What′s in a Name? | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 08.03.2005
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What's in a Name?

Whilst Shakespeare answered his own question with the dulcet tones of romantic poetry, German bureaucrats stick to the well-versed Teutonic tradition of holding up the rule book of the nation's naming game.


Boys or girls? The name says it all

Baby-naming in Germany can be as bureaucratic a business as filing a tax return or buying a house. It can become more painful than the birth itself. Parents in the German town of Herford had to go through the judicial wringer in order to win permission to name their son "Luka."

The problem, the happy parents were told on presenting child and name to their local registrar, was not that there is anything intrinsically wrong or even remotely controversial about their choice. It is simply not clear whether "Luka" refers to a girl or a boy.

Where other European countries might have celebrated the birth of a new cross-gender name, Germany did what it does best, and stuck squarely to the rules. The registrar argued that the name could only be given to a boy if the child was also given a second Christian name which would leave the unsuspecting public in no doubt as to its sex.

Germany's laws governing name-giving not only stipulate that a child's name must clearly denote its gender, but that parents may not give their children insulting or ridiculous names -- the latter surely a subjective issue.

Not wanting to be told how to name their child, the parents stood their ground and chased their case from one courtroom and one appeal to another. Now, after two appeals, a higher court in the town of Hamm has ruled that the boy may go forth into his young life known to all and sundry as plain old "Luka." No gender-clarifying middle name required.

The judge declared that the name has been given to more boys than girls in the past years, giving it enough masculine credence to stand alone and be recognized as the mark of a young lad.

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