What′s in a Name? | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 20.05.2002
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What's in a Name?

Rules and regulations: The Germans love them. So of course parents can't simply give a child a neutral name or change a name to just any old thing.


Better make certain that your baby's name is gender specific in Germany.

Germany has a legislation which says that first names need to be gender specific. From a first name, one should be able to distinguish whether the person is male or female. Also, should a German resident marry a foreigner with an exotic surname, he or she might encounter problems when wanting to adopt the partner's name in Germany.

Names that are pulled from a hat or just invented, cannot be adopted by German citizens. This makes sense when looking at the German music scene too. Singers in the country generally keep their original names. One would need to look long and hard to find anyone with a name as creative as the Symbol (the artist formerly known as Prince).

The newly-wed Kerstin Steinbrecher from Mühlhausen in Thüringen has first-hand experience of this. Fair enough, she wants to change her family name to Walkinstikt-Man-Alone. Her husband is from the Choktaw tribe in Northern America. The registry office, however, has placed a stamp in her passport in both English and German saying that under no circumstance may she adopt her husband's name.

In German, the name translates to 'Hermelin, das alleine läuft' which apparantly doesn't sound like the genuine name. For all the German registry office knows, it might be an invented or adopted name and not have a real family lineage. More importantly, it would look like the super efficient German officials had made an error when issuing Mrs. Steinbrecher identification documents.

Earlier last year, another couple also got caught-up in the beurocratic tangle with the authorities. Mr. and Mrs. Kepurras wanted to name their daughter Jona, a popular girls' name in Israel. The German resigistry office claimed that the name was too masculine for a girl and therefore wouldn't allow it.

After three court cases, the German authorities relented and ruled that the name was neither masculine nor feminine. Therefore, they stipulated that the name could only be adopted for the girl when used in conjunction with her second name, Chantel. No one can mistake Jona-Chantel for being a boy, the officials reasoned.

The Germans are a well travelled nation. Every year they actively flock to exotic locations, and some even meet and marry foreigners with exotic -- at least to German ears -- sounding names. Nonetheless, the law remains seemingly inflexible on this topic. Germans may not simply adopt an exotic name, no matter how nice or common it sounds in "native" ears.

Hopefully, with the influx of Turkish, African and Indian nationals into the country, the naming officials will become a little more lax with their strict laws.

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