For many foreign residents, Malta’s naming rules are another language barrier
Joanna Grezlikowska, a Polish woman, is expecting to give birth to a child – but she is worried that her child’s last name indicates that he is a woman.
The reason behind it is that Identity Malta does not allow changing the surname according to gender, and many leave surnames that indicate a different gender than their own.
However, gendered surnames are common in several countries, especially in central and eastern Europe, including Poland, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine and Russia.
The ending of the surname is changed to show whether the person is male or female. So in Poland, for example, a man’s surname ends with “–ski” and a woman’s with “–ska”.
Grezlikowska is now concerned that her son will not be able to take the surname “Grezlikowski” and will stick to the female version of the name.
“If my father’s surname was Grezlikowska everyone in Poland would laugh,” she said.
Tomasz Balicki, a Polish man living in Malta, had a similar experience.
Ecstatic about his new baby, he went to the public registry office to register his daughter’s name.
However, officials told him that his daughter must take an exact surname. Tomasz tried to contact the Polish embassy to resolve the issue but failed.
Tomasz eventually managed to change his daughter’s surname to Balicka on her Polish passport, after a long bureaucratic process, but her birth certificate has not yet been changed.
Identity Malta also allows only letters in the Maltese and English alphabet to be written in official documents.
The registration of foreign names and surnames came under the spotlight on Saturday when Times of Malta reported that a French couple could not register their son’s name,
Gaëtan, in the public register because of the “ë” in his name.
Complaints from around the world
Since then, others have come forward to express their frustration over the matter.
A Maltese man married to a Croat, Michael Debono Mrđen, opened a case in court after requests with Identity Malta officials proved to be fruitless.
“We already have a precedent to transpose names directly into Maltese,” said Mrđen.
“In the Maltese language, Coca-Cola does not change to ‘Çoħa-Cola’,” he noted.
“My Maltese passport feels fake.”
Daniëlle Duijst, from the Netherlands, said it was ridiculous that she couldn’t keep the name her parents gave her because of an outdated system that doesn’t work for different alphabets.
“If I ever get Maltese citizenship and they can’t even add the “ë” symbol… I probably won’t get it,” she said.
Gabija Kazlauskienė, a Lithuanian who lives here, said that she did not mind too much that the “ė” in her surname was converted to “e”.
“I’m based in a country that has Maltese and English as official languages, so I wasn’t even expecting my name to have Lithuanian letters,” she said.
However, if she were to register her child, she would like to keep the original letters in the document because a name is part of someone’s cultural and personal identity, she said.
According to the 2021 census, there are 115,449 foreigners living in Malta now which means that the number of names and surnames in foreign languages is likely to continue to increase.
Other countries also have strict rules for registering baby names.
In Denmark, parents can only choose a name from a list of 7,000. The laws also require that the name must reflect the gender of the child and must not be unusual.
Likewise, in Iceland parents must choose their child’s name from a National Register of Persons.
In both cases, exceptions can be made by going through a special committee.
Identity Malta was asked if there were any plans to amend the rules but it did not answer.
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