Double-hyphen surname law gets both barrels

Au revoir Bruni--Sarkozy: State decides extra dash is ungrammatical and mangles the French language

It's official, the double-hyphenated, double-barrelled surname that has been imposed on 175,000 French children since 2005 is ungrammatical, un-French, and must be abolished.

Five years ago, the French state decided that all new double-barrelled surnames must be spelt with two hyphens: Dupont--Dupond rather than Dupont-Dupond, for example.

That decision, implemented by bureaucratic decree, generated a series of arcane legal battles in which parents – mostly lawyers – objected to their offspring being double-dashed.

The Conseil d'Etat, the highest administrative watchdog, has now handed down a definitive ruling. The state exceeded its legal powers when it imposed the new spelling by decree in December 2004, the sages ruled. Worse, much worse, the French state had mangled the rules of the French language by recognising an abomination like the double hyphen.

Within the next few days the government is expected to issue a statement meekly accepting the ruling. Those children who have been given birth certificates with names such as Deschamps--Dubois or (hypothetically) Bruni--Sarkozy will be offered a choice. They can either ask for their double surnames to become single-dashed. Or they can, if they wish, remain ungrammatical for the rest of their lives. The ruling concerns only 5 per cent of French children born since 2005: that is, the roughly 35,000 babies born each year whose parents chose to unite their surnames.

It all started with a law drawn up in 2002 with the best of intentions: it abolished the sexist concept of a "patronymic", from the father's surname, in favour of a "family name".

Instead of children automatically taking their father's surname, parents were given four options. Children could: take their father's name; or their mother's name; or a double- barrelled name with the father's name first; or one with the mother's name first. The law stipulated, however, that such new, "composed names" must, like mules, not have offspring of their own: only one half of the name could be passed on to the next generation.

But what of existing double- barrelled or "composed" names such as Giscard d'Estaing or Sarkozy de Nagy-Bocsa? A change in the law – also issued by decree – made a distinction between the "old" and "new" double-barrelled surnames. Old names, which could be passed down through the generations, would remain single-hyphenated or not hyphenated at all. The new "lifetime" double-barrelled names would be branded with two hyphens.

The French state argued that the "double hyphen" was just an administrative convenience for use on official documents. It was intended simply to distinguish the "new" single-generation double-barrelled names from the traditional ones. The second hyphen could be dropped in "ordinary life".

The French state has a long history of trying to lay down rigid rules for names – both surnames and first names. The double-barrelled first name (such as Jean-Marie or Marie-Louise) became popular when the state barred all but a restricted list of religious or traditional names. Now that anything goes for first names – even Kevin or Ryan cause no stir – such double first names have become less common.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsDe Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
News
i100
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Sport
England captain Wayne Rooney during training
FOOTBALLNew captain vows side will deliver against Norway for small crowd
Life and Style
Red or dead: An actor portrays Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory, rumoured to have bathed in blood to keep youthful
health
News
peopleJustin Bieber charged with assault and dangerous driving after crashing quad bike into a minivan
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Sport
Radamel Falcao poses with his United shirt
FOOTBALLRadamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant in Colombia to Manchester United's star signing
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Front-Office Developer (C#, .NET, Java,Artificial Intelligence)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Front-Of...

C++ Quant Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Developer C++, Python, STL, R, PD...

Java/Calypso Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Java/Calypso Developer Java, Calypso, J2EE, J...

SQL Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer SQL, C#, Stored Procedures, MDX...

Day In a Page

Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

Stolen youth

Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

Made by Versace, designed by her children

Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Anyone for pulled chicken?

Pulling chicks

Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
9 best steam generator irons

9 best steam generator irons

To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
England v Norway: Wayne Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

New captain vows side will deliver for small Wembley crowd
‘We knew he was something special:’ Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing

‘We knew he was something special’

Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York