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EXPLAINED: Why so many baby names are banned in Switzerland

These days, it’s not just celebrities who seem to have a penchant for ruining their child’s life by bestowing him or her with an odd moniker. In Switzerland however, there are several rules about what you can - and cannot - name your child.

Is Switzerland's restriction of baby names a good or a bad thing? Photo by Colin Maynard on Unsplash
Is Switzerland's restriction of baby names a good or a bad thing? Photo by Colin Maynard on Unsplash

Whether its hanging out your washing on a Sunday or flushing your toilet after 10pm at night, Switzerland has several rules which can be surprising to foreigners. 

One such example is what you are allowed to name your kids.  

While from time to time, parents’ failed attempt to give their child a unique name might make the news, there are in fact an extensive variety of rules about which names can actually be chosen in Switzerland.

Sticklers for the law as they are, the Swiss have several rules controlling what baby names can be given. 

No names which will damage a child’s well-being

Although this appears incredibly difficult to define, there are several actual examples which have been rejected for breaching the well-being rule. 

In considering this, Swiss authorities will look at whether “the child will be exposed to ridicule because of its name.”

This includes ‘Grandma’, ‘Rose Heart’, ‘Prince Valiant’ and ‘Puhbert’. 

REVEALED: The most popular baby name in each Swiss canton

They specifically prohibit giving your kid a name which will damage his or her “well-being”. Names aren’t allowed to be offensive either. 

Twins

Twins must not have names that are too similar to each other. 

The names must not be either spelt or pronounced in the same way. 

Swiss media gives the example of calling two boys “Philip” and “Philipe”. 

No villain names

Switzerland – or at least large parts of it – remain relatively religious, which is probably why choosing a bible villain name for your child is verboten. 

Newspaper Telebasel reports that the name Judas has already been rejected by Swiss registry offices – and will likely be rejected again. Satan, Cain and Lucifer are also banned. 

Boys are boys, girls are girls

Ever the traditionalists, Switzerland has tight gender rules for naming children. 

Specifically, a name must clearly indicate a person’s gender. 

Girls cannot be given a boy’s name and vice versa. 

If a name does not clearly indicate the person’s gender, then the child must be given a hyphenated double name or a second name to make this clear. 

Numbers or letters

In 2017, a Swiss court said ‘J’ was not appropriate as a middle name. 

The court held that allowing ‘J’ would be similar to letting people have a name made up of numbers – although ‘Jay’ a la Homer ‘Jay’ Simpson would presumably be fine. 

No place names

While the world might be debating how to cater to non-binary people who want to be identified as ‘their’, identifying as ‘there’ is a big no go in Switzerland. 

Place names for people are forbidden in Switzerland. 

This may not be interpreted incredibly strictly – Dakota Fanning and Brooklyn Beckham will be OK for now – but if you want to name your little boy ‘Matterhorn’ you may come across some resistance. 

READ MORE: How much does it cost to raise a child in Switzerland?

No product names either

No matter how much you love a particular product, you will be prevented from honouring the brand by naming your child after it. 

That means Ovaltine, Rivella, Chanel or Ferrari are off the table. 

You’re also banned from naming your child after a plant or after an animal. 

What about foreign names? 

One major question – particularly among Local readers – is whether foreign names are banned. 

The main question is whether the name appears in the ‘Internationalen Handbuch der Vornamen’ – the International Handbook of First Names. 

This book – which does not appear to exist in English – expressly lists acceptable first names. 

If it appears in the book, it’s OK with Swiss authorities. 

Which names have actually been banned in Switzerland? 

Suissebook has listed several baby names which have been banned in Switzerland for breaking at least one of the rules listed above. 

In addition to all of those mentioned so far in this article, it includes Bierstubl (place name), Troublemaker (well-being), Mercedes (brand name) and Sputnik (not sure if that is a place or a thing, but either way it’s banned).

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PENSIONS

OPINION: A lower retirement age for women in Switzerland can no longer be justified

Having a lower retirement age for women is a throwback to more patronising times, yet the Swiss government has struggled to introduce parity in this area for decades. As the latest reform attempt comes to a popular vote, Clare O’Dea asks what’s behind female resistance to this change.

