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No hyphens please: naming conventions round the world

There was a kid in my neighborhood named Donald Duck. Really.

That wouldn’t have been allowed in Germany. Mom Duck and Dad Duck would have had to choose a name that would not have subjected Donald to endless teasing at school–and who knows what kind of reaction in his professional life.

When you study global perspectives, as we do, the big issues tend to dominate. Trade agreements, invasions and coups, terrorist attacks, that kind of stuff. But there are many other fascinating and important differences between the way we do things around the world, and something as basic as naming babies can tell us a great deal about social ties and expectations, and also the crucial balance between individual rights and community values (in the U.S., this balance has been debated in recent years by “communitarians” led by Amatai Etzioni, a contributor to Berkshire’s Encyclopedia of Community).

Here’s a little from the recent Wall Street Journal article on the subject of names in Germany (the article is available in full to subscribers):

“Young Leonhard Matthias Grunkin-Paul has a problem: His name is illegal.
“The German boy’s divorced parents want Leonhard to be known by their combined last names, an increasingly common practice elsewhere. But authorities in Germany, citing a law against hyphens, have refused to allow it. So Leonhard, born in 1998, officially has no last name at all.
“His passport reads: “Leonhard Matthias, son of Stefan Grunkin and Dorothee Paul.” Says his mother: “I don’t know how he can go through life like that.”
“Many Germans have long chafed under their country’s rigid naming rules. But a European Union court may shortly deal the rules a blow for at least some of them. A preliminary ruling from the court has found that Leonhard, a German citizen born and named in Denmark, is entitled to his hyphen as a citizen of the EU.
“In a society that values order and tradition, the rules are meant to prevent German children from being the victims of ridicule or confusion. A forename must indicate a person’s gender, for example; if it doesn’t, a second name should be given that clarifies the matter.” From the Wall Street Journal, 12 October 2005.

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