The Court of Justice of the European Union has made a decision, based on a preliminary ruling by the District Court Karlsruhe, that Germany is not bound to recognise a surname which contains tokens of nobility and which a German citizen has freely chosen in another Member State where that person also has citizenship.


Recognition can be refused when it is appropriate and necessary to ensure that all German citizens are equal before the law. In the present case, the claimant risks having to dispel doubts as to his identity because of the difference between his names, for example, when applying for or receiving benefits. Furthermore, he may run into difficulties proving his family ties to his minor daughter.  


The court found that when a citizen of a Member State is also a national of another Member State in which that person freely acquired another name which contains a number of tokens of nobility which are not permitted by the law of the first Member State, the authorities of the first Member State are not bound to recognise the name in question, provided that the District Court can establish that a refusal of recognition is, in this situation, justified on public policy grounds, insofar that it is appropriate and necessary to ensure that, before the law, the principle of equality for all citizens of the Member State is upheld. However, according to statements made by the Court, neither the principles of immutability and continuity of names, nor the mere fact that the change of name was made on the claimant’s own initiative can justify the refusal of recognition. The same applies to the aim of avoiding excessively long or complicated surnames. The case will now be decided by the District Court Karlsruhe after weighing up all circumstances of the case.