Court rules against German man's decision to call himself Baron

Linderhof Castle in Germany Image copyright Johannes Simon

Germany does not have to recognise a man's decision to call himself Count and Baron, the European Court of Justice has ruled.

Nabiel Peter Bogendorff von Wolffersdorff changed his name while living in the UK to Peter Mark Emanuel Graf von Wolffersdorff Freiherr von Bogendorff. He has dual German-UK citizenship.

Graf and Freiherr mean Count and Baron.

Germany abolished titles in 1919 so citizens would be equal before the law.

Mr Bogendorff von Wolffersdorff lived in the UK between 2001 and 2005. He changed his name under UK rules and became a citizen of both countries.

When he moved back to Germany his new name, with its titles, was not recognised there.

Mr Bogendorff von Wolffersdorff says that this has created problems with identity documents, including getting German officials to recognise his passport.

He also has trouble convincing people that his young daughter is related to him.

Her name is Larissa Xenia Graefin von Wolffersdorff Freiin von Bogendorff.

Mr Bogendorff von Wolffersdorff took his case to a district court in the town of Karlsruhe, which asked the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for advice.

The Luxembourg-based court ruled that countries are not always obliged to recognise name changes that contain noble titles.

The ECJ said that although some Germans do still have pre-1919 titles in their names, it would "run counter to the intention" of the law if Germans could "adopt afresh" those abolished titles by moving to another EU state and changing their name.

The ECJ also said that although the titles Graf and Freiherr are not official titles in either country, they do "give the impression of nobility".

But while the ECJ recognised the restrictions on his life, and said that Germany should allow Mr Bogendorff von Wolfersdorff to change his forenames from Nabiel Peter to Peter Mark Emanuel, it said that the principle of equality before the law meant the restrictions on one individual were "justified by public policy considerations".

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