Soda Beckstein? Nein, Danke.

Can you name your child “Moon Unit” in Germany?

The most popular male baby name in Germany is, for the second year in a row, Maximilian. Sounds vaguely ancient and dignified, plus it has a cuddly abbreviation.  But, to insert a gratuitous Seinfeld reference, what if you want to name your kid Seven or Soda?  Not so fast.

You’ve got to get past the local bureaucrat at the Standesamt (registry office).  Using the welfare of the child as her unwavering guide, she will probably send you packing.  Every district has its own regulations for baby names, and almost all of them prevent parents naming their children something which is not sufficiently "gender-specific" or which, like "Osama" or "Asshole," could expose the child to taunting. 

The town of Jork, Germany (who exactly picked that name?) helpfully advises you to "seriously consider" what you’re going to name your child and warns you:

The registry official can deny your request for a name if, in her opinion, when the name is not gender specific or when the official is convinced it is not a "name" at all. The official does not reach this decision based on "gut feeling" but rather in consultation of an official Name Lexicon.  If a "serious case" arises and the the official does not allow your name, you may contact the Society for the German Language.

Yes, it’s the nationwide Supreme Court of strange baby names.  They publish their decisions; too, right here (German).  Names from movies are, of course, always near the top: Nemo and Legolas get the nod, the first because it was actually always a name, the second because history knows many examples of names based on popular literary works coming into common use (the good people of the Institute cite Vanessa by Jonathan Swift).  "Destiny" squeaks by a reluctant panel, but only if a clearly female second name is attached.

For an interesting thought experiment, imagine how a well-armed Texan might respond to a bureacrat telling him he can’t name his kid "Chad"

One thought on “Soda Beckstein? Nein, Danke.

  1. If you are straight AND exotical enough you can master the beaucratical hurdles. It is not allowed to use names which are not definitly male or female in Germany. My brother in law is from India, Punjab (male or female doesn´t count there. It´s just a name) So my nice got a Punjabi name (for boys and girls). It´s against the law. Yeah. My brother in law claimed it´s female.
    My daughter has a Central Asian name, cause Central Asia is in the middle of mother`s and father`s home and it is a nice one. In middle Asia it is a name even for boys and a mountain. Double foul. Mountain names are against the law in Germany.
    But in Korea there are no female or male version of names, just names. We told the offical it is a Korean name for females. So, no problem.


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