Fionnula McHugh and David Ibison
Should children be given their mothers' surnames? YES There are two things I've always said I'll do if I ever get married - make a speech at my own wedding (because half the assembled company will be my friends, not his, and I don't need a best man to toast my health, thanks all the same) and keep my surname. Friends who have done the latter nod wisely, agree that they had similar intentions and then hiss, 'But what about the children?' It's amazing how widespread this paternalistic naming business is. The Russians do it (all those confusing lists of patronymics at the front of novels the size of telephone directories). The Icelanders do it but in a more roundabout fashion so that if a chap called Magnus has female offspring they're called Magnusdottir while his male offshoots are called Magnusson, which is more sensible than the illogical Celtic system with which I'm saddled. (Mc means son. And I'm not.) I have friends in England who have tried to resort to double-barrelled alternatives which as well as being awkward, confusing and potentially explosive - whose name comes first? - will surely lead to cumbersome problems when the next generation gets round to reproducing. So it's a problem. And it's currently being addressed by Italian legislators, of all unlikely races.
The Italians feel that it's about time women, who after all do the nurturing and hard work, are given the chance to label the end-product. Which sounds perfectly sensible, don't you think? As a besotted new mother said to me the other day, 'The only reason I'm taking my husband's name now is because I want to have the same surname as my daughter.' Under the Italian system, mother and daughter would be nominally united and Papa would either have to resort to changing his name or put up with children bearing a different handle to his own.
After centuries of swapping, this gives married women a chance to retain their own names. Really, there is no alternative, as the prime minister who used to be called Mrs Denis Thatcher by the stuffier magazines once said (apparently, in the arcane world of the society writer, referring to her as Mrs Margaret Thatcher would have indicated that she was divorced although, in fact, it was Denis who'd been married before. So in Britain married women can lose both names - bizarre, no?) Of course it's a bit of a sham because my surname is my father's, just as my mother's maiden name was her father's and so on, back to the time of Saint Patrick who doesn't seem to have had any surname at all. But I like the idea of passing the name on through my children. Naturally, it'll condemn them to a life of letters addressed to McHuge. Or McKew. Or McQueue. But on the whole I think that's a small price to pay and it'll give me something to say during the wedding speech.
NO It is hardly surprising such a ludicrous piece of legislation should have emerged out of Italy. Much as I adore Italy and Italians, they are not the world's most efficient parliamentarians. Their idea of a good politician is a blond and buxom former striptease artist. An admirable folly, no doubt, but ill advised when it comes to forming economic policy.
They have had 48 governments since the World War II. Their tanks had one forward gear and nine reverse. Their war cry is 'Run for it!'. I don't think we should be using their legislation as a guide for world policy, do you? Without sounding too much like a strutting Italian chico, I want my name to continue. The Ibison dynasty is not going to peter out here but will go on and on, rising at every step until the name Ibison is familiar to everyone and everything on this planet. The name of the unfortunate female who happens to be the birth machine for my offspring is neither here nor there. It is my name that counts and mine only.
As far as I understand, this Italian piece of legislation is based upon the belief that it is women who raise children and, therefore, it should be the woman's name that goes to the child.
This belief is flawed logically. Women, I agree, tolerate the inconvenience of carrying a child, suffer the pain of birth, have their breasts gnawed by the hungry infant, carry it around for years, generally mother the thing and develop a bond between mother and child that is unbreakable. But men have a tonne of things to do too.
Quite apart from the motivational problem associated with having to haul ourselves on top of the familiar bulk of wifey until a child is conceived, there are a range of other sacrifices.
For example, we have to pretend we care. Do you have any idea how time consuming that can be, always putting a smile on our faces as the vomit flows first thing in the morning? We also have to spend money on things that are not cars or gadgets. Do you know how heart-breaking it is to write a cheque for a pram while watching a bachelor boy flash past in his Daimler Dart? And they say men have an easy ride.
These pressures are telling and if they don't qualify men for the priviledge of having the kid carry our name, then I don't know what does? Pretty soon a name will be all we have left to give. I have been reading recently men are basically obsolete sexually as the sperm bank and the syringe move in. I have read that as the world turns into a service economy, women will be better suited for the work. I am told men will be evolved out of the human race in time. It is going to be a woman's world in future. So as a testament to end of men, let our names live on, won't you?