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LIVING IN FRANCE

Reader question: Why is a married woman’s maiden name such a big deal in France?

You may think you know your own name, but French bureaucracy often thinks differently, as anyone who has filled in an official document will be all too aware.

Reader question: Why is a married woman's maiden name such a big deal in France?
What's in a name - why your birth name matters in France

Recently, numerous women contacted The Local to point out their Covid-19 vaccination certificate – giving proof that they are fully protected against the virus – showed their birth name, rather than their married one, concerned that it could affect travel plans in the immediate future, as their passports were under a different name.

Official advice, then, was to go back to where the vaccine certificate was issued and try to get it changed – or, at least, carry documentation (such as a marriage certificate) proving you are who these conflicting documents say you are.

We have not heard of anyone having problems travelling from France to another country using Covid certificates with different names.

The EU has reportedly instructed France to ensure that EU Covid certificates for foreign nationals living in France match passports or ID cards to ensure cross-border travel is as easy as possible. Whether this instruction reaches officials handing out the documents is another question altogether.

But why do French authorities set such store by a birth name, insisting it appears on all official documents?

While it is common for women from nations including including Ireland, Australia, the UK and the USA, to change their name on passports and driving licences when they get married, in France these documents remain in the name you were born with.

Upon marrying, a woman in France gains the right to use her spouse’s surname, but it never becomes her actual name. So while Monsieur Dupont’s wife may be known as Madame Dupont, her passport, driving licence and all other official documents remain in the name she was born with.

Instead Madame Dupont becomes her nom d’usage (more on that below).

For all administrative dealings, she will still be identified by her birth name, because – legally speaking – public servants are not allowed to call a citizen by any other name than the one shown on their birth certificate.

This is Revolutionary thinking. A law (the loi du 6 fructidor an II, if you really want to know) from August 1794 states that “no citizen can use a first name or surname other than that written on their birth certificate”.

As a direct result of this law, it is common in France for maiden names to appear on official documents. For foreign nationals living in France, who may need to change their driving licence, for example, or get a carte de séjour, both names can appear on the document.

READ ALSO: Eight online services which make dealing with French bureaucracy easier

So, when you’re filling out a form, you may be asked for your nom, prénom, nom de naissance, nom de famille, nom de jeune fille, nom d’usage, or nom marital.

Nom – this means your family name/surname. On formal letters you will often be addressed with your family name first, usually in capitals – SMITH John.

Prénom – this is your first name. If you have middle names you can add those, too, but it’s not compulsory unless the form specifically asks for all your names

Nom de naissance – this is the family name you were born with. Anyone who has changed their name is required to tell French authorities what name they were born with (unless you have obtained a new birth certificate, for example through adoption).

Nom de famille – the surname on your birth certificate. Nom de patronymique is an archaic and little-used alternative.

Nom de jeune fille – for women only, this is your maiden name.

Nom d’usage – this is the name you use. It’s particularly aimed at women, some of whom change their surname when they get married and some of whom don’t.

Nom marital – married name. For use if you change your name when you get married. In France it’s up to you whether to change your name for day-to-day matters. 

Your name on official documents does not change, but you can – obviously – change your nom marital, or nom d’usage by taking your partner’s name, or creating a hyphenate double-barrelled name.

If you want this to be the name that you are addressed by, indicate this in the nom d’usage box on forms, and letters will be addressed to you using that name. 

Your official family name for documents, however, remains the name on your birth certificate.

Ultimately, if you find yourself having to deal with the French authorities and needing to verify your name, you should always take along your birth certificate as well (showing your maiden name), as this is the only document that will be recognised by the administration. Your marriage certificate, too, is likely to be useful, if you used your married name in earlier dealings.

Note – this insistence on birth names doesn’t only affect married women. While in Anglophone countries it’s common to have a passport or driving licence that shows a shortened version of your first name if that is what you usually go by (eg Kate instead of Catherine, Ben instead of Benjamin, Will instead of William) in France, your official documents must match the name on your birth certificate.

Member comments

  1. Yes, this has been a nightmare for me! In my case it’s not a problem of having a maiden and married name, it’s that my name changed when I was little when my mother remarried. The French just can’t wrap their head around that fact since children in France will always keep their father’s name. Contacted Ameli to ask for my certificate to be changed into the name I use now (obviously it was issued in a name I haven’t used since I was 5) but they said no! Going to see what happens when travelling back to the UK next week…

  2. I have a problem, because I kept my maiden name after marriage. Instead of being Madame ‘maiden surname’ I am Madame ‘my husband’s surname’. It has caused a lot of confusion and many problems and I have had to prove being married with a certificate many times. Additional problem is that we do not have an official marriage certificate in our country that I could have with me. I have to ask for an extra certificate from the authorities stating my marital status.

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LIVING IN FRANCE

What changes in France in July 2022

Summer's here and the time is right for national celebrations, traffic jams, strikes, Paris beaches, and ... changing the rules for new boilers.

