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Law of Names and Name Declarations

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For German citizens, the use of a name is subject only to German law. The possibility to use a certain name under German law may differ from the name in South African civil status papers, passports or IDs. Read about name declarations and how to declare your name.

The Married Name

If you got married and did not make a name declaration for the German legal sphere, your surname has not changed. If, for example, you got married in South Africa, you continue to carry your previous name even after marriage.

If you wish to have a joint married name or a double-barrelled surname, a name declaration is necessary.

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This also applies if you are a dual citizen and already carry your spouse's name in South Africa. Please note that even if a German passport in your preferred name was already issued to you, but the necessity of a name declaration had been overlooked in the past, the situation must be rectified now.

A name declaration can be give at any time during the existence of the marriage. The declaration is irrevocable.

Possible Options:

According to German law, you may either choose the birth or current name of either spouse. The German spouse may choose a double-barrelled surname for him- or herself, if his/her name does not become the joint family name.

You can also choose not to apply German law, but the law of one of the spouse's home country for your married name. It is advisable to choose this option if the preferred married name is not permissible according to German law.

Read below for information on how to declare your name!

Name after Divorce or Death of a Spouse

The ending of a marriage by divorce or death does not have any effect on your name. If you wish to return to your previous name a name declaration is necessary.

The registrar's office processing your name declaration will ask you to first apply for the recognition of divorce, see here

Read below for information on how to declare your name!

The Name of a Child

A child born to German parents abroad does not always have a name for the German legal sphere, even if a name has already been entered into the foreign birth certificate.

The name of your child is generally set if you as parents had a common married name at the time of birth. In most other cases a name declaration is necessary to choose a name for your child.

Please note that a name declaration may also be necessary if your child had a previous German passport issued to him/her but where the necessity of a name declaration had been overlooked.

What is the relevant law? What choises do we have?

1. German law: If both parents are German citizens, German law is applicable for the name of your child. You may either choose the father’s or the mother’s name. In case of children born in wedlock, the choice will automatically apply to younger siblings.

2. Foreign law: If one parent has a foreign citizenship, for example if he/she is South African, you may choose to apply foreign law to the name of your child. Choosing for example South African law is advisable if your child shall have a name not permissible according to German law. The choice does not have any bearing on siblings, separate name declarations must be made for each child.

How to go about it?

If you are planning to apply for registration of a birth, a necessary name declaration can be given with the birth registration (see third page of application form for birth registration). If you do not apply for birth registration, a name declaration can be given separately.

Read below for information on how to do a name declaration!

The Name of a Child over the Age of 18

If you are over 18 years old and applying for a German passport for the first time, you may need to declare your name first. If at the time of your birth your parents did not carry a joint married name according to German law, you must make a name declaration for yourself now. A name declaration may also be necessary even if you previously had German passport issued to you but the necessity of a name declaration had been overlooked.

How to Make a Name Declaration?

A name declaration must be given in person:

  1. Bring all documents and certificates listed below in the original plus two simple (non-certified) copies each. The copies will be certified at the German Mission and the originals returned to you at once.

  2. All South African documents must be in the unabridged (full) form.

  3. All documents that are not in German or English must be furnished with a German translation. Note that the registrar's office might also ask for German translations of English documents.

  4. Please note that many registry offices request South African certificates to be furnished with an Apostille. In order to avoid later delays, we recommend submitting documents with Apostilles right from the start.

  5. The Embassy/Consulate will forward your name declaration and supplementing documents to the registry office in Germany where a certificate of proof of name will be issued. The registry office will most likely charge an additional fee for the certificate of approximately 12,- Euros, to be paid directly to the registry office.

  6. Information concerning data protection with regard to the processing of your application can be found here.

Required documents:

Both spouses must appear in person.

Necessary documents and certificates:

  • form, fully completed
  • proof of identity of both spouses (passport/ID)
  • proof of citizenship of both spouses (passport, citizenship certificate, naturalisation certificate, etc.)
  • birth certificates of both spouses (unabridged/full)
  • birth certificates of all children (unabridged/full)
  • marriage certificate (unabridged/full)
  • in case of previous marriages: divorce decree or death certificate of late spouse
  • if applicable: acknowledgement of paternity
  • if applicable: adoption order
  • fee

You must appear in person (presence of divorced spouse is not required)

Necessary documents and certificates:

  • form, fully completed
  • proof of identity (passport/ID)
  • if applicable: name certificate or German marriage certificate
  • birth certificate
  • divorce decree or death certificate of late spouse
  • in case of divorce: recognition of the foreign divorce order, issued  by the competent German authority
  • fee

Both legal guardians and children of 14 years and older must appear in person.

Necessary documents and certificates:

  • form, fully completed
  • proof of identity of both parents and if applicable the child (passport/ID)
  • proof of citizenship of both parents and the child (passports, citizenship certificates, naturalisation certificates, etc.)
  • birth certificate of both parents (unabridged/full)
  • birth certificate of the child (unabridged/full)
  • if applicable: marriage certificate of the parents (unabridged/full)
  • in case of previous marriages of the parents: divorce decree or death certificate of late spouse
  • in case of children born out of wedlock: proof of the marital status of the mother at the time of birth of the child
  • if applicable: acknowledgement of paternity
  • if applicable: adoption order
  • if applicable: birth certificates of younger siblings
  • fee

As of the age of 18, you must appear in person. The presence of your parents is not required.

Necessary documents and certificates:

  • form, fully completed
  • proof of identity of the child (passport/ID)
  • proof of citizenship of both parents and the child (passports, citizenship certificates, naturalisation certificates etc.)
  • birth certificates of both parents (unabridged/full)
  • birth certificate of the child (unabridged/full)
  • if applicable: marriage certificate of the parents (unabridged/full)
  • in case of previous marriages of the parents: divorce decree or death certificate of late spouse
  • in case of children born out of wedlock: proof of the marital status of the mother at the time of birth of the child
  • if applicable: acknowledgement of paternity
  • if applicable: adoption order
  • fee

Note: Not all possible cases and scenarios can be represented here. Additional documentation might be necessary depending on your individual case.

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