High Court in Germany Pops Names That Balloon

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Wed May 6 18:31:37 UTC 2009

May 6, 2009
High Court in Germany Pops Names That Balloon

BERLIN — Germany is renowned for fighting inflation, but the battle
extends beyond money and into the realm of names. In a split decision
on Tuesday, the German Constitutional Court upheld a ban on married
people combining already-hyphenated names, forbidding last names of
three parts or more. It was not the first time the court was forced to
weigh in on the subject of names, which are regulated start to finish,
fore to family, here in Germany. This time, it was a Munich couple who
decided to challenge the constitutionality of a 1993 rule limiting the
names of married people to a single hyphen and two last names.

Frieda Rosemarie Thalheim, a Munich dentist, wanted to take the last
name of her husband, Hans Peter Kunz-Hallstein, to become Frieda
Rosemarie Thalheim-Kunz-Hallstein. The case brought Germany’s minister
of justice before the court in Karlsruhe for oral arguments in
February to defend the ban on what the Germans call “chain names.” By
a vote of five to three, the court refused to budge, ruling that
ballooning names “would quickly lose the effectiveness of their
identifying purpose,” and declined to overturn the law on the grounds
that it infringed on personal expression.

In a telephone interview, the couple’s lawyer, Rüdiger Zuck, said his
clients had no comment on the ruling, but added, with what sounded
distinctly like a note of resignation, “The Germans are

Germany takes a highly regimented approach to naming. Children’s names
must be approved by local authorities, and there is a reference work,
the International Handbook of Forenames, to guide them. Jürgen Udolph,
a University of Leipzig professor and head of the information center
there that provides certificates of approval for names that have not
yet made the official list, said that “the state has a responsibility
to protect people from idiotic forenames.”

That responsibility is often tested in court. In 2003, an appellate
court ruled that a boy could not be named “Anderson,” because it was a
last name in Germany. And the Constitutional Court ruled in 2004 to
limit the number of forenames a child could have, capping at five the
number a mother could give her son, to whom she had tried to bequeath
the 12-part “Chenekwahow Tecumseh Migiskau Kioma Ernesto Inti Prithibi
Pathar Chajara Majim Henriko Alessandro,” to protect the child.

Germany’s economy minister found professional success despite bearing
the lengthy name Karl-Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp
Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg, a name as
aristocratic as it is long. Although, when he was appointed to the
job, a practical joker sneaked the name “Wilhelm” into his Wikipedia
entry for good measure, an error that promptly spread to numerous
media reports, including one on the front page of Bild, the country’s
largest newspaper.


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com


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