Germany: Christian Names for Muslim Migrants?

by Soeren Kern
July 26, 2016

Muslim migrants in Germany who feel discriminated against should be given the right to change their legal names to Christian-sounding ones, according to a senior German politician.

The latest innovation in German multiculturalism is being championed by Ruprecht Polenz, a former secretary general of the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU). He believes the German law which regulates name changes (Namensrecht) should be amended to make it easier for men named Mohammed to become Martin and women named Aisha to become Andrea.

German law generally does not allow foreigners to change their names to German ones, and German courts rarely approve such petitions. By custom and practice, German names are only for Germans.

According to Polenz, who served as a member of parliament for nearly two decades, the law in its current form is “ignorant” and should be changed:

“An ignorant law: the United States is full of anglicized German names, from Smith to Steinway, from Miller to Schwartz. The reason: integration was made easier. It no longer appeared as though a family was not from the USA. I think that German citizens of foreign origin should also have this possibility.”

Polenz elaborated:

“The desire to adopt a German name is solid evidence that you feel German and would like to be seen as a German. In the context of integration this is entirely desirable. It simply does not make sense to prohibit this….
“In everyday life we ​​unfortunately often see that naturalization or possessing a German passport is not enough to be regarded as a German.”

Muslims with foreign-sounding names often find it difficult to find a job, Polenz said, and the possibility of a name change might prevent discrimination and promote integration.

Indeed, academic studies (here and here) have found that immigrants with Arab or Turkish last names are less likely to be invited to job interviews than equally qualified migrants with non-Muslim sounding names.

The former president of the Constitutional Court in North Rhine-Westphalia, Michael Bertram, has called for German courts to allow a name change if “a foreign-sounding name makes it difficult to integrate into the economic and social life in this country.”

He was referring to a case in which a court in Braunschweig rejected a petition by a German-Turkish family to change their surname. The parents had complained that in school their German-born children were being treated as “educationally disadvantaged migrants” and that teachers were addressing them in Turkish, a language they did not understand because they only speak German at home.

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