A 6-year-old girl whose first name is the same as a well-known language assistant is allowed to adopt a middle name. This was decided by the administrative court in Göttingen. The girl prevailed against the administration of the city of Göttingen, which did not want to allow a middle name (Az. 4 A 79/21).
The parents had submitted to the administrative court that their daughter suffered significantly from bullying and teasing because her name was identical to that of a well-known language assistant. People would give the plaintiff orders again and again, which unsettles the plaintiff and puts a lot of mental strain on the plaintiff.
Not just a product name
The city had refused to change the first name, invoking Section 3 of the “Law on the Change of Surnames and First Names”. It states that “a surname may only be changed if an important reason justifies the change” – and this is not the case, said the court. The mental stress on the plaintiff was not proven by medical or psychological reports.
The city administration argued that the parents’ desire to change the name was based on their subsequent remorse and fears that their daughter might be bullied. A product name cannot automatically mean that people with the same name are allowed to change their first names. Overall, with a little imagination, any name can be ridiculed.
The administrative court, on the other hand, said that it was not just about the product name, but also about the keyword with which the language assistant would be activated. As a result, the name is “suitable for abuse to a particularly outstanding extent”. Since the language assistant is also very well known, further teasing must be expected in the future.
The mental stress on the plaintiff is an important reason within the meaning of the Name Change Act, she does not have to have reached the level of an illness requiring treatment, the court further justified. During the oral hearing, the parents described numerous incidents in which the plaintiff was harassed because of her first name. It is understandable that these incidents caused mental stress. The plaintiff could not counter this because she was too young for it.
“Recognition value is retained”
The name is not only suitable to form a pun, but rather invites to issue insulting and demeaning commands to persons with the same name. In addition, it has already been clarified in case law that there is an important reason if the private interests in the name change outweigh the public ones. After all, it is a matter of the first name, which, in contrast to the family name, serves less as a distinguishing and assigning feature. The plaintiff has so far not significantly participated in legal transactions. In addition, the addition of only a middle name preserves a certain “recognition value” in the plaintiff’s name.
The city of Göttingen can file an application for approval of an appeal against the decision at the Lower Saxony Higher Administrative Court in Lüneburg within one month. In order to protect the defendant, the administrative court in Göttingen did not say which language assistant was involved, even when asked by heise online. On the other hand, it is also about raising public awareness of the problem.
The best-known language assistant in Germany is Alexa, which was introduced here six years ago and used by Amazon in its Echo devices. According to statistics from the Society for German Language, the name had fallen from 200th place in 2010 to 1064th place (2019) in the ranking of the most popular female first names. There is also Cortana from Microsoft and Siri from Apple, for example.
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