Court decision on number of forenames/BVerfG-Entscheidung zur Zahl der Vornamen

The German Federal Court of Justice held on January 28th that there is a limit to the number of forenames (I can’t really call them first names, and Christian name is not PC) a child can have.

bq. Die Beschwerdeführerin hatte beim Standesamt erklärt, ihrem neugeborenen Sohn zwölf Vornamen geben zu wollen. Nachdem sie die Vornamen beziehungsweise deren Reihenfolge im Laufe des Verfahrens mehrmals geändert hatte, beantragte die Bf schließlich mit der Beschwerde, das Kind solle die Vornamen “Chenekwahow, Tecumseh, Migiskau, Kioma, Ernesto, Inti, Prithibi, Pathar, Chajara, Majim, Henriko und Alessandro” erhalten. Dabei sollte die von ihr gewählte Reihenfolge der Namen deren jeweilige Vorrangigkeit bei der Namensgebung zum Ausdruck bringen. Das Landgericht wies das Standesamt an, dem Kind die vier Vornamen “Chenekwahow, Tecumseh, Migiskau und Ernesto” beizuschreiben. Die Namenswahl dürfe nicht dem Kindeswohl widersprechen. Zwölf Vornamen hätten aber einen erheblich belästigenden Charakter für das Kind. Es müsste sich die richtige Reihenfolge und Schreibweise der größtenteils ungewöhnlichen Namen merken und würde durch diese immer wieder auffallen. Das weiter angerufene Oberlandesgericht (OLG) Düsseldorf änderte den Beschluss der Vorinstanz geringfügig dahingehend ab, dass dem Kind zusätzlich der Name „Kioma“ zu geben sei. Das OLG machte sich die Begründung des Landgerichts zu eigen und stellte zusätzlich darauf ab, dass die Selbstidentifikation des Kindes mit zunehmender Zahl seiner Vornamen nicht mehr gewährleistet sei. Mit ihrer dagegen gerichteten Verfassungsbeschwerde rügt die Bf die Verletzung ihrer Grundrechte unter anderem aus Art. 2 Abs. 1 und Art. 6 Abs. 2 Satz 1 GG.

bq. The complainant, at the registry office (after changing her mind about names and their order several times), wanted her son to have twelve forenames:
Chenekwahow, Tecumseh, Migiskau, Kioma, Ernesto, Inti, Prithibi, Pathar, Chajara, Majim, Henriko and Alessandro.

bq. The court admitted only four, on the grounds that the son would later be made fun of otherwise. The four names were Chenekwahow, Tecumseh, Migiskau and Ernesto, so he has a good chance of being made fun of anyway. The court of intermediate appeal added a further argument: the more names a child had, the less it could identify with them. So it allowed him one more name: Kioma.

17 thoughts on “Court decision on number of forenames/BVerfG-Entscheidung zur Zahl der Vornamen

  1. There’s obviously more here than meets the eye!

    @Paul: I have stopped using the term ‘Christian name’ in translations as I’ve so often heard it criticized. I see your point, of course, but I have to say I changed my mind on this issue.

    @Margaret: I see Wikipedia has another entry:
    I find the Wikipedia writer a bit too narrow. For instance, the argument that a Christian name is one given at baptism: I have had a Christian name all my life, and I have never been baptized. That’s to say, I go along with general usage in the society I grew up in, not with use elsewhere usually, and not with logic. I suppose I must agree that strictly speaking Hungarians don’t have first names. Then again, I think really I have two first names (so why do I object to twelve being called first names?). But I realize Americans make a really big thing of middle name (having encountered a birth certificate saying John NMN Smith). ‘Given name’ is OK, I do see that, but it feels unfamiliar to me – I used not to understand what it meant, because I only encountered it at an advanced age.
    Here’s Wikipedia on Middle name:
    Another puzzler was what to call a man’s surname / last name at birth if he later, under the new German law, took his wife’s name. Many people seemed to think it was poncy (Paul, I expect that’s a word in your vocabulary) to call it a maiden name.

  2. Hi Margaret … no…can’t say I’ve ever used the word “poncy”….I must admit though I do use “first name” in translations a lot these days purely because I hear it more and more on TV…..Another name-related thing I’ve noticed on the subject of Americans is to use such quaint expressions as “John Edward Rastus McBarmy the 3rd” —I remember being tickled pink standing in Atlanta airport and listening to someone with a similar name being paged. No one even smirked….apart from the English-speaking non-US tourists of course. Is it true Margaret that Germans are no longer permitted to give them selves double-barreled names? What law is this?


  3. Actually, Margaret is right, too: it does sound odd to talk about a Chinese Christian name, to say nothing of an Islamic Christian name.
    I know nothing about Germans not being allowed to have double-barrelled names. I have just looked it up and you’re right. I see the Bundesverfassungsgericht held that a registrar who had refused to give a baby a double-barrelled name was right. It seems to have been confirming a statute, though – probably 1998. Here’s a summary:
    Thanks for the information!

