Rennes mayor to challenge ‘ban’ on Breton first names

Mayor Nathalie Appéré tweeted that "the unity of the Republic will not dissolve in an apostrophe" as she sought to defend Breton names

The mayor of Rennes is to contest a 2014 law that effectively forbids parents from giving their children names spelled with apostrophes or ‘tildes’.

Nathalie Appéré has announced that she will seek to defend Breton first names from being excluded from the permitted list of names parents are allowed to give their children.

The move comes after a 2014 “circular” bulletin effectively outlawed the use of apostrophes and tildes (∼) in first names, meaning that several Breton names were subsequently forbidden.

These included “Fañch” and “Derc’hen”, which were not accepted as first names by the State in spring and summer 2017 respectively. (In this context, these symbols denote Breton sounds, such as the “c’h”, which is not said “che” as in French, but more similarly to the “j” in Spanish, or a harsher “h” sound in English.)

According to the controversial text, circulated on July 23 2014, “parents may choose the names of their children, using traditional writing”.

It specified that only the usual Roman alphabet could be used, and the only “diacritical” elements could be full stops, an umlaut, accents such as é and è, and cedillas (ç).

Yet, Appéré has been among those who have suggested that the naming rules are inadvertently discriminating against Breton, as the (non-Breton) names Tu’iuvea, N’néné, D’Jessy and N’Gussan have - somewhat confusingly - all been accepted in Rennes since 2014, despite the rules being in place.

In a tweet, the mayor said: “The unity of the Republic will not dissolve in an apostrophe. The circular of July 2014 must evolve.”

Along with the 2014 rules, France already has tough measures in place when it comes to first names, including those that could open the child to ridicule (names including Nutella and Fraise have been refused under these grounds); and the use of a known surname as a first name.

Under these rules, a judge can refuse a first name, and ask the parents to decide on another, acceptable one. In the absence of this, the judge can impose a name of their choosing.

It is legal to change your own name and surname in France, if you have a “legitimate interest” in doing so - for example, if your name is judged to be “ridiculous”, is causing you harm, or is similar to that of a famous person with a bad reputation.

You can also change your surname if you want to ensure that a family name does not die out; if you always use another name in public and everyone knows you by another name to that on your birth certificate; and if you and your family members have different surnames and you wish to have the same one.

However, changing your name in France is not free: the change must first be published in the Journal Officiel de la République Française at a cost of €110, and should also be published in a local newspaper too, to confirm it.

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