A name by any other name | Marcel Strigberger

By Marcel Strigberger

Law360 Canada (April 28, 2023, 2:31 PM EDT) --
Marcel Strigberger
Marcel Strigberger
Wondering what’s the latest news coming out of Koblenz, Germany? I thought so. A court in the state of Rhineland Palatinate is not telling all. Said court has rejected a married couple’s request to legally change their Russian-sounding surname due to claims of negative repercussions they said they had experienced since the start of the war in Ukraine.

The German-born couple had sought a name change claiming that they and their daughter had suffered in their daily lives because of their last name.

The regional administrative court in Koblenz, however, in addition to rejecting the request did not want to publicize the couple’s surname in line with German privacy rules. I don’t know about you, but this story is now keeping me up nights wondering what the couple’s albatross of a Russian name is. 

Is it Stalin? I doubt it. I am of the opinion that the popularity of this Russian surname over time has waned. I actually did a Canada 411 search for Toronto and came up empty for Stalin. 

Can it be Rasputin? That would be a problem. I can see how that name might make them edgy. If I were the couple I would definitely decline any strangers offering me cake.

What can it be then. Supposed privacy issues aside, is it so sinister the courts do not even wish to divulge it? Uh huh! Putin? We can all see how this name might affect the family these days. The dad could certainly run into uncomfortable situations day to day, like in trying to book a restaurant reservation:

Restaurant: Party of three? And what is your full name please?

Customer: Hansel. Hansel Putin.

Restaurant: Sorry, we’re booked — for the balance of the century.

Is it really about privacy?

Out of curiosity I wonder what would happen if I send a Freedom of Information type request to the requisite authorities to see if I can get the mystery name. I would be up front with them of course. Fully transparent. I can visualize them emailing back saying my application cannot be incognito. OK, almost fully transparent. What about my privacy? Hrmph!

I reply and provide my name. They respond denying my request to divulge the couple’s name. However, they suggest that I seek a name change myself as my moniker reminds them of the Middle Ages villain Burger Strig, also known as the “Butcher of Hamburg.” He wasn’t what you think. He was actually a fraud artist who ran a large meat market but unknown to his customers his sausages were all plant based. After this ruse was discovered, he was also known as “Hamburg Humbug.”

I tell them I would take this suggestion to change my name under advisement. I ask them whether my application might be successful. They note they cannot say — privacy reasons.

For that matter why did the German court reject the Russian name change altogether? The judges apparently dismissed the couple’s request on the grounds that the reasons they gave for the change were insufficient, in that the negative treatment the couple claimed to have experienced since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine wasn’t serious enough to warrant the name change, noting that the family’s economic situation hadn’t been affected. How is economics relevant? Aren’t other repercussions important, such as groups of irate locals surrounding your house daily, carrying torches and pitchforks? 

In my view the court should have simply allowed the application for a name change. What’s the big deal? My late dad told me that when we got off the boat in Halifax as immigrants, the customs officer looked at our name Strigberger and suggested to my father he could get it changed on the spot to something like “String” or “Berger.” My father considered the offer briefly and declined to make the change.

I recall my dad loved crime stories. I wonder what would have happened had the officer suggested we change our name to Dostoevsky. These days this name could be even worse than Hamburg Humbug.

Meanwhile, for anybody reading this story if you have a Russian sounding name, and you want to change it, I don’t suggest you file your application in the court in Koblenz. 
 
Marcel Strigberger retired from his Greater Toronto Area litigation practice and continues the more serious business of humorous author and speaker. His just launched book Boomers, Zoomers, and Other Oomers: A Boomer-biased Irreverent Perspective on Aging is now available on Amazon, (e-book) and paper version. Visit www.marcelshumour.com. Follow him @MarcelsHumour.

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