  4. Concerning the “maiden name” issue: (Now that certainly isn’t PC, is it?) Any way, the forms I have recently encountered all call it either “name at birth” or “name before the first marriage”.

  5. @Ingmar: Yes, I have had to translate it myself and I used ‘birth name’. The term is fairly common, but it’s normally used to refer to adopted children who want to know their original name. Of course, as you imply, it doesn’t cover situations where the person is getting married for the second time, but I think it usually works anyway.

  6. Chenekwahow, Tecumseh, Migiskau, Ernesto – da hat sich ja wirklich einiges verändert in Deutschland. Als wir nach der Geburt unserer Tochter 1986 in Tokyo bei der dortigen Botschaft eine deutsche Geburtsurkunde mit den “Vornamen” Klara und Grogan (dem Familiennamen meiner Frau) beantragten, wurde uns vom Standesamt in Berlin mitgeteilt, daß es sich bei dem Namen “Grogan” nicht um einen Vornamen, sondern um einen Familienname handele, weswegen der Familienname “Grogan” nicht als weiterer Vorname eingetragen werden könne.

    Gott sei Dank sah das die Richterin beim Amtsgericht Schöneberg anders und ordnete an, die Eintragung des Vornamens zu berichtigen.

    Ich habe allerdings das Gefühl, daß wir mit den vier obengenannten Namen einen schwereren Stand gehabt hätten.

  7. Are there limits on what names can be used?

    I remember reading, several years ago, about a French man who wanted to name his daughter Fleur de Lis. She didn’t get a birth certificate because the local registrar refused to register a non-saint’s name. I think she finally got a certificate at age 11, at least according to the story.

    Of course, it’s hazy memory now. I have sometimes wondered if France really had such restrictions — seems odd with such a diverse population in the country — or whether it was just an apocryphal story.

  8. Oh yes, there are limits. (I am talking about Austria in particular, but the general situation is the same for Germany.)

    The given name must, above all, not conflict with the child’s interests. It has to be an existant name (so new names must be “invented” elsewhere :), not be “lächerlich” (ridicuous?) or “anstößig” (offensive?), and the gender of it’s bearer must be recognizable. (“A boy named Sue”, as the Johnny Cash classic goes, would not have been possible here.)

  9. @transmogriflaw: As Ingmar says, there are definitely limits. It’s one of the big differences between civil-law countries (at least Germany and Austria) and common-law ones. It’s very hard to change your surname too. It certainly used to be annoying for British and American residents who were used to having more freedom of choice of married name but if they got married here they had to follow the German rules. Michael writes that he had difficulty getting his (American) wife’s name recognized as his daughter’s middle name. In his case, the birth certificate was later officially altered.

    So I don’t know about waiting till you’re 11 to get a certificate. I suspect you have to get a certificate here and try to get it changed later if you don’t like the restrictions. The population is quite diverse here, too. I can’t remember problems with foreign names, except that Greeks and Russians might use a particular romanization of their name and the German authorities would force them to spell it the ‘official’ way. Of course, a lot of weird names were awarded at Ellis Island too, but I suppose people could change them later.

  10. I still use “maiden name” Margaret. Sorry. I don’t see what’s non-politically correct about it. It’s what was used for “wife’s surname name at birth” when I was a you ng lad (…..there was a time) and so it shall remain. I think a lot of elderly women would take offence at not using “maiden name”. Have they also tried to abolish “née” as well?


  11. Paul, I’m talking about using ‘maiden name’ for a man who has taken his wife’s name on marriage, like my former colleague Heinz Maul, who has been Heinz Römermann since he got married. You want to call that ‘maiden name’? Of course it’s not impossible.

  12. It’s intriguing that the Russian patronymic – ancestral – name is given such prominence and the practical Swedes require on official forms the informal ’tilltalnamn -> Christian (sic). name i.e. nickname most frequently used.’

    In Austria/German, there assuredly wold be a problem with the Standesamt naming a child ‘Puhmuckel Struwelpeter Winnie-Puh’.

  13. Thanks for the information; that was interesting. I hadn’t made the connection between limits and the civil code system, but that makes sense.

    As for maiden name, I think here (Western US) that term is used less and less frequently. I think that in some cases it doesn’t make sense and doesn’t fit the situation. Many Latin American immigrants follow traditional naming patterns. Also, many women keep their last names when they marry but give their babies their last names as middle names. There aren’t really maiden names in these cases.

    It used to be that “mother’s maiden name” was used frequently as a password for banks, but with the advent of online family histories, this has fallen out of favor.

    As a result, I don’t hear the phrase used as often as it once was.

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