OPINION: A lower retirement age for women in Switzerland can no longer be justified

The retirement age in Switzerland is 64 for women and 65 for men. For generations of Swiss people, this differential treatment is standard. The gap used to be bigger. From 1962 to 1997, women retired at 62.
On September 25, Swiss voters will have their say on a reform of the state pension system (AHV / AVS), which would raise the retirement age for women to 65 and use a VAT hike to help finance pensions. The Old Age and Survivors’ Insurance has been running a deficit since 2014 and this reform is billed as a crucial package to keep it viable.

Is earlier retirement for women a historical benefit worth defending or should it be abandoned in the interests of fairness and financial good sense? If women voters alone could decide, the proposal would be rejected.

READ ALSO: Reader question: How long must I work in Switzerland to qualify for a pension?

According to the most recent poll, 64 per cent of women intend to vote against the reform, while 71 of male voters approve of the law. This is a much higher gender difference than is usually seen, even in sex-specific voting issues. These numbers, if sustained, would ultimately deliver a yes vote but leave a bitter taste for women.

As a woman who will be directly affected by this decision in the not-too-distant future – well, 15 years from now – and someone who made all the classic gender-based “mistakes” when it comes to my own pension provision, I don’t see this potential change as a threat. If anything, it is an opportunity, a wake-up call.
Swiss women earn less than men over their lifetimes for several well-documented yet seemingly unshakable reasons. Mostly these relate directly or indirectly to time spent caring for children or other family members.

Caring responsibilities, even the hypothetical possibility of such responsibilities, influence women’s career choices, the number of hours they work, and their income. This burden also influences how women are perceived and rewarded as employees.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How does the Swiss pension system work – and how much will I receive?

But there is also a kind of fatalism on the part of women in long-term partnerships who know they can’t sustain a career as the “main earner” without a “wife-like” partner to rely on, so they do not try. Divorced women usually find it’s too late to catch up.

Three things that are bad for pension provision are career interruptions, part-time hours and lower pay. Yet this is the norm for most working women over the long term, mothers in particular.

As I see it, there are three ways to improve matters. Either women change to behave more like male workers, the system changes to accommodate existing patterns better, or we change the existing family patterns altogether.

(Photo by ROMAIN LAFABREGUE / AFP)

The problem is that mother workers can only become more like father workers when men pick up the slack (choosing family-friendly jobs, reducing their hours, taking family-centred career breaks, leaning in at home). Where else will the spare capacity come from?

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Everything you need to know about retiring in Switzerland

I think all three changes need to happen in parallel. Some progress has already been made. There is no point in hanging around with the retirement age reform. It’s one of the few changes that can be achieved with the stroke of a pen.

Those campaigning against harmonising the retirement age say that all the other things dragging down women’s lifetime earnings – the structure of the labour market, lack of affordable childcare, gender pay gap, the persistence of traditional gender roles – need to be fixed first before we demand an extra year of work from women. That seems defeatist and totally impractical to me.

The priority for all is to avoid women having a much greater risk of poverty in old age as they do now, especially divorced women and widows.

Swiss women currently receive 37 percent less than men through all three types of pension provision combined – the state pension, occupational schemes and private pension. The picture in Switzerland is worse than in most industrialised countries because of the prevalence of part-time work for women – a double-edged sword.

Swiss voters turned down two previous proposals to level up the retirement age for women – in 2004 and 2017. However, taking into account the compensatory measures included in the current reform, that potential extra working year should not be viewed as a penalty.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Can I take my pension money with me when I leave Switzerland?

If that year is spent working, not only will the women have their salary, but they will also have the opportunity to contribute a bit more to the two other streams of pension funding – occupational pensions and voluntary private pensions.

Working also means being physically active, having more social interactions and stimulating your brain. These are all pillars of brain health that help protect against the onset of dementia, a disease that women are twice as likely to suffer from.

The absolute refusal to acknowledge that an ageing population and increasing life expectancy require changes to long-standing pension norms is one of the blind spots of the Left in Switzerland. According to the UBS International Pension Gap Index, the proportion of active (working) to retired people will decrease from the current level of 3 to 1 down to 2 to 1 by 2050.

The reasons why Swiss women should retire one year earlier than men are lost of the mists of time. Well, not quite, there was some talk of “physiological disadvantage” and wives keeping their older retired husbands company. It seems rather silly now.

The final justification left for an early exit from the workforce is that it offers some compensation for all the other financial injustices. That’s a passive rather than an active approach to our problems. I see this reform as part of the solution. Let’s get on with it.

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