German law is quite restrictive when it comes to changing last names
In England, anyone can change their last name by simple deed poll. Not so in Germany! Under German law, one is usually stuck for life with the name selected by one’s parents.
The only easy method to get rid of one’s last name is to marry. Because, upon marriage, each spouse is free to either keep their own last name, take on the spouse’s name or opt for a dual family name. Details are set out in section 1355 German Civil Code.
Outside of marriage (or adoption), however, the last name of a person may only be changed if the applicant can demonstrate important cause (wichtiger Grund), see section 3 Namensänderungsgesetz (German Act on Name Change). The authorities have some administrative discretion what constitutes an important reason and they tend to be quite restrictive.
A name change will obviously be granted where an applicant has been heavily abused by a parent and cannot be reasonably expected to bear that abuser’s last name. Apart from such obvious circumstances, it is sometimes quite a struggle for the applicant and their lawyers to convince the German authorities (Standesamt, i.e. the local persons register) that a name change is necessary. Applications should therefore be diligently prepared!
The minimum requirements for a name change application in Germany are set out in this standard form (this specific form is for the name change regarding a child) which is used by many German persons registers (Standesamt).
However, the important aspect is to make a convincing argument from the outset. If the Standesamt has rejected the application because the case was “too thin”, is becomes even harder to obtain the desired result.
Cross Channel Lawyers is the law blog of Graf & Partners LLP, a German law office which specialises in German-British and German-American legal issues since 2003. Our lawyers have many years of practical experience with British-German and US-German commercial law, family law and probate matters, including the representation of clients in German litigation and arbitration proceedings. If you wish us to advise or represent you in a German or cross border legal matter please send an email or call us on +49 941 463 7070.