Czech women win MPs’ backing for non-gendered surnames

Women, wearing face masks, walk on the Charles Bridge in Prague, Czech Republic

Women in the Czech Republic may soon be able to take non-gendered versions of their surnames after MPs backed a change in the law.

In the Czech language, the ending “-ova” is added to all surnames for women, so Mr Novak’s daughter becomes Ms Novakova.

Women have only been able to drop the “-ova” ending in limited circumstances, such as if they have foreign nationality or live with a foreigner. The senate will now vote on the change. The proposal was brought forward by former Justice Minister Helena Valkova.

She said the current situation was an “unjustified unequal position and can lead to absurd situations”, with a woman holding residency in neighbouring Slovakia – which used to be part of the same country – allowed to change her surname. Women living in the Czech Republic, however, are prevented from making the same decision.

Ninety-one MPs voted on Wednesday in favour of allowing women to choose whether to take the masculine or feminine form of their surname, with 33 against. However, a proposal to remove gender from ID cards altogether was rejected.

Current rules mean that the wife or daughter of a Czech man has the -ova suffix added to her name, such as tennis star Petra Kvitova.

The pattern is similar to that seen in other Slavic languages and is also applied to foreign leaders and politicians – including former US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Pirate Party MP Ondřej Profant, who backed the bill, said a survey carried out at a registry office in Prague showed that around 28% of women would prefer to use the masculine form of their surname, Radio Prague International reported last year.

But the radio station also noted that most linguists in the country backed the current rules on names, arguing that the feminine ending was central to Czech grammar and could lead to confusion.

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