Having a baby in Switzerland? Congrats! Naming your baby is even more complicated now. Let’s face the facts!
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1. Be prepared to prove your baby’s name is in fact… a name
You might be surprised to learn that in Switzerland you’re not allowed to name your child just anything. It used to be the case you had to pick a name from an official list!
These days you are pretty much free to name your child whatever you want, except in the case they think the child’s interests would be harmed. “This would be the case,” writes the Zurich city website in German on a page currently unavailable in English, “for example, if the first name would unambiguously belong to the opposite sex.”
Other banned names include anything offensive, single letters, numbers, objects, brand names, Biblical names deemed evil, and absurd spellings.
I know of a case of an expat family who wanted to name their son an English name which in German was a common word (not a name). They had some trouble with the authorities over this and had to produce documentation that the name they wanted was in fact a real first name from another culture. Eventually, they got to keep the name they wanted.
2. Be prepared for your baby’s name to be mispronounced
Still, picking a baby name for an English-speaking family in a German or French-speaking environment is not always so straightforward. Perhaps as you consider baby names you’ve had thoughts like this:
- “I love this name, but it has a th… nobody here will be able to pronounce it properly.” [German and French speakers typically pronounce th as t, so for example, “Ruth” becomes “Root”]
- “I love this J name, but it sounds like a Y in German and I don’t like it. It’s just completely different.”
You might think that if you pick an English name with a clear German equivalent, you can predict how your child will be called by their German-speaking friends and teachers. Wrong! They’ll probably just mispronounce the English version. Like my first daughter Katherine, who theoretically could go by “Katrin” at school, but whose friends call her KETHrin in an ill-fated attempt to match the English. And by the same logic, our second daughter Hannah, instead of being known by the equally beautiful German version of her name, has friends whose parents think her name is Henna.
3. Middle name or second first name? Choose now, but beware…
If you’re from the US, you take middle names for granted. It’s nice to give your baby a second name, perhaps one that honors a family member, or just sounds nice with the first one. But middle names aren’t actually a thing in Switzerland.
I recall a very confusing meeting at our local Zivilstandsamt when our first daughter was first born. It went something like this:
“Would you like that to be a middle name or a second first name?”
“You see, we don’t actually use middle names in Switzerland. On our documents we don’t have a space for middle name. There is only the first name and the family name. But you can have as many first names as you want. … But since you’re foreigners, we can classify it a middle name if you really want. So which do you want? Second first name or a middle name?
“Uh… what difference does it make?”
“Well, ok, if your child ever gains Swiss citizenship in the future, then anything we have put under Middle Name will be dropped. Because here we only have the first names and the last name. But you can have as many first names as you want!”
“So… if we have it as a second first name, then if she gets Swiss citizenship, her name will remain the same?”
“Yes that’s right!”
“Ok… I guess we’ll make it a second first name then…”
Popular Swiss baby names for inspiration
If you want to blend in, take a look at popular names in Switzerland. The Bundesamt für Statistik has some great statistics on this. Here are the top names from 2021 by language region, according to their “Hit-Parade” list:
Top 50 Baby Boy Names in German-speaking Switzerland (2021)
Top 50 Baby Boy Names in French-speaking Switzerland (2021)
Top 50 Baby Boy Names in Italian-speaking Switzerland (2021)
Top 50 Baby Girl Names in German-speaking Switzerland (2021)
Top 50 Baby Girl Names in French-speaking Switzerland (2021)
Top 50 Baby Girl Names in Italian-speaking Switzerland (2021)
How to register your baby’s birth in Switzerland
You don’t actually have to settle on the name before the child’s birth. Want to wait and see what the little one looks like first? That’s fine. You’ll just have to submit a name within 3 days of the birth.
That part is easy, don’t worry. The hospital staff where you gave birth will have a form for you to fill out which they will forward to the relevant authorities (your local Zivilstandsamt) to register the birth.
Just don’t forget you’ll need to provide a bunch of identity documents (which could involve procuring recent copies of the parents’ birth certificates, and having them translated if they’re not in a Swiss national language or English). If you’ve already had a baby in Switzerland or gotten married in Switzerland then the requirements are less strict because you are already in their system.
It is best to check with your local Zivilstandsamt to verify the exact documents you will need to register your baby’s birth, which differ according to the country of origin of the parents and their civil status.
Once you get the birth certificate back from the Zivilstandsamt, you’ll use this for two things. First, you’ll need to show it at your country’s consulate to register the birth with your home country and apply for your baby’s foreign passport. Second, your baby will need a Swiss residence permit just like you, and for that you’ll take a visit to the Migrationsamt in the canton where you live.
Congrats, your baby is official!