Muslim migrants in Germany who feel discriminated against should be given the right to change their legal names to Christian-sounding ones, according to a senior German politician.
The latest innovation in German multiculturalism is being championed by Ruprecht Polenz, a former secretary general of the ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU). He believes the German law which regulates name changes (Namensrecht) should be amended to make it easier for men named Mohammed to become Martin and women named Aisha to become Andrea.
German law generally does not allow foreigners to change their names to German ones, and German courts rarely approve such petitions. By custom and practice, German names are only for Germans.
According to Polenz, who served as a member of parliament for nearly two decades, the law in its current form is "ignorant" and should be changed:
"An ignorant law: the United States is full of anglicized German names, from Smith to Steinway, from Miller to Schwartz. The reason: integration was made easier. It no longer appeared as though a family was not from the USA. I think that German citizens of foreign origin should also have this possibility."
"The desire to adopt a German name is solid evidence that you feel German and would like to be seen as a German. In the context of integration this is entirely desirable. It simply does not make sense to prohibit this....
"In everyday life we unfortunately often see that naturalization or possessing a German passport is not enough to be regarded as a German."
Muslims with foreign-sounding names often find it difficult to find a job, Polenz said, and the possibility of a name change might prevent discrimination and promote integration.
Indeed, academic studies (here and here) have found that immigrants with Arab or Turkish last names are less likely to be invited to job interviews than equally qualified migrants with non-Muslim sounding names.
Ruprecht Polenz, a former secretary general of Germany's CDU party, believes the German law which regulates name changes should be amended to make it easier for Muslim migrants to change their legal names to Christian-sounding ones. (Image source: stephan-roehl.de/Flicker)
The former president of the Constitutional Court in North Rhine-Westphalia, Michael Bertram, has called for German courts to allow a name change if "a foreign-sounding name makes it difficult to integrate into the economic and social life in this country."
He was referring to a case in which a court in Braunschweig rejected a petition by a German-Turkish family to change their surname. The parents had complained that in school their German-born children were being treated as "educationally disadvantaged migrants" and that teachers were addressing them in Turkish, a language they did not understand because they only speak German at home.
The court insisted on the principle of "name continuity" (Namenskontinuität) because there is "a public interest in maintaining the traditional name to enable social orientation and identification for security purposes."
In a precedent-setting case in May 2012, a court in Göttingen ruled that neither the fear of discrimination, nor the desire for integration, are sufficient legal grounds for migrants to change their names to German ones.
The case involved a family of asylum seekers from Azerbaijan who wanted to adopt German first and last names to prevent possible discrimination and to avoid being linked to a particular ethnic or religious group.
The court ruled that although discrimination due to a foreign-sounding name was always a possibility, it is not within the purview of the law that regulates names to "counteract a social aberration" (gesellschaftlichen Fehlentwicklungen), i.e., discrimination.
The court added that the plaintiff's names were not any more or less unusual than those of the majority of other migrants living in Germany. Moreover, although the children had Muslim-sounding names, it would not pose a big problem because others would not necessarily associate them with active religious practice.
Even if the existing German law were changed, it is unlikely that many Muslim migrants would adopt Christian names. Muslims who have children in Germany are already free to give them German first names, but they rarely do.
According to the Center for Onomatology (the study of the origin of names) at the University of Leipzig, Muslim and non-Muslim immigrants differ substantially in the way they choose names for their German-born children.
Non-Muslim immigrants generally choose traditional German names for their children to facilitate their integration into German society. By contrast, Muslim immigrants almost invariably choose traditional Arabic or Turkish names, presumably to prevent their integration into German society.
While non-Muslim immigrants name their children Sophie or Stefan, Muslim immigrants — including those whose families have been living in Germany for two, three or four generations — overwhelmingly give their children Muslim names such as Mohammed, Mehmet or Aisha.
A 2006 study produced by the University of Berlin found that more than 90% of Turkish parents give their German-born children Turkish first names; fewer than 3% give them German names.
A 2012 study found that 95% of ethnic Turks living in Germany believe it is absolutely necessary for them to preserve their Turkish identity. Nearly half (46%) agreed with the statement, "I hope that in the future there will be more Muslims than Christians living in Germany." Only 15% consider Germany to be their home.
A 2016 study found that 32% of ethnic Turks in Germany agree that "Muslims should strive to return to a societal order such as that in the time of Mohammed." More than one-third (36%) believe that "only Islam is able to solve the problems of our times." One-fifth (20%) agree that "the threat which the West poses to Islam justifies violence." One-quarter (23%) believe that "Muslims should not shake the hand of a member of the opposite sex."
Some politicians believe that giving Muslim migrants the right to adopt Christian-sounding names will ease their integration into German society. But empirical evidence shows that most Muslims in Germany do not want German names and many have no desire to integrate into German society.
Soeren Kern is a Senior Fellow at the New York-based Gatestone Institute. He is also Senior Fellow for European Politics at the Madrid-based Grupo de Estudios Estratégicos / Strategic Studies Group. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter. His first book, Global Fire, will be out in 2016.