In April 2017, the Association for the German Language (Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache (GfdS)) published its annual list of the most popular baby names of the last year. The GfdS has been publishing this list since 1977. Since 2004, it has been included in the Statistical Yearbook of Germany by the German Statistical Office (Destatis), thereby making it the semi-official German list, as the German government does not publish its own list. In honor of the 70th anniversary of the GfdS, this year’s list included 70 names total instead of the usual ten names per gender. In addition, the GfdS also published a list of the Top-5 all-time favorite first names since the list started 40 years ago.
|The All-Time Top-5 for Girls:||The All-Time Top-5 for Boys:|
|1. Marie||1. Christian and Maximilian (tied)|
|2. Sophie/Sofie||2. Alexander|
|3. Maria and Stephanie (tied)||3. Daniel and Philipp (tied)|
|4. Lisa||4. Leon|
|5. Katharina||5. Lukas/Lucas|
A comparison of the all-time favorite lists to the current favorite lists shows that not much has changed over the course of 40 years. Marie and Sophie are still the top-2 girls’ names, whereas Alexander and Maximilian still occupy number 2 and 3 of the boys’ list. It also shows that Germans tend to stick to traditional names. But what about parents who prefer more exotic or unique names for their child?
Despite common belief, German parents are generally unrestricted in their name choice. There are no provisions in the various laws regarding names that regulate the naming of children. The right to name a child is part of the parental right to take care of the child, codified in article 6 of the German Basic Law (constitution). According to the German Federal Constitutional Court, “a name expresses the individuality of a person […] and makes him or her distinguishable from other people. It is the foremost duty of the parents to give their child a name which it cannot yet give itself. […] The right of the parents to choose a first name is only limited if it adversely affects the welfare of the child. The state has a right and a duty to protect the child from an irresponsible name choice. […].” (docket no. 1 BvR 576/07).
Actual Practice at the Registrar’s Office
However, the actual practice at the registrar’s office is different. According to the German Personal Status Act, the registrar has to register the name and the gender of the child in the birth register. The Instructions for Registrars adopted by the Ministry of the Interior state that male children may only have male names and female children only female names, with the exception being “Maria” as a second name for a male child. The instructions also state that a first name may not be offensive or something that is essentially not a name. Family names are also prohibited as first names, except if there is a regional practice to the contrary. Several names may be combined to one name and common short forms of names are acceptable as first names.
So what happens if the registrar refuses a name chosen by the parents based on the Instructions for Registrars? Off to court you go! The parents will have to file a suit in civil court requesting that their name choice be honored.
The Federal Constitutional Court held with regard to non-gender specific names that the fact that the registrar has to register the name and the gender of the baby does not mean that children need gender-specific names. According to the court, the Instructions for Registrars are non-legislative acts without any legal force and can therefore not limit the constitutionally guaranteed parental right to name a child. It stated that gender-neutral names generally do not adversely affect the well-being of the child, because the child can nonetheless identify with its gender.
The constitutional right of the parents to name their child as they please is only limited if the name choice could adversely affect the well-being of the child, for example by exposing the child to ridicule or by being offensive. It is therefore up to the discretion of the individual judge and varies in the different regions in Germany. In addition, attitudes towards what names are acceptable are subject to constant change. Many foreign or unique names that used to be unacceptable are now commonplace.
