Changing your name in the Netherlands
A name is a cornerstone of someone’s individual identity. The right to name is therefore protected in a number of international conventions including the UN Children’s Rights Convention as well the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). States are generally free to set their own rules on the determination and recognition of names. At the same time, human rights law coming from the European Court of Human Rights says that changing your name should not cause ‘serious inconvenience.’
When someone moves from one country to another, legal issues regarding the recognition or change of one’s first name and surname may emerge. This may occur, for example, when someone does not have a surname in the country of origin or has a series of names. Recognition of such names falls within the ‘technical’ domain of Dutch private international law.
If the name is not recognised this can cause serious legal problems. The person affected may experience practical difficulties when applying for a new ID or driving licence, for example.
Two legal avenues: judicial and administrative
The sharp distinction Dutch law draws between surnames and first names is reflected in name change procedures. If you wish to have your first name (or given names) changed in the Netherlands you will have to start proceedings at a Dutch court. If you wish to have a surname changed in the Netherlands, unlike a change of a first name, an administrative procedure through a department of the ministry of Justice (called Dienst Justis) should in principle be followed.
In the latter case you are not required to apply for the name change through a lawyer even though it may still be a good idea to consult a lawyer for an initial consultation (€ 150). The administrative fee for the procedure to change your surname is somewhat high ( € 835). It may also take up to nine months and is not without risks as it is permitted in certain somewhat narrowly defined situations set out in the Brochure geslachtsnaamswijziging (only in Dutch). For these reasons, consulting a specialized lawyer is advisable.
Changing your first name or names in the Netherlands
In case you wish to change any of your first names you have to be represented by a lawyer. Your lawyer prepares and submits a petition to a first instance court to add, change or remove your first name. As Dutch law only distinguishes between first names and surnames, a Slavic patronym, for example, will also qualify as a first name in Dutch law. Therefore, you can only have this patronym changed if your lawyer sends a petition to court rather than to the ministry of Justice.
Born outside the Netherlands
If you were born outside the Netherlands and do not already have a Dutch birth certificate your (apostilled) birth certificate should be registered as, or rather ‘transformed’ into, a Dutch birth certificate at the municipality Den Haag first before applying for a name change. This may take up to four months. In that case the court in The Hague will also be the competent court to decide on the proposed name change. Otherwise it will be the district court where you live in the Netherlands.
Putting forward a sufficiently ‘substantial reason’
The court will assess and decide upon the question whether you have a sufficiently ‘substantial reason’ for the proposed name change of your first name(s). Your personal reasons behind the proposed name change are therefore crucial. Your lawyer should actively enquire about those reasons in order to be able to accurately and convincingly put forward the motives behind your wish to have the name change in order to assess whether the procedure has a chance of success.
Recognition of names acquired abroad
Developments in this specialized area of law have been evolving and have been influenced by European law over the past two decades. A substantial number of cases has emerged from the (EU) European Court of Justice which require EU member states to recognise surnames acquired in other Member States as deriving from the right to free movement of EU citizens.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has accordingly developed a consistent but casuistic case-law centred on EU citizenship that says that national rules regarding the determination of names may constitute an obstacle to exercising their free movement rights. Back in 2003, in Garcia Avello the ECJ decided that children with dual Belgian and Spanish citizenship are entitled to have their last name according to Spanish law, even though the choice-of-law rules of Belgium, where the children resided, designated Belgian law as the law applicable to Belgian citizens who are dual citizens of another country. A few years later, in Grunkin-Paul, the central question put forward to the same court was whether a child born in Denmark to two German parents should be allowed to have his name registered in Germany as a double name combining both parents’ names according to Danish law, even though the German law applicable under German choice-of-law rules rejected a double name under these circumstances.
In line with these developments towards greater harmonisation and mutual recognition within the EU, EU law now requires that a name legally borne or acquired in another member state may also be borne in all other member states. This principle is therefore also upheld in the Netherlands and has even been considered to extend to surnames acquired outside the EU.
Dutch private international law
Although EU law has exerted a tremendous influence, this does not mean that mutual recognition now serves as a legal panacea for all problems regarding the recognition of names. Dutch private international law still sets its own rules regarding the recognition of names from outside the EU, for example.
As such, various situations subsist in which the name as determined abroad will not be ‘automatically’ recognised in the Netherlands. This can happen, for example, if a child’s surname is changed in a British deed poll but the child also has Dutch nationality. A name change procedure through the ministry of Justice may still be required for the child to have the same name as it has in the UK.
When a foreign person acquires Dutch nationality, for example this does not result in a change of his surname or forename(s) an easier to pronounce or spell name may, for example, be chosen.
Furthermore, a surname or first name may have been registered abroad at birth or has been changed when the child’s personal status changed abroad. This may be the case when an acknowledgement of paternity occurs outside the Netherlands and the child gets the name of the father outside the Netherlands. The recognition of the name so acquired can then not be refused on account of incompatibility with the Dutch public order on the sole ground that foreign law was applied.
How long does a name change procedure take?
Your lawyer will in principle prepare your petition to court within two weeks after the confirmation of assignment if your case is about changing a first name. If you wish to change your surname, we will also help you fill in the forms for a change of surname for the administrative procedure with Justis (Dutch ministry of Justice).
If you are happy with the text of the draft petition and/or explanatory letter for the ministry of Justice your lawyer is ready to submit. Please note that in both first name and some surname change procedures a statement by a certified Dutch mental health expert may be necessary to convince the competent authority — court or ministry — that you really have ‘substantial reasons’ for making your case.
In some cases it takes about two to three months before the court decides, but this may vary depending which court. As mentioned, if you were born abroad and do not already have a Dutch birth certificate it may therefore take somewhat longer before the court decides. For the administrative procedure to change a surname this may take up to nine months.
An initial consultation with a maximum of one hour costs € 150. We will make an honest assessment of whether your case is viable and we will therefore go into your very own personal reasons for the proposed name change. We will also provide you with an outline of what to expect in the administrative or judicial procedure and will estimate the total costs of such a procedure.