Naming baby with mother or father's surname

Parents with newbornA few issues back we printed in our "20 years ago" feature an item about a French MP's vain attempt to reform the Napoleonic rule that children could only bear their father's surname. René Masson was worried that this led to the disappearance of many names: "In a few decades we’ll all be called Martin, Bernard or Durand, if not Garcia, Lopez or Ali Baba."

It seemed to us at the time – that was 1989 – "the administration was set to do nothing"; however, finally in 2002 the law was changed: parents can choose for their offspring to bear the name of the father or mother – or both in whichever order is preferred (MacTavish-Babuinelli or Babuinelli-MacTavish, for example). If only one parent "recognises" a child then normally it takes that parent’s name; if the other parent surfaces later the usual choice is available although if the child is by then 13-years-old it must consent to the name.