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What's-In-A-Name?: German Naming Laws Remain Byzantine - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International

The constitutional court in Germany on Tuesday ruled to uphold a ban on hyphenated last names of three names or longer. Given the frequency of names such as Godelieve Quisthoudt-Rowohl, many had expected a different result.

Everyone knows Schroeder, Charlie Brown's buddy in the "Peanuts" comics who pounds out Beethoven tunes on his miniature piano all day. Germans too are Schroeder fans, with Snoopy and friends having been around in the German language for half a century.

European Parliament campaign signs are plastered across Germany these days. Many of the candidates -- such as Silvana Koch-Mehrin, whose poster is seen on the far right -- have a lot of names. Schroeder, though, as it turns out, could never have been named Schroeder had he been born in Germany. The moniker is not allowed as a first name under the country's somewhat restrictive naming directives. Indeed, children must be given names that clearly denote gender and they cannot be given family names as first names. Out-of-the-ordinary designations are likewise verboten. Moon Unit Zappa could not have been German.

The law in Germany, though, isn't just concerned with first names. On Tuesday, the country's highest court upheld a ban on hyphenated last names longer than two names. Which means that Germany's Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul is on safe ground. But were she at some point in her life to tie the knot with SPD politician Thorsten Schäfer-Gümbel, she could not change her name to Heidemarie Schäfer-Zeul-Wieczorek-Gümbel, or any other combination thereof.

by Fran on Tue May 5th, 2009 at 01:57:49 PM EST
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