October 13, 2005
We Regret to Inform You That Your Name is Ridiculous
I read a recent Wall Street Journal article that examines the problem faced by young Leonhard Matthias Grunkin-Paul in Germany: his name is illegal in that country because hyphenated last names are simply not allowed by the state authorities.
Leonhard is a German citizen born in Denmark, where naming laws are more in line with those in Europe and the rest of the world. All Germans are required to submit their names to the local Standesamt or registry, which can actually disallow certain names. Names like Lenin, McDonald, Schnucki and Bierstübl, which translates roughly as "little beer pub," have been rejected out of hand. Recently, the EU court in Luxemburg called the banning of hyphenated names "totally incompatible" with Leonhard's rights as an EU citizen.
English names, like the English language itself, are more fluid. The first author of the modern English dictionary, Dr. Samuel Johnson, remarked upon the end of his labors that codifying and limiting the language was simply impossible and that the art of lexicography was mainly one of keeping up with the language's evolution. I previously commented on the fluidity and ever-changing of the English language.
Of course, this means that many English speakers have taken Dr. Johnson at his word: we not only have hyphenated names, we also have some wild and woolly baby names, including Timberland, Xerox and Espn as well as Kal-el Coppola Cage and Apple, the names for, respectively, Nicholas Cage's son and Gwyneth Paltrow's daughter. Vive la différence!
TrackBack URL for this entry: