Turkish Bride’s Victory On Keeping Her Maiden Name

 

On September 3, 2013, European Court of Human Rights delivered its opinion and judgment on Gülizar Tuncer Güneş’ case.  ECHR held that Article 187 of the Turkish Civil Code which bars women from solely keeping their maiden name after marriage is in violation of international law pursuant to Article 14 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (hereinafter referred to as “the Convention”) in conjunction with Article 8.  Article 187 of the Turkish Civil Code reads as:

Married women shall bear their husband’s name.  However, they can make a written declaration to the Registrar of Births, Marriage, and Deaths on signing the marriage deed, or at the Registrary of Birth, Marriages and Deaths after the marriage, if they wish to keep their maiden name in front of their surname…

The plaintiff, Güneş is a Turkish citizen who is currently living in Istanbul, Turkey and a practicing attorney.  When Güneş got married on March 30, 2005, she was required to take her husband’s surname pursuant to Article 187 of the Turkish Civil Code.  Nevertheless, she was able to keep her maiden name in front of her husband’s surname as stated within the same provision. Because she was known with her maiden name in the legal community, she wanted to use solely her maiden name and completely take out her husband’s surname.

On May 9, 2007, she filed a suit regarding her request to use only her maiden name before the Şişli Court of First Instance.  However, the court dismissed her action pursuant to Article 187.  She then appealed the judgment but the Court of Cassation affirmed the lower court’s decision.  Ultimately, she brought this action against the Republic of Turkey before the European Court of Human Rights.

She claimed that the Turkish laws forcing her to take her husband’s surname is unconstitutional and violates Article 8 of the Convention which provides the right to respect for private and family and Article 14 of the Convention which prohibits against discrimination.  According to Ms. Güneş, the law stating that married men can keep solely their maiden name after marriage but not married women constituted discrimination based on sex.

She further argued that the Article 187 conflicts with the Turkish Constitution which reads as:

All individuals shall be equal before the law without any distinction based on language, race, color, sex, political opinion, philosophical belief, religion, membership of a religious sec or other similar ground.  Women and men shall have equal rights.

After hearing both sides of the case, ECHR ruled in favor of Ms. Güneş finding that there was a violation of Article 14 of the Convention in conjunction with Article 8. The court awarded Ms. Güneş non-pecuniary damages, which amounts 1,500 euros and legal fees, and expenses which amounts to 3, 030 euros.  In reaching its decision, the ECHR have relied on the precedent, Ünal Tekeli v. Turkey, No.29865/96, §§ 17-31, ECHR 2004-X (extracts).  The ECHR further found that the plaintiff’s complaint about Turkey failing to make the necessary amendments to the domestic law as justifiable in light of the stated precedent above.

Putting aside the fact that Ms. Güneş is probably satisfied with the ultimate decision on her case, what do you think the consequences of such law would be within our daily lives?  What kinds of problems might possibly occur due to the use of different surnames in the family institution?  When it comes to naming the child, whose surname should be used?  Does it make it more or less equal if you were required to use your husband’s or your wife’s maiden surname?

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2 comments

  1. The use of a woman’s maiden name post divorce could symbolize many things. It could represent anything from freedom, autonomy, starting a new chapter in her life, and hope, to a name that identifies her as part of a particular line of work. This is especially true depending on the circumstances of the marriage. If there was domestic violence involved, for example, the use of a woman’s maiden name can be of ultimate importance in the healing process. The marriage could be something she would like to forget and one way of moving on may be by going back to the name that signifies peace and independence in her life.
    Of equal value is a woman’s career. If names are key factors in a woman’s line of work, for example an attorney or a doctor, and a woman has been using her maiden name while she has been working, the use of her married name could be a detriment to her career. If a woman’s maiden name is reputable in her field, this could gain her more clients or patients. In this case the main reason why, Güneş, the Plaintiff, fought to keep her maiden name was because it was known in the legal community. Using her married name could be confusing to her potential clients as she could be mistaken for someone else. As a result, using her married name could be injurious to her practice.
    Although different surnames may cause a rift in the family institution, for example when a child has a different last name from his mother, using one’s maiden name is simply a personal choice. It does not make her any less of the child’s mother. This is something so common in United States that if done in Turkey more often, it would not be such a foreign concept. I even venture to say that more women would follow this trend.
    A name is a lot more than letters on a page… it is an identity.

  2. I agree with Kiersten that your name is your “identity”. It is degrading to women to require them to essentially assume the identity of their husband upon marriage. Although a woman is allowed to keep her maiden name before her husband’s surname, the simple fact the husbands are not required to do this as well is a violation of her equal protection rights. It can almost be seen as a husband putting a stamp of ownership on his wife. On the other hand, some women would love nothing more than to take their husband’s name. Some see it as a symbol of companionship and as a tradition. But, the simple fact is that women should have a right to choose what they want to do.

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