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ECJ rules German's changed name not to be recognized in homeland

A German citizen who changed his name in the UK to include noble titles cannot demand German authorities recognize his name change. The EU's top court ruled that he may now have to remain a man of two identities.

Judges at the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on Thursday that dual-nationality EU citizens do not have the right for a name registered in one home country to be accepted by the other.

The ruling followed the lengthy case of Nabiel Peter Bogendorff von Wolffersdorff, who lived in Britain from 2001 to 2005, during which time he acquired British nationality and changed his name to Peter Mark Emanuel Graf von Wolffersdorff Freiherr von Bogendorff. Graf means "count" and Freiherr translates to "baron" in German.

On his return to Germany, Bogendorff von Wolffersdorff requested the registry office of his home town of Karlsruhe register his new name, which would then enable him to update his German identity papers. Their refusal prompted him to take the case to court.

Bogendorff von Wolffersdorff brought an action before the Karlsruhe district court, which in turn asked the ECJ whether EU law precludes such a refusal.

The ECJ did, however, rule that a country's refusal to recognize a citizen's name change violated freedoms under EU law.

"Mr. Bogendorff von Wolffersdorff risks having, because of the divergence between his names, to dispel doubts as to his identity," the ruling said.

(En)titled?

The 1919 Weimar constitution abolished noble titles, but titles of nobility held before 1919 can be retained and passed on to subsequent generations.

Watch video 03:06

Modern aristocrats (04.12.2013)

In the UK, anyone can change their name by deed poll to anything they choose.

An advocate-general of the ECJ said in March that the new name, noble titles included, should be recognized in Germany, as not doing so would be discrimination based on nationality and free movement within the EU.

Identity issues

Bogendorff von Wolffersdorff said he had on several occasions had to spend hours in a police station while the German authorities verified the authenticity and validity of his British passport.

In addition, he may face difficulty in proving his family links with his daughter, Larissa Xenia Gräfin von Wolffersdorff Freiin von Bogendorff.

The legal ruling is expected to ease fears of so-called name tourism, where EU citizens take advantage of laxer laws on name changes in another member state.

jbh/sms (AP, dpa)

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