Paris Hilton not allowed in Switzerland

May 6, 2010, 22 Comments

Twins called Benson and Hedges. A child named ‘Number 16 Bus Shelter’.  A girl called ‘Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii’. It’s not just celebrities who pick ridiculous names for their children, and not just Americans. Those examples above are all from New Zealand and from normal people, though there’s nothing normal about their choice of names. But it’s safe to say that in Switzerland, none of the above would be allowed. Names, like everything else in Swiss life, are taken seriously.

As a parent you can’t just call your little angel whatever you want (including probably Little Angel) because the name has to be approved by the civil registrar, and if it’s deemed to harm the child’s well-being or be offensive to a third party, you can’t have it. While there’s no list of acceptable names, there are quite strict guidelines:

  • shocking, insulting or laughable names are forbidden, so Richard Head would be a no-no and Mary Christmas might not make it
  • you can’t give a boy a girl’s name, or vice versa, and surnames can’t be used as first names
  • Biblical bad-boys Cain and Judas are both persona non grata
  • any names that are places (eg, Brooklyn or Ireland) are banned
  • brands such as Adidas, Pepsi or Armani cannot be used

All of this means two things. Most importantly, Paris Hilton would never exist if she were Swiss; she would be called Petra Meier and we would be spared her endless self-promotion. More practically, it means that many Swiss people seem to have very similar names, depending on their age. Meet a crowd of male thirtysomethings and for sure there will at least two Stefans and a couple of Martins in there. If the men are older, there’ll be an Ueli or two and maybe a few Hanspeters. Possibly even a Wolfgang.

Of course this being Switzerland, the other big variable is language. In 2008 the most popular boy’s name in German-speaking Switzerland was Tim, but in Ticino it was Alessandro and in Romandie it was Nathan. Each of those names barely gets a mention in the other linguistic areas. Tim is very definitely a German name in Switzerland, along with Jonas, Nils and Leon. French speakers are more likely to be called Loïc or Maxime than any of those, and Ticinese boys Leonardo or Elia. Some names, such as David and Luca, do manage to cross the linguistic divide. Swiss girls’ names are slightly more uniform, with Lara, Sara and Laura all popular nationwide, though there are regional anomalies, such as Anaïs, Valentina, and Leonie. 

It may sound rather controlled and controlling,  but it actually isn’t a bad idea. No Swiss child will ever have to endure being called Nevaeh (Heaven backwards) or Daisy Boo. Or even worse, Adolf Hitler Campbell, a young American boy, whose his sister is JoyceLynn Aryan Nation. As for making up a name just because it sounds nice, (for example, Jermajesty – Jermaine Jackson’s son) that would be far too free-spirited and creative. Not forgetting that sticking out from a crowd is not something that most Swiss strive for. Better to be a Doris Müller among the many with that name than to be the only Gaynor in the village.

22 Comments on "Paris Hilton not allowed in Switzerland"

  1. Colin Bewes Thursday May 6th, 2010 at 09:34 AM · Reply

    Does the control extend to the number of names e.g. my kids all have 3 first names, generally 2 normal names, then a family name (e.g. Anstis or Arundell) just before the surname.

    Also, can you pick a name out of a book e.g. Clowance or Demelza from the Poldark series (has Switzerland enjoyed Poldark yet …mmm, that would be interesting, watching Ross Poldark arguing with George Warleggan in German!!)

    • swisswatching Friday May 7th, 2010 at 08:07 AM · Reply

      Not sure Colin. Many Swiss people don’t have a middle name (let alone a second middle one) but it is quite common for a woman to keep her maiden name and just add the married one on the end. Not hyphenated but often used together. As for Poldark, I guess few Swiss people know it.

  2. Katharina Monday August 30th, 2010 at 11:06 PM · Reply

    So, the Actor Klaus Maria Brandauer would have to change his name in Switzerland.
    Same with Cain Velasquez.
    Cain is actually rather common in America.

    I see that a lot of Swiss parents choose Anglo-saxon names for their children lately.
    I find that odd, considering the abundant Anti-Americanism there.

    A swiss Sharon Osbourne would be funny … or Ozzy Osbourne.
    Or imagine Christoph Polisher (Christoph Blocher)
    or Christopher Buffy (to buff – polieren or in swiss blochen as in buff the floor).

    Walt Disney would produce a teenager sitcom called buffy the teenage goat.

    of course only available on premium channels!

    • Rose Sunday September 26th, 2010 at 09:34 PM · Reply

      Just to comment… Anglo Saxon names aren’t American. They’re European too. We as Americans like to think that we are the most original beings on the planet. We’re not. Most of our common names, like Britney and Jessica, Joshua and Michael, all come from some other culture.

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