Bogendorff von Wolffersdorff: The CJEU limits name shopping.

Does Article 21 TEU on EU citisenship, facilitate one’s acquiring names bearing the tokens of nobility, acquired in one Member State (here: the flexible ‘deed poll’ regime available to citisens of the United Kingdom), for subsequent use in another Member State less keen on such (token or real) titles? In Case C-438/14 Bogendorff the CJEU held that it does not.

Applicant at issue had acquired UK nationality over and above German nationality (which he held by birth). Subsequent adoption but especially vanity had led to a change in first name and surname by deed poll, a very flexible name change regime available to UK citisens. German authorities however refused to recognise the name change upon the occasion of registration of applicant’s daughter, citing public order considerations in particular Germany’s long-standing objection against aristocratic titles, real or vanity, so as to emphasise equality before the law.  The court’s approach on free movement and names in my view has taken a better turn since Vardyn, Case C-391/09, where it left its insistence that only copy /paste recognition of names by authorities in other Member States can safeguard citisens free movement rights.

In the case of aristocratic titles, however, the court has always recognised in particular Austria’s and Germany’s right to extend domestic policies to incoming citisens, on the basis of public policy considerations. Current case differs from Sayn-Wittgenstein, C‑208/09. The latter concerned Austrian law, which has a strict prohibition on the use and transmission of titles of nobility. Under German law by contrast all privileges and inequalities connected with birth or position have been abolished in Germany. Titles of nobility which were actually borne when the Weimar Constitution entered into force may continue as elements of a name and may be transmitted as a fact of personal status. The creation of new titles of nobility and the grant of such titles are prohibited.

Hence for Germany to refuse to recognise such titles where they have been accidentally obtained abroad (by birth, marriage or adoption) would run counter EU citisenhip. By contrast, it would run counter to the intention of the German legislature for German nationals, using the law of another Member State, to adopt afresh abolished titles of nobility. Systematic recognition of changes of name such as that at issue in the main proceedings could lead to that result.

Name dropping undoubtedly will continue. Name shopping has been halted.



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