Names that the courts have allowed include:
- Emilie-Extra (OLG Hamburg [Higher Regional Court Hamburg], docket no. 2 W 110/03)
- Christiansdottir (KG Berlin (Higher Regional Court Berlin], docket no. 1 W 71/05)
- Kiran (Bundesverfassungsgericht [BVerfG] [Federal Constitutional Court], docket no. 1 BvR 576/07)
- Djehad (KG Berlin [Higher Regional Court Berlin], docket no. 1 W 93/07)
- Fanta (LG Köln [Regional Court Cologne], docket no. 1 T 198/98)
- Galaxina (AG Duisburg [District Court Duisburg], docket no. 12 III 43/92)
- Pumuckl (OLG Zweibrücken [Higher Regional Court Zweibrücken], docket no. 3 W 79/83)
- Emma Tiger ( (OLG) Celle, docket no. 18 W 9/04)
- Cosma-Shiva (LG Duisburg [Regional Court Duisburg], docket no. 2 T 177/92)
Names that have been denied by the courts include:
- Schmitz (one of the most common last names in Germany) (OLG Köln [Higher Regional Court Cologne], docket no. 16 Wx 239/01)
- Borussia (Germans associate the name with the soccer club Borussia Dortmund) (AG Kassel [District Court Kassel], docket no. 765 III 56/96)
- Pfefferminze (peppermint) (name of a healing and spice plant which will submit the child to ridicule) (AG Traunstein [District Court Traunstein], docket no. 3 UR III 2334/95)
- Verleihnix (Unhygienix) (name of a cartoon character) (Amtsgericht Krefeld, docket no. 32 III B 42/89)
- Stone (a child cannot identify with it, because it is an object and not a first name) Amtsgericht Ravensburg [District Court Ravensburg], docket no. 1 GR 371/93)
- Lord (according to the court, in Germany, “Lord” is only known as a title for English nobility or as a name for god, even if it might be an acceptable name in the United States or Sweden) (OLG Zweibrücken [Higher Regional Court Zweibrücken], docket no. 3 W 212/92)
- Möwe (seagull) (name of a bird which people find a nuisance and is seen as a pest and would therefore degrade the child) (BayObLG [Bavarian Higher Regional Court], docket no. BReg. 3 Z 1/86)
Changing a First Name
Changing a first name in Germany is only allowed under exceptional circumstances, for example according to the Transsexual Act, after an adoption, or in order to Germanize a foreign name. Apart from these exceptions, a person who would like to change his or her first name needs to show that there is a compelling reason for it. In general such a compelling reason is the fact that the person is subject to ridicule because of the name. “Sabsudin” was therefore able to legally change his name to “Sebastian Sabsudin”. The court stated that although it is an Islamic name that shows his membership in the Islamic community, it sounds foreign to a German, is difficult to pronounce, and subjected the child to ridicule from his classmates. The court held that changing the name would help the child better integrate into the school community. (VG Koblenz [Administrative Court Koblenz], docket no. 5 K 957/08.KO).
If you would like to know how other countries regulate names, don’t forget to check out our other blog posts on that topic, among them Elin’s recent FALQs: Name Day Celebrations in Sweden, Kelly’s post on Banning Baby Names in New Zealand, Laney’s on how many times you can change a name in Taiwan, or Elin’s post on Icelandic name laws.
What brought me to this article is that my personal name is Shannon. Most men with the name Shannon are around my age or older (nearly 50) and most women with my name are five years or more younger. Generally. So I wondered how the German authorities would treat someone wanting to give a boy my name. It is all pretty up in the air.
I noticed the name Kiran was approved by court by exception. It is also an Irish name.
In this case a second name, one which would more clearly define the child’s gender, would be required.
Is there any law restricting the use of a “regnal number”?
I can find no case for it, but, naming a child after an ancestor, along with “II” at the end, seems to be entirely unknown in German law.
If I can find one case of it, the registrar will accept it.
Hi Johnny, thank you for your question. Please submit it using our ask-a-librarian service at //ask.loc.gov/law/.
Can the baby name be change in germany if he is not german holder pasport,
Thank you for your question and interest in our blog. Please submit your question via our ask-a-librarian service at //ask.loc.gov/law/.
I lived in Austra for a few months while attending collage, and was told my name, April, was illegal there. It was difficult to buy a bus pass, but the clerk finally sold me one. Are month names still illegal to use as first names? Thank you.
Hi April, thank you for your question and reading our blog! Please submit it using our ask-a-librarian service at //ask.loc.gov/law/.
We live in Germany and are going to have a baby boy soon. We wish to name our son ‘Om’ (a Hindu Boy’s name). Is there a possibility that we have to go to court for this? I mean it’s not a gender-neutral name and not a synonym for ‘God’. It means the sound of universe and has other meanings as per different Indian cultures. You could google the meaning of the name as well.
Please share your insights.
Thank you for reading our blog and congratulations on your baby boy! Please send your question to our ask-a-librarian service at //ask.loc.gov/law/.
Can change he name MOHAMMAD as an new immigrant? I’m just a student at the moment.
Thank you for your question and reading our blog! As stated in the post, changing a name is very difficult in Germany and is only allowed under exceptional circumstances, e.g. to Germanize a foreign name or when a person is subject to ridicule because of the name. It is a case-by-case decision. You can also send your question to our ask-a-librarian service at //ask.loc.gov/law/ if you would like to know more.
Why have all those questions in here and then say write it to the library ask desk and then never post the answer. It’s really irritating to see a question and you get interested in it and then find out that there’s no answer for it.
Thanks for your comment. Most of the time, a research question is not a simple yes or no answer and cannot be answered in one or two sentences in a blog comment. Each case is unique. We therefore refer our patrons who would like to know more and get a more thorough answer to our as-a-librarian service. If you are also interested in one of the questions asked in the comments, you are welcome to submit a question yourself.