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EXPLAINED: Why so many baby names are banned in Switzerland

These days, it’s not just celebrities who seem to have a penchant for ruining their child’s life by bestowing him or her with an odd moniker. In Switzerland however, there are several rules about what you can - and cannot - name your child.

Is Switzerland's restriction of baby names a good or a bad thing? Photo by Colin Maynard on Unsplash
Is Switzerland's restriction of baby names a good or a bad thing? Photo by Colin Maynard on Unsplash

Whether its hanging out your washing on a Sunday or flushing your toilet after 10pm at night, Switzerland has several rules which can be surprising to foreigners. 

One such example is what you are allowed to name your kids.  

While from time to time, parents’ failed attempt to give their child a unique name might make the news, there are in fact an extensive variety of rules about which names can actually be chosen in Switzerland.

Sticklers for the law as they are, the Swiss have several rules controlling what baby names can be given. 

No names which will damage a child’s well-being

Although this appears incredibly difficult to define, there are several actual examples which have been rejected for breaching the well-being rule. 

In considering this, Swiss authorities will look at whether “the child will be exposed to ridicule because of its name.”

This includes ‘Grandma’, ‘Rose Heart’, ‘Prince Valiant’ and ‘Puhbert’. 

REVEALED: The most popular baby name in each Swiss canton

They specifically prohibit giving your kid a name which will damage his or her “well-being”. Names aren’t allowed to be offensive either. 

Twins

Twins must not have names that are too similar to each other. 

The names must not be either spelt or pronounced in the same way. 

Swiss media gives the example of calling two boys “Philip” and “Philipe”. 

No villain names

Switzerland – or at least large parts of it – remain relatively religious, which is probably why choosing a bible villain name for your child is verboten. 

Newspaper Telebasel reports that the name Judas has already been rejected by Swiss registry offices – and will likely be rejected again. Satan, Cain and Lucifer are also banned. 

Boys are boys, girls are girls

Ever the traditionalists, Switzerland has tight gender rules for naming children. 

Specifically, a name must clearly indicate a person’s gender. 

Girls cannot be given a boy’s name and vice versa. 

If a name does not clearly indicate the person’s gender, then the child must be given a hyphenated double name or a second name to make this clear. 

Numbers or letters

In 2017, a Swiss court said ‘J’ was not appropriate as a middle name. 

The court held that allowing ‘J’ would be similar to letting people have a name made up of numbers – although ‘Jay’ a la Homer ‘Jay’ Simpson would presumably be fine. 

No place names

While the world might be debating how to cater to non-binary people who want to be identified as ‘their’, identifying as ‘there’ is a big no go in Switzerland. 

Place names for people are forbidden in Switzerland. 

This may not be interpreted incredibly strictly – Dakota Fanning and Brooklyn Beckham will be OK for now – but if you want to name your little boy ‘Matterhorn’ you may come across some resistance. 

READ MORE: How much does it cost to raise a child in Switzerland?

No product names either

No matter how much you love a particular product, you will be prevented from honouring the brand by naming your child after it. 

That means Ovaltine, Rivella, Chanel or Ferrari are off the table. 

You’re also banned from naming your child after a plant or after an animal. 

What about foreign names? 

One major question – particularly among Local readers – is whether foreign names are banned. 

The main question is whether the name appears in the ‘Internationalen Handbuch der Vornamen’ – the International Handbook of First Names. 

This book – which does not appear to exist in English – expressly lists acceptable first names. 

If it appears in the book, it’s OK with Swiss authorities. 

Which names have actually been banned in Switzerland? 

Suissebook has listed several baby names which have been banned in Switzerland for breaking at least one of the rules listed above. 

In addition to all of those mentioned so far in this article, it includes Bierstubl (place name), Troublemaker (well-being), Mercedes (brand name) and Sputnik (not sure if that is a place or a thing, but either way it’s banned).

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For members

LIVING IN SWITZERLAND

What are the benefits and drawbacks of becoming a Swiss citizen?

Getting a Swiss passport offers many perks and benefits, but also a number of duties that must be fulfilled. Here are some of them.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of becoming a Swiss citizen?

