That's what you are called in Germany


Frankfurt Wedding rings, groomsmen, wedding cake? Who marries, faces many decisions. One of the compelling ones is the choice of the future name. According to figures from the Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache (GfdS), just under three-quarters of couples in 2016 opted for the surname of the man – only six percent for the name of the woman.

Twelve percent of newlyweds retained their birth names. And for the rest, one decided on a so-called double name – usually the woman. At first glance, the choices seem sufficient. But internationally there are many more variations. In the United Kingdom, for example, there is complete freedom of name choice, as some couples merge their names into a completely new one. Elsewhere, at least both partners may carry a double name. In Germany, this may only one.

The German name right is considered as one of the strictest and contains many a contradictory specification. The missing right to a double name for both partners is just one example. Experts criticize the fact that the rigid rules no longer do justice to the more complex family constellations such as patchwork families, that there are increasing inequalities and that the name as expression of the personality is not sufficiently taken into account.

Too much is still pounded on the principle of continuity. So a name change is actually only intended for birth, marriage and divorce. Who wants to change the name without such an event, must put forward an "important reason".

"Personally, I am in favor of much more choice of name, and the current restrictions can no longer be justified in view of the changed function of the name and the new family constellations," says Anatol Dutta.

The law professor of the LMU Munich is one of seven members of a working group, the Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI) and Federal Ministry of Justice (BMJV) 2018 have launched. It is to draft proposals for the amendment of the naming right. When exactly the results or a bill are presented, is not yet determined, according to data of the BMI.

"In the past, names were primarily intended to facilitate the individualization and classification of individuals, and provide information about gender, belonging to a family or even a group such as the bourgeoisie and the nobility," said the scientist. "In the meantime, people's self-image function is the focus, and the name is part of our personality right," says Dutta.

The former functions fulfilled today the tax identification number, which receives meanwhile each citizen with birth, or the pension insurance number far better.

Yours, mine, ours?

But what exactly is currently allowed in Germany and which legislative changes are being discussed? Back to the marriage: If partners marry Schmitz and Meyer, they have two options: Both retain their previous surnames – or they determine a common married name.

The partner, who does not prevail in the married name, can either wear only the married name or add or prefix the previous surname as a so-called companion name, so Schmitz-Meyer or Meyer-Schmitz. If the partners have the same last name from birth, a combination like Meyer-Meyer is not allowed.

Important: Once the decision for a married name has been made, it can not be revoked. "If you want to get rid of your married name again, you have to get a divorce," says Eva Becker, specialist lawyer for family law. In addition, there is only the death of the spouse the opportunity to file the marriage name.

If the partners are unsure about their choice of name, they can first retain their previous names at the wedding and later decide on a married name. There is no deadline nationwide, confirmed a spokesman for the BMI. Pairs also have plenty of time to think about when choosing a companion name. This can be supplemented years after the wedding. This decision can then be revoked at most once.

The partner, whose name has become a married name, can not change his name. In Germany, couples are not allowed to form a "real" double name from their surname, which they both can carry and pass on to their children. Tobias Helms, law professor at the University of Marburg and also a member of the Association of BMI and BMJV, criticized the.

"Such a name combination can be seen as an expression of the community. Internationally, this is widespread, "he says. "Critics often warn that names would be longer with each generation, but that can be easily prevented by prohibiting name chains," explains Helms.

Divorce brings choice

There are many ways to make a name choice: divorces can continue the marriage name, adding their birth name, only bearing their birth name, or accepting a married name from a previous marriage. Anyone who keeps his married name after the divorce can pass him on to the new partner at another wedding since 2005. The ex-partner can not defend against it.

This is true even if his name contains a so-called nobility predicate, that is, a "to" or "of". "Since the abolition of the nobility in Germany, these name additions can be transferred during a wedding or adoption," explains family lawyer Sybill Offergeld of the law firm Rose & Partner. Real titles, on the other hand, were lost in the past with the divorce.

Anyone who has children, at birth, not only by their first name, but also determine their surname. If the parents are not married, the child automatically gets the surname of the mother – unless the parents jointly declare that the child should bear the name of the father. If the parents are married and have a married name, the child will automatically get it. Not allowed is the passing on of surnames of both parents.

But no rule without exception – and that is, according to law professor Dutta, an example of the current "lack of principles of German naming rights and lack of consistency": Thus, paragraph 1618 of the Civil Code, the "naming".