What changes in France in July 2022

Summer holidays

The holiday season in France officially begins on Thursday, July 7th, as this is the date when school’s out for the summer. The weekend immediately after the end of the school year is expected to be a busy one on the roads and the railways as families start heading off on vacation.

READ ALSO 8 things to know about driving in France this summer

Strikes

But it wouldn’t really be summer in France without a few strikes – airport employees at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports will walk out on July 1st, while SNCF rail staff will strike on July 6th. Meanwhile Ryanair employees at Paris, Marseille and Toulouse airports will strike on yet-to-be-confirmed dates in July.

READ ALSO How strikes and staff shortages will affect summer in France

Parliamentary fireworks?

Prime minister Elisabeth Borne will present the government’s new programme in parliament on July 5th – this is expected to be a tricky day for the Macron government, not only does it not have the parliamentary majority that it needs to pass legislation like the new package of financial aid to help householders deal with the cost-of-living crisis, but opposition parties have indicated that they will table a motion of no confidence against Borne.

Parliament usually breaks for the summer at the end of July, but a special extended session to allow legislation to be passed means that MPs won’t get to go on holiday until at least August 9th. 

Fête nationale

July 14th is a public holiday in France, commemorating the storming of the Bastille which was the symbolic start of the French Revolution. As usual, towns and cities will host parades and fireworks – with the biggest military parade taking place on the Champs-Elysées in Paris – and many stores will remain closed.

As the national holiday falls on a Thursday this year, many French workers will take the opportunity to faire le pont.

Festival season really kicks in

You know summer’s here when France gets festival fever, with events in towns and cities across the country. You can find our pick of the summer celebrations here.

Paris Plages

The capital’s popular urban beaches return on July 9th on the banks of the Seine and beside the Bassin de la Villette in northern Paris, bringing taste of the seaside to the capital with swimming spots, desk chairs, beach games and entertainment.  

Summer sales end 

Summer sales across most of the country end on July 19th – unless you live in Alpes-Maritimes, when they run from July 6th to August 2nd, or the island of Corsica (July 13th to August 9th).

Tour de France

The Tour de France cycle race sets off on July 1st from Copenhagen and finishes up on the Champs-Elysée in Paris on July 24th.

New boilers

From July 1st, 2022, new equipment installed for heating or hot water in residential or professional buildings, must comply with a greenhouse gas emissions ceiling of 300 gCO2eq/KWh PCI. 

That’s a technical way of saying oil or coal-fired boilers can no longer be installed. Nor can any other type of boiler that exceeds the ceiling.

As per a decree published in the Journal Officiel in January, existing appliances can continue to be used, maintained and repaired, but financial aid of up to €11,000 is planned to encourage their replacement. 

Bike helmets

New standards for motorbike helmets come into effect from July 1st. Riders do not need to change their current helmets, but the “ECE 22.05” standard can no longer be issued – and all helmets sold must adhere to a new, more stringent “ECE 22.06” standards from July 2024

New cars

From July 6th new car models must be equipped with a black box that record driving parameters such as speed, acceleration or braking phases, wearing (or not) of a seat belt, indicator use, the force of the collision or engine speed, in case of accidents.

New cars II

From July 1st, the ecological bonus for anyone who buys an electric vehicle drops by €1,000, while rechargeable hybrids will be excluded from the aid system, “which will be reserved for electric vehicles whose CO2 emission rate is less than or equal to 20g/km”.

What’s in a name?

Historically, the French have been quite restrictive on the use of family names – remember the concern over the use of birth names on Covid vaccine documents? – but it becomes easier for an adult to choose to bear the name of his mother, his father, or both by a simple declaration to the civil status. All you have to do is declare your choice by form at the town hall of your home or place of birth.

Eco loans

In concert with the new boiler rules, a zero-interest loan of up to €30,000 to finance energy-saving renovations can be combined with MaPrimeRénov’, a subsidy for financing the same work, under certain conditions, from July 1st.

Rent rules

Non-professional private landlords advertising properties for rent must, from July 1st, include specific information about the property on the ad, including the size of the property in square metres, the area of town in which the property is in, the monthly rent and any supplements, whether the property is in a rent-control area, and the security deposit required. Further information, including the full list of requirements for any ad, is available here.

Perfume ban

More perfumes are to be added to a banned list for products used by children, such as soap-making kits, cosmetic sets, shampoos, or sweet-making games, or toys that have an aroma.

Atranol, chloroatranol (extracts of oak moss containing tannins), and methyl carbonate heptin, which smells like violets, will be banned from July 5th, because of their possible allergenic effects.

Furthermore, 71 new allergenic fragrances – including camphor, menthol, vanilin, eucalyptus spp. leaf oil, rose flower oil, lavendula officinalis, turpentine – will be added to the list of ingredients that must be clearly indicated on a toy or on an attached label.

Ticket resto limits

The increased ticket resto limit ended on June 30th, so from July 1st employees who receive the restaurant vouchers will once again be limited to spending €19 per day in restaurants, cafés and bars. The limit was increased to €38 during the pandemic, when workers were working from home.

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