On the name “Blue”

Italian naming laws and contemporary society

Harry Cochrane
May 29, 2018 - 11:17

On May 22 in Milan, Justice Paola Barbara Folci ruled that a child will be allowed to keep her name: Blue. This was by no means a foregone conclusion. Luca and Vittoria, the parents of the 18-month-old girl, had been ordered by the public prosecution service to choose a more feminine name, and were told that the tribunal would select one if they refused to comply.

 

The whole furore is the result of Article 35, Law 396/2000, which stipulates that “the name given to a child must correspond to their gender”. On account of the colour that it evokes, argued the prosecution, Blue “cannot be considered unequivocally attributable to a person of the female sex, the birth certificate must be changed”.

 

It was suggested that the parents append a female saint’s name. But Blue’s father was unmoved. “Andrea, which in Greek means ‘man’ (andros), is accepted as a female name. I don't see why Blue shouldn’t be. It’s an absurd discrimination.”

After all, what colour are the vestments of the Virgin Mary?

 

The example of Andrea, it must be said, does not carry much weight in Italy, where the name is almost exclusively masculine. Of all the Italian Andreas that I know, and I have met a few, only one is a woman. Had she been born today rather than in the evidently more progressive climate of 1980s Sardinia, she may also have fallen foul of Article 35. And woe betide the Italian girl called Nicola, again, a female name in the Anglophone world but male in this one.

 

I feel for the parents of Blue, as we are still allowed to call her. One could argue that they were stubborn, having been warned at the Registry Office, the girl’s father admitted, that problems might arise. But they were also victims of a busybody interpretation of a law that should have remained unwritten. Hard though it is to believe, this is not the first Italian baby called Blue to have piqued the interest of a prosecution this month: Justice Maria Rita Cordova recently approved the name of a younger Blue, born on December 29. Her mother, who already has two unusually named children in Luna and Leone, defended the principles at stake behind any choice of name: “liberty, identity and respect for identity”.

 

“Blue” has been deemed a masculine colour, which is chauvinist enough even before we consider this day and age’s steady erosion of gender boundaries. Say we accept that names should “correspond to the sex” of a child, and say we agree that blue is a masculine colour, I would nonetheless argue that “Blue” has in fact acquired femininity through usage and iconography. After all, what colour are the vestments of the Virgin Mary?

 

 

Illustration by Leo Cardini

 

 

Names have complex backgrounds, and to ban “Blue” on the misidentified grounds of overt masculinity is to ignore the tangled histories behind most of our own. In a way, Blue is refreshingly simple: having only recently found use as a name, it has escaped the weight of history and hagiography, the deeds and misdeeds of heroes and villains. Being in Italy often feels like attending a convention of emperors and martyrs. Blue does not saddle you with expectations, does not shape you before you’ve started. It is both a primary colour and a blank canvas.

 

Think of other colourful Italian names: Violetta, Rosa, Rossella, Bianca, Bruno/Bruna. Are violet, pink, scarlet and white feminine colours, more so than dark brown? Think also of the humane aspect to all of this. Blue has lived with her name for a year and a half, will have heard it repeated thousands and thousands of times. One would think that by now she would be feeling, well, kind of Blue.

 

I am not endorsing her parents’ choice. I do think that Blue is a silly name. But all gene pools benefit from being diluted occasionally, and in classrooms packed to the gills with Giulias and Francescos, a bit of novelty might be welcome.

 

But novelty is challenged not only by Article 35, but also 34: “It is forbidden to give a child the name of a living father, brother or sister, a surname as a first name, or names ridiculous or shameful.” The first clause at least is common practice in the USA, where “Jr” and “Sr” are reasonably widespread suffixes, and the custom of giving a surname as a first name is a tradition in my home county of Northumberland, where one would typically find plenty of Robsons and Harrisons. Articles 34 and 35 were presumably drafted with good intentions, perhaps to reduce the risk of bullying, but do not suggest much multicultural sympathy.

 

The only clause of unquestionable value is that which prohibits the ridiculous and the embarrassing, for no child should have to live with the caprice of parents drunk on the post-natal moment. Otherwise, both articles should be scrupulously revisited and revised. Law 396/2000, let us remember, was enacted only 18 years ago; it is not a piece of relic legislation that has somehow escaped repeal. As long as such thinking is enshrined in law, we will continue to see gender conditioning of the kind that would have told Paola Barbara Folci and Maria Rita Cordova to give up on careers as judges and leave it to the men.

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