What’s in a name?/Titel und Nachnamen

It was put to me recently that Ernst August Prinz von Hannover – note there is no comma after ‘August’ – might be translated and abbreviated as Mr. Prinz von Hannover (this was in a context where names are always shortened to title, initial and surname). The reasoning is that since the abolition of titles in Germany, ‘Prinz von Hannover’ has been only a surname.

I don’t think it works in English, where the standard form seems to be Prince Ernst August of Hanover or Hannover (the single N in Hanover is still usual for the dynasty; the double N is more common than it was for the town). One could then leave it to general knowledge that there is no aristocracy in Germany any longer.

One of the Web authorities on titles is Mark Odegard:

bq. In Germany, since the Weimar Republic, all titles are considered part of one’s last name. Thus, a real title holder can “adopt” an adult, and the otherwise unrelated person then can become “Joe Schmuck Duke of Saxony” (this is the case of ZsaZsa’s hubby); the practice is alluded to in Billy Wilder’s film, One Two Three (Cagney’s last film before Ragtime).

Gilbert von Studnitz has a full treatment of German titles here (also done for the newsgroup alt.talk.royalty).

bq. Since 1919, according to the German republican government, the nobility no longer exists as a legal entity. Nevertheless, the titles and noble designations of the nobility have not been abolished, as they have in Austria, and may still be carried. Legally they are now merely parts of the family name and in theory convey no status. Following this rule all children of, for example, a Count von Beust, whether male or female, would have the family name Count von Beust. Similarly your could find ladies named Elisabeth Duke of Saxony or Luise Prince of Prussia. A woman married to the Hereditary Grand Duke of Baden would, in law, also be named Hereditary Grand Duke of Baden, as would all their children. To avoid making all this seem too ridiculous the German government ignores much of its own law and allows the wives and children of nobles to take the gender-specific titles appropriate to their sex.

So Caroline can call herself Prinzessin, instead of Prinz.

bq. Another example of society ignoring the 1919 law and following traditional practice is that in all German telephone books a person named, for instance, Baron von Richthofen would be listed under “R” for Richthofen rather than a “v” for “von” or a “B” for “Baron”. The U.S. telephone books are (unwittingly) more compliant with current German legal writ by listing all persons with a “von” under “v”.

The question arose recently on the pt list at Yahoo: how do I address a German ‘aristocrat’ in a letter? The answer is: probably by ignoring the letter of the law.

Someone recommended a book by Otto Krabs called Von Erlaucht bis Spektabilis.


Meanwhile in Austria it is a much more serious matter to pander to the (formerly) great and good. Under the Habsburgergesetz of April 3rd 1919, it is unlawful to use titles to address people (verboten). See an entry in Michael Kadlicz’s old weblog (new weblog here):

bq. Wilfried Seipel, the Director of the Kunsthistorisches Museum, addressed Otto Habsburg as ‘kaiserliche Hoheit’ (Your Imperial Highness; kurier.at). This is sufficient to start a storm in a teacup in Austria.

But what does verboten mean? Are there any consequences?

2 thoughts on “What’s in a name?/Titel und Nachnamen

  1. Actually, you’d have to take a look at the Adelsaufhebungsgesetz or “Gesetz vom 3. April 1919 über die Aufhebung des Adels, der weltlichen Ritter- und Damenorden und gewisser Titel und Würden”, if you will. (Not the Habsburgergesetz, which exists, too.)

    In theory: yes, there are consequences. The maximum fine is 20.000 gold crowns (nobody knows, how much that is nowadays), or six months imprisonement. The only punishable offense, however, is “Führen”, that is calling oneself an aristocrat, or perhaps insisting to be so called. Calling it somebody else, for example, is not an offense. (Quite ofte nused in obituaries, for example.)

    This is theory, of course, and more of a political statement than anything else. To the best of my knwoledge, nobody was punished for violating this law in recent years.

    Still, we do take it somewhat more serious than the Germans. If you happen to be, say, a German national, you’ll be sorted under “von” in the Austrian telephone directory, and the married husband of Princess Something Or Else must indeed not call himself “Prince” — but Mr. Princess if he so wishes.

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