An example: Nina Schmitz bears the marriage name of her parents. The parents get divorced, the mother later marries Mr. Krause and accepts his name. Then Nina may exceptionally be called Schmitz-Krause – provided that her biological father and Nina herself, if she is at least five years old, agree. But: At a legal regulation, to reverse this later – so-called renaming – is still missing.

Individual changes

Anyone who wants to change his surname regardless of the birth, marriage, divorce or death of his partner, has a hard time in Germany. According to the name change law, there must be an "important reason" for this. "What is accepted depends mostly on the interpretation practice of the individual authorities," says law professor Helms. Mostly those involved would bring their concerns without a lawyer, and then it depends on how convincingly they describe that they actually suffer from the name.

"If somebody has acquired his stepfather's name by so-called naming and has been beaten and traumatized by him, the application for the name will probably be accepted," says Helms. "Anyone who just says he wants to change the name because the mother has turned away from the man has little chance."

In Austria, for example, in addition to a change of name for an important reason, there is also the option to choose a so-called desired name freely. "It has not been known that the Austrians would make use of this possibility in too large numbers," says Helms. Who does not suffer under his name for any special reasons, will not let it change on a whim.

The strict requirements in Germany appear unfair not only in comparison to the liberal rules of other countries. Even foreigners who come to Germany have various options for their name. Anyone who accepts German citizenship can, for example, adapt his name to the German form. Pjotr ​​Šmit could become Peter Schmidt, explains Dutta.

Under "wrong" name

What many citizens do not know: In Germany, there is no obligation to name. "Compared with state authorities, you have to identify yourself with the civil-legal name," explains Dutta. "In private transport, however, it is primarily important that a person is clearly identifiable and, for example, it is clear who closes the contract."

The consequence: "If Mr. Meyer after the marriage with his wife or his husband to the marital name Schmitz, he may still continue to act as Mr Meyer in the social sphere, as far as the contractor does not insist on using the civil-legal name," said the law professor. The same applies to freely chosen pseudonyms. "Apart from the state authorities, there are only a few situations where you have to reveal the real name," says Helms.
Relevant may be the occurrence under the birth name, for example, if a person is already known under this name in professional life.

Pseudonyms are very common among writers, for example. Actors and other artists are mostly talking about "stage names". An artist name can also be entered in the ID card. "The entry requires, however, that under the name has already gained a certain notoriety," says lawyer Offergeld. The entry of the birth name as a stage name is not possible according to the "General Administrative Regulation for the Implementation of the Passport Act".

Given names, creativity is allowed

Pebbels, Tequila, Boss and Amsterdam – parents can be creative when choosing a first name for their child. According to an evaluation by the Gesellschaft für Deutsche Sprache (GfdS), they get inspiration for example in the literature. It then becomes Ophelia or Faustus. Fans of the series Games of Thrones come in names like Khaleesi and Euron. The English language also helps: Peace and Melody. All of these names were actually registered in birth certificates.


"The German registry offices have meanwhile become much more generous," says Frauke Rüdebusch from GfdS. "In the past, for example, German citizens had to prove that they had a family connection to a country if they wanted to give their child a common name there." Numerous judgments gradually eased administrative regulations.

"Legally, the granting of the first name has not been regulated at all, but is based on many years of jurisprudence," says Anatol Dutta, law professor at the LMU in Munich. As the Federal Constitutional Court has confirmed, in the choice of the first name, all that matters is that the best interests of the child are not endangered.

"To name a child Fanta does not have to be childish, since that's a nice name, even if it's a well-known brand," says Dutta. "For purely factual, generic or place names, such as Wiesengrund or Borussia, that would probably be different." The GfdS has rejected in opinion about Chaotica, Lucifer and Urmel. However, the majority of parents still like it classically. The trend towards old names like Emma and Paul is unbroken.


Inadmissible are sexless names. A girl can not be called Thomas. However, the default that names must show the gender of the child no longer exists. For this, the Federal Constitutional Court in 2008 made with the "Kiran" decision. For gender-neutral names like Kim or Luca, no second first name has to be added that indicates the gender.

It is unclear what consequences the recognition of the third sex will have "divers". "One possibility would be that children with a variant of gender development are given either a gender-neutral or a female and a male given name and later name them," says Dutta.

More: Tina Müller, Thomas Müller, Gerd Müller – many people have to share many names. That's a problem.

Names (t) Given Names (t) Naming (t) Duplicate Names (t) Registry Office (t) Allowed (t) Prohibited (t) Naming Right (t) Legal Area (t) Corporate Identity (t) Family Law (t) Family (t) Federal Constitutional Court (t) German Language Society (t) Federal Ministry of Justice (t) Smit


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