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Statement on the government proposal for the Act on First Names and Surnames (TAS 279/2017, issued on 5 October 2017)

The Ombudsman for Equality submitted a statement to the Parliamentary Legal Affairs Committee on the government proposal for the Act on First Names and Surnames and on the amendment to sections 8 and 9 of the Act on Registered Partnerships (HE 104/2017 vp).

The government proposal suggests that the requirement that first names be gender-specific be maintained. Exceptions can however be made for special reasons. The Ombudsman for Equality found that the gender-specific distinction of first names is not in violation of the Act on Equality between Women and Men, as long as it does not make it more difficult for trans and intersex persons to change their name to conform with their gender identity.

According to the grounds listed in the bill, gender identity can be one of the special reasons for deviating from the requirement for gender-specific first names. This is a good policy, which the Ombudsman for Equality would like to see not only in the grounds but also in the actual legislative text.  The Ombudsman for Equality addressed that an adult individual need not provide other grounds than their own view of their gender identity when submitting a notice of name change.

The grounds listed in the government proposal do not take a stand on whether a person can in special circumstances be have a name that is a combination of a man's and a woman's name, if this would best conform with the person's gender identity. The Ombudsman for Equality proposed that in order to prevent this from becoming an issue in practical application, the Act's grounds should include that for gender identity-related reasons a first name can also be a combination of a man's name and a woman's name.

According to the bill, an application for a change of first name must be submitted at the same time as the application for confirmation of gender or after this, in order for the name change to be processed free of charge. People who are going through gender reassignment will often begin to use a name that matches their gender identity before their new gender has been officially confirmed. Therefore, the time at which a name is changed should not determine whether a fee is charged for the change. The Ombudsman for Equality feels that a name change should be processed free of charge in all cases where a first name change is due to a person's gender identity.

The Ombudsman for Equality stated that the proposed more flexible practice for combining two surnames will increase the freedom of choice of couples and families. This freedom of choice may mean that gender will influence the selection of a surname less than it has previously. Currently, in cases where a couple has chosen to take the same surname or one spouse has chosen to take a combination of two surnames, the chosen surname is often that of the husband and the woman is most often the spouse to take a combination of the two surnames.