I bore a son three months ago. To give a name to a child sometimes may be a great challenge for young parents, especially in the Vilnius region.
According to the data from the Civil Registry Office, Polish parents in Lithuania are less and less likely to choose names with diacritical signs. As a result, Małgorzata (Malgožata) and Grzegorz (Gžegož) are replaced with Emilia (Emilija) and Damian (Damjan). Unfortunately, those parents who wish to give a more creative name to their child, have to put much effort… ”A name must sound international. It should be a little Polish, but without exaggeration as it is to be immersed in the Lithuanian reality and a Lithuanian is supposed to pronounce it. More importantly, a child should not suffer as a result of his or her name abroad” – I often hear my friends say that.
Bearing that in mind, me and my husband went to the Civil Registry Office (Lithuanian: Civilinės metrikacijos skyrius).
– What name have you chosen? – asked an official.
– Bruno – we replied.
– Bruno? Why not Brunas? – she kept asking.
– Because! – we replied together.
She started explaining that such a name probably does not exist. We insisted that it actually does. She got confused and took the list of Polish names from her drawer (which was actually the pile of yellowed paper sheets) to inform us that there was a name like this, though it was Brunon rather than Bruno.
– That’s right, Brunon is correct, but we are interested in another form of this name, Bruno. Until now six persons have been registered with such a name – I insisted.
– I understand, but this is not a Polish name – she replied.
– This is the name of Germanic origin. It is popular in Poland – I explained.
After a brief talk with her colleague she stated that she would register the name Bruno, though she added she “hoped not to have any problems later on.”
When I left the office, I got confused. Is that up to parents to choose a name for their child? Or the choice is affected by decisions of overcommited officials who are apt to make a suggestion?
I decided to find out what exactly the “Polish names list” is.
So… In Lithuania there is no list of allowed names. There is also no legal act governing it. Art. 3.282 of the Civil Code stipulates that names and surnames in Lithuanian civil status acts shall be spelled in accordance with the rules of the Lithuanian language. Furthermore, the spelling of Polish names and surnames in official documents is regulated in the protocol of 28 March 1991 by the State Commission of the Lithuanian Language. The document provides, for example, that name “Anna” shall be put as “Ana”, “Joanna” as “Joana” and surname “Dąbrowski” as “Dombrovski”.
It should be also stated that on the site of the State Commission of the Lithuanian Language there is a list of names, but it acts as recommendation rather than a binding rule. The Commission also informed me that the names given to children in Szawle include Alejandro, Archie, Huseyn, Jessica and Amaka. Meanwhile, in an interview given to 15min.lt Ilona Jurgutienė, the head of the Civil Registry Office unit, said that parents are inclined to give their children names like Žarija, Ifrilė, Afina, Janur or Domicijus, which are actually not those recommended by the State Commission of the Lithuanian Language.
In a spirit of investigative journalism, I called the Civil Registry Office and asked, as a parent, whether according to “Polish names list” I am allowed to name my son Mieszko (that was the second option that me and my husband took into account).
– Mieszko? First let me ask you, did you see such a name in a dictionary? – asked Lidija Kovienė, the senior inspector of birth registration.
– Yes – I replied.
– Are you and the father of the child Lithuanian citizens? – she kept asking.
– Yes – I replied again.
Then I could hear her asking her colleague to check the list and asking the question “could we allow such a name?”.
– Is that a girl or a boy? – she asked me again.
– A boy – I replied.
– We were not able to find such a name in the Polish dictionary – she explained.
– How is that possible? Mieszko appears in all Polish dictionaries of names – I asked, confused. I wanted to add this is the name of the first Polish ruler, but I changed my mind as it did not make any sense.
– Our Polish dictionary of names does not provide us with such a name – she started to get impatient.
When asked about the dictionary she used, she stated that this was “a simple dictionary of Polish names” and added that this name was not good for one more reason – it did not determine the gender of a child.
– My friend has a son called Bruno. What am I supposed to do? – I kept asking.
– You should consider taking another name – she suggested.
– OK. Then please take a look at Ziemowit. I have more options to choose from – I aksed her to review her “list” again.
As it was easy to guess, that name was also unavailable because…? According to the official, “that name occurs in Poland, not in Lithuania.”
I was stunned again so I called them one more time, this time as the journalist of the portal zw.lt, and asked for explanation.
Ilona Jurgutienė, the head of the Civil Registry Office unit ensured that there was no dictionary to be used by officials.
– We have the Savukynas dictionary [Bronys Savukynas] used for recommendations. As you probably know, there is no act governing the spelling of names and surnames – she stated.
– That’s right. But I’ve heard of the parents who wanted to give a Polish name to their child and were told in the Civil Registry Office that Polish names were unavailable in a dictionary… – I struggled to explain.
– This must have been a mistake. We have no dictionaries. And if there are the names that we have reservations about, we ask for advice from the State Commission of the Lithuanian Language. If a name has Polish or Karaim origin, or any other, we send an enquiry to the relevant community to receive a feedback that allows us to confirm the name – explained Jurgutienė and claimed that as far as she knew parents had not recently encountered any difficulties while registering the name of their child. The head of the Civil Registry Office also emphasized that the only name requirements are that a name is not offensive, follows principles of morality and determines the gender of a child.
However, I failed to ask about the names of my son Bruno and my friend’s son Nikita, even though they do not determine the gender of a child…
Tłumaczenie by Grzegorz Gaura w ramach praktyk w Europejskiej Fundacji Praw Człowieka, www.efhr.eu. Translated by Grzegorz Gaura within the framework of a traineeship programme of the European Foundation of Human Rights, www.efhr.eu.