The road to Swiss naturalisation — whether the so-called ‘simplified’ one or regular path — is not an easy one.

While obtaining the citizenship is generally easier for citizens of the EU / EFTA countries than for non-Europeans (including people from the UK and the United States), the process is typically long and complex. 

In addition to shorter queues at the airport, people who do become Swiss can enjoy rights and privileges that those living here with foreign passports, don’t have.

The rights

Permanent residency

As a Swiss citizen, you are entitled to live in the country, leave for as long as you want, and return to Switzerland at any time.

This is what distinguishes Swiss citizens from holders of C permits: while permanent residency permit grants sweeping rights to its holders, including unrestricted access to employment, it does have certain limitations.

For instance, the permit is valid indefinitely, but only as long as its holder doesn’t leave Switzerland permanently.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What’s the difference between permanent residence and Swiss citizenship?

Swiss nationals have these rights basically from cradle to grave, but there are some  exceptions: the government can revoke passports of citizens — whether Swiss-born or naturalised — who are convicted of war crimes, terrorism, or treason.

This drastic measure is extremely rare, but it does happen — most recently in cases of Swiss citizens joining the Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist group.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Can Swiss citizenship be revoked – and can you get it back?

Voting (a lot)

Frequent referendums (typically held four times a year and covering a variety of communal cantonal and national issues) are the backbone of Switzerland’s unique system of direct democracy.

Citizens can vote in all of them and also have the right to run for any political office.

For the Swiss, more than for nationals of other countries, this grassroots brand of democracy means they have the power to shape the political process that impacts their lives —from approving or rejecting legislative decisions to creating their own laws.

READ MORE: How Switzerland’s direct democracy system works

Purchasing property

In general, foreigners can buy a home in Switzerland, but a lot depends on their legal status with regard to residency, the type of property they want to purchase, and the canton in which they reside. 

There are also various restrictions in terms of purchasing investment properties.

Swiss citizens, on the other hand, can buy a property anywhere, without any restrictions (other than the size of their bank account, naturally).

READ MORE: Can foreigners buy property in Switzerland?

Being represented / defended abroad

The Swiss government must step in and try to help if its citizens are in any kind of trouble while abroad — whether they find themselves in jail or in a hospital in a foreign country.

Responsibilities

So that’s the good news about your Swiss passport, but with rights come responsibilities, and once you are fully Swiss you also have certain obligations.

Military service

The most obvious one is that if you are a Swiss male over 18 years of age, you will have to serve in the military.

Once you become a Swiss citizen and are between the ages of 18 and 30, you can expect to be conscripted.

In general, having another citizenship in addition to the Swiss one is not going to exempt you from military service in Switzerland. However, there is one exception: the obligation to serve will be waived, provided you can show that you have fulfilled your military duties in your other home country.

If you are unfit for service, or if you fall under the category of dual citizens who served in foreign armed forces (as mentioned above), you will have to pay the so-called Military Service Exemption Tax.

You must pay it from the age 19 until you turn 37 — provided, of course, that you become Swiss during this time.

This annual tax amounts to 3 percent of your taxable income, or a minimum of 400 francs.

Women don’t face compulsory conscription (although they can volunteer), so consider this recompense for the gender pay gap. 

READ MORE: Do naturalised Swiss citizens have to do military service?

Compulsory public office

If you are a Swiss citizen living in a small community, you may be required to run for public office in your town, if no other candidates are willing to do so.

This is due to a quirk in the electoral system that states that if no-one is willing to run for office, local officials can add the names of all registered voters in the area to the ballot.

This means that you can find yourself running for office against your will – even if you have no knowledge of or interest in politics.

If elected, you must serve your term, but you do have the right to appeal the voters’ decision, citing valid grounds such as being over 65 years of age, providing proof that serving in a public office would be detrimental to the your health or the local economy, or moving to another town if nothing else works.

READ MORE: How Switzerland can force you to run for public office 

Giving up a passport

Switzerland is perfectly happy to let you be a dual national, but certain countries – including India – don’t allow their citizens to take on another nationality.

So depending on your home country, you may be required to give up your original passport when you become Swiss.

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