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All children’s surnames to be in alphabetical order under sexual equality plans

The Justice Commission of the House of Representatives is debating a draft law on Civil Registration which definitively abandons the prevalence of the fathers last name being first for their children. Now, if parents do not specify another preference, the Register will put surnames in alphabetical order.

Traditionally, if John Smith and Nancy Jones, who live in an English-speaking country, get married and have a child, he or she would end up with a name such as Chris Smith.  But the Spanish tradition is for both parents to give their paternal surname to their children. In general, a person born into a Spanish-speaking family is given a first name followed by two surnames, the first being the father’s family name (or, more precisely, the surname he gained from his father) followed by the mother’s family name (or, again more precisely, the surname she gained from her father).  The second-to-last name in most Spanish personal names is the father’s name (apellido paterno), and the last name is the mother’s maiden name (apellido materno). Thus Jose and Maria, whose father is Pedro Santiago Lopez and whose mother before she was married was Luisa Rodriguez Castillo, would be Jose Santiago Rodriguez and Maria Santiago Rodriguez.

The 1999 reform of the Civil Code introduced the possibility for parents to decide to reverse the traditional method and put first the name of the mother. But if there was no agreement, tradition would prevail and the father’s name would come first. If the new law is approved, the rules will change: if there is a discrepancy, the Registar will impose surnames in alphabetical order.

Moreover, Article 49 of the draft states that the alphabetical order will also be established “if alternate wishes are not placed on record at the time of inscribing the names on the registration form.” In short: unless the parent specifies otherwise, “Alarcon” will go before “Zarzuel” irrespective of the paternal or maternal lineage.

The order of names imposed on the firstborn will guide the names of the rest of the children of the same parentage. The law orders all references to marital status to be ignored, giving non-married couples the same status as married.

The project aims to anticipate the majority of cases for which current legislation provides for surname changes through proceedings instituted by the judge in the Civil Registry.

But it introduces a novel aspect: “Applicants for changes who are a victim of domestic violence or other urgent situation are to be given priority”. Those who have suffered abuse at the hands of their partner may change their names and leave the aggressor immediately, without need for a trial, under a new decree of the Ministry of Justice.

The law, which will not come into force for at least two years, will undertake, at last, unification, modernization and computerization of the Civil Registry, which currently maintains a system almost identical to that followed in the early nineteenth century.

It abandons the “libro de familia” (family book) system andaims to build a single computerised file with a “personal code of citizenship”, culminating in “the gradual abandonment of legal constructions of the past that shaped the civil state, such as social status, religion, sex, parentage or marriage” according to the preamble.

The PP said that the law “Is a sign of the times, in which there is no social unit other than the individual”.

The spokesman of the Socialist Group in Congress, José Antonio Alonso, who has advocated the reform of the Civil Registry Law , reaffirms “the principle of freedom and the principle of equality, so it is not the father’s name just because tradition dictates”.

According to Alonso, the order of names “are going to be decided by the parents, to make it equitable. In case of dispute between parents, the judge will put the names of the children in alphabetical order and thus arguments are avoided”.

For the Socialist spokesman, “we must pass legislation to enforce a very important constitutional value.” That translates, Alonso insisted at a news conference at Congress, “sexual inequiality need not prevail just because the law says a man’s last name is most important than the womans.”