May 9, 2012 / 4:48 PM / 7 years ago

Foreigners can't pick new German names, court rules

BERLIN (Reuters) - A German court has refused to allow a family to shed their “foreign-sounding” names for new German ones they said would protect them from discrimination and aid integration into a country becoming attractive for immigrants.

The family, living in Germany under asylum after fleeing Azerbaijan, were given the opportunity to take on German versions of their names, some of which carry Islamic associations, the administrative court in Goettingen, in the state of Lower Saxony, said in a document.

But the family refused this offer, wanting instead to pick completely new German names with the goal of preventing any discrimination in finding work that could arise from an overly complicated spelling or connection to Islam.

“The fact that a surname is of foreign origin, or does not sound German, cannot alone be routinely presented as an important reason for a change of name,” the court ruled.

Germany’s robust labor market has outshone those of its debt-stricken European Union neighbors with unemployment figures reaching two-decade lows.

The country has become increasingly popular as a destination for immigrants from elsewhere in Europe and further afield.

The decision to deny the Azeri family a new German name could set the bar for others wanting to change their names, said Olaf Lenz, a spokesman for the court. “This is one individual case, but it could be used generally to inform other cases.”

The court acknowledged that they could not rule out that the foreign names would lead to discrimination in the labor market, but said this was no justification for changing their names.

“The point of having a right to bear a name is not to counteract flaws in society,” the court document said.

The lifting of German restrictions on east European workers last May sparked a surge in immigration from countries like Poland, German government figures showed in January.

The Arab Spring uprisings helped push up the number of people seeking asylum in Germany by 11 percent last year. Germany registered the third highest number of claims of the 44 industrial countries surveyed, U.N. figures show.

Reporting by Alice Baghdjian; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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