Government debates name-changing

  • 2008-12-10
  • By Matt Withers
TALLINN - The Interior Ministry has proposed an amendment to legislation giving minorities the right to change their names on the grounds of social integration.
The Estonian-language daily Postimees reported that the ministry believes adopting an Estonian-sounding name would help the Russian-speaking minority blend into Estonian society, warranting the amendment of existing law to encourage this practice. If the proposal gets the green light, "willingness to integrate" would be listed among the existing legally viable reasons for adopting a new name under the Names Act.
Following the proposal, the Office of the Population Minister announced it does not support the idea and dismissed the amendment on the grounds that having an Estonian-sounding name was not a quick-fix solution to the problem of Russian integration.

Olga Shlok, an adviser for the population minister, said that name changing was definitely not a feature of Estonia's integration policy, saying that the office believes that integration has to be a tangible process.
"The formal Estonianization of names is a cosmetic change that doesn't reflect in reality how well the person has integrated into the society. The goal of the national integration policy is that a person would successfully cope in the society no matter of what origin is the name he or she bears," Shlok said.

Currently the Names Act lists eight valid reasons for a person to change their name, ranging from having an inappropriate or complicated name to changing name for the sake of avoiding economic or social damage.
At present Russian names can be changed for Estonian names under the clause "other valid reason that the Regional Affairs Minister deems to be sufficient," although statistics show that this method isn't always accessible or successful.

The bill's authors said that amendments to existing regulation will make name-changing more accessible for residents.
Mass name changing for the sake of integration is not a new concept in Estonia; in the 1930's there was a widespread campaign to encourage German families to adopt Estonian surnames in the name of improved social cohesion.

Nevertheless, the bill stands to become an additional point of contention in Estonia's ongoing integration dilemmas, within the government and most likely among Estonia's Russian-speaking population.
When The Baltic Times went to press, the Russian community had yet to voice an opinion about the hypothetical amendment.
Last year a total of 980 people 's including an unspecified number of Russians 's were granted name changes, while 13 were rejected.