Now, here’s a controversial topic. I usually stay off them on this blog, since nothing is more likely to get the green ink brigade going. However, this time I’m going to stick my head above the parapet. What’s the beef? By which name should married women be addressed officially?
Legislating for equality
French MPs have recently voted for government bodies and other state organisations to address women by their nom de jeune fille (maiden name) by default in official correspondence. If the woman wishes to be addressed by her married name (nom de mariage) she must specifically request it.
This move is part of the male-female equality law that the Assemblée Nationale adopted this week following its first reading. (It does, of course, contain other provisions).
For several years, the French tax return has included a box that a woman can tick (I do) if she wishes to use her maiden name. But our tax bill still arrives addressed to ‘Monsieur ou Madame E’. In fact, a rule already exists that women can choose to be addressed by their maiden name. I even had a copy of it but now can’t find it.
Retaining your maiden name
I have a particular interest in this. I have never used my husband’s name. People no doubt think I’m daft and rabidly feminist but I have a practical as well as a principled reason for this. Having been married before, changed my name on marriage, jumped through numerous hoops to change it back on getting divorced, had to change bank accounts, mortgage documents, insurance policies, etc. and provide extensive proof of change of name each time – phew! – I decided to stick to what I was born with second time around.
This doesn’t stop the French authorities persisting in addressing me in my husband’s name. My French ID card (carte de séjour) has my maiden name – but it’s followed by ‘épouse E.’ My husband’s does not include a similar mention, i.e. ‘époux C’. And my fury’s uncontrolled when the Mairie writes only to my husband about matters to do with the house – which happens to belong to me. I know France is a bit behind in these matters but I thought married women were allowed to have their own property these days.
A good thing or not?
So you might think I would welcome the French parliament’s move. But actually, I don’t. Like a lot of French legislation, it’s a knee-jerk measure that goes too far to the opposite extreme of what it is trying to rectify and it’s probably unworkable in practice.
Official bodies in France should in theory have a record of a woman’s maiden and married names. But, in practice, can you imagine the administrative hassle of checking they have the right name and then transferring it to correspondence that has previously been in another name? The potential for confusion is huge. Who’s going to police this scheme and how? And what are the sanctions if official bodies get it wrong?
More important than that is the principle. Why can’t women choose how they want to be addressed from the start? Most women do still use their married name and don’t expect to be addressed by anything else. If you want to be addressed by your husband’s name (and always have been), why do you then have to make a special effort to ensure that this continues? Where is the liberté in all this?
In my view, this move was a solution looking for a problem. And it draws the focus away from the real issues to do with equality such as equal pay for the same job and, above all, culture and mind-set. They aren’t going to be solved by insisting that everyone is addressed by their birth name. But then the French government rarely neglects an opportunity to regulate every aspect of our lives.
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