Germany launches plan to relax rigid family name system

FILE -- This June 14, 2008 file photo shows a family walking through the fields in the village of Gaiberg, near Heidelberg, southwestern Germany. Germanys justice minister has launched plans to relax the countrys strict restrictions on family names for example, allowing couples to take double-barreled surnames and pass them on to their children. (AP Photo/Daniel Roland, file) (Daniel Roland, AP2008)

BERLIN – Germany's justice minister on Tuesday launched plans to relax the country's strict restrictions on family names — for example, allowing couples to take double-barreled surnames and pass them on to their children.

The current system “is about as up-to-date as a coal stove and as flexible as concrete," Justice Minister Marco Buschmann said in a statement as he published the draft legislation.

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As it stands, one partner in a married couple — but not both — can add the other partner's name to his or her surname, but their children can't carry both surnames.

The reform will allow both partners to take on a double surname, with or without a hyphen, and for their children to take that name too. Even if the parents both keep their original names, they will be able to give their children a double-barreled surname, regardless of whether they are married. The new system still won't allow names that are more than double-barreled.

Buschmann also foresees making it easier for stepchildren or children of divorced parents to change their family names. And he wants to allow the use of gender-adjusted forms of surnames for people with names from languages in which that is common — a change that would, for example, benefit the Sorbs, an indigenous Slavic minority in parts of eastern Germany.

The legislation, which is supposed to take effect at the beginning of 2025, still requires the approval of the Cabinet and Parliament.

It is one of several social reform projects that Chancellor Olaf Scholz's socially liberal three-party governing coalition agreed to embark on when it took office in December 2021.