime minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero is invariably referred to by his second surname, his mother’s.

The new law also proposes letting people replace the name of a parent who has been found to have abused them as a child.

It is unclear what will happen about single mothers, who have generally been obliged to invent a second surname for their children if they do not want their child to receive the father's name.

The proposed legislation will be examined by the Justice Commission of the parliament's lower house until November 10.  And it could then be two years before the changes come into force.

©  Paul Whitelock

See also:

Shakeup for Spanish naming customs Guardian, 04/11/10

Spain to erase male bias from double-barrelled surnames  Daily Telegraph, 05/11/10

What's in a name?  Spanish Matters by Don Pablo

Una reforma legal termina con la prevalencia del apellido del padre  El País, 04/11/2010

El Gobierno elimina la preferencia del apellido paterno en los nacidos  ABC, 04/11/2010

Tags: surname, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, birth registration laws, ABC, El País, José Antonio Alonso, Mariano Rajoy, Gaspar Llamazares, Izquierda Unida, Giles Tremlett, Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Pablo Picasso, General Francisco Franco, Antoni Gaudí, Antonio Banderas, David Silva, Fernando Torres, David Villa,


Paul Whitelock

Paul is a Joint Honours graduate in Spanish and German, a qualified teacher (PGCE) and has a Member of the Institute of Linguists (MIL) qualification.

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