The Princess and the Personal Name: a reader comments

"Here comes that
Landeshauptmann :
now where shall
I hide my title?"
In "A tale for our time: Princess Ilonka and the Landeshauptmann" (here), the IPKat reviewed in fairly critical terms the litigation in which the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled last year, that Austria was in principle entitled to refuse, for public policy reasons, to recognise the name which one of its citizens acquired by her subsequent adoption in Germany, so long as this refusal was "necessary for the protection of the interests which they are intended to secure" and "proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued".  The name in question is "Ilonka Fürstin von Sayn-Wittgenstein", and the disputed part of it is "Fürstin von", which means "Princess of". The Kat felt that the court's was wrong in principle and also considered that there were intellectual property issues at stake, where for example a person sought to exploit or protect the goodwill in her name or to register it as a Community trade mark. The Kat has since received this comment, from a correspondent who wishes to remain anonymous:
"Many thanks for the post about Ilonka Sayn-Wittgenstein. But may I respectfully disagree with you - I don't think she should be allowed to use the title as part of her legal name. Like you, I have no interest in allowing or preventing the use of titles as names, but I do not think that it is justified in this case.

As you note, there are historical reasons for the Austrian law - but I do think it is still an important law. Nobility has been part of central European history for a very very long time, and the law is the consequence of a long historical process across central Europe in the 18th -19th century. It was a real achievement at the time. Both Germany and Austria abolished the rights relating to titles in 1919 although they are still very much present in Germany, today.

In principle, I don't agree that a person can request that her name is changed contrary to the national law that applies to that name because the (German) authorities failed to apply the correct conflict of law rules.  I agree with the Landeshauptmann that the Germans in this case didn't know their own law:  they should have applied Austrian law first time round. And I do not think it is correct to rely on such obvious mistakes to push something through that is against the law.

Even under German law she may no longer be allowed to use the title. I haven't double-checked the Wikipedia entry about this but, if it is correct, then German law does not accept a title as part of a name if the country in which the relevant person is a national did not accept it as part of the name. So it seems that even in the event that Ilonka took German nationality she would still not be allowed to use the title in Germany because, according to Austrian law, she never legally carried the name it in the first place.

I think that there should be a clear difference between using one's name as a personal name and using it as a trade mark or commercial name. This does not appear to come out of the ECJ judgment too clearly. For different reasons, different rules apply to both and they cannot be mixed up. Personal name rights have evolved over centuries and are part of a cultural heritage of a country. Personal names must take into account the names of children and personality rights. Similarly, commercial names comply with certain rules such that they must be non-descriptive and distinguishable. Even if someone chooses to use his or her personal name as a trade mark and/or commercial name he or she has to accept that they are subject to different rules depending on where and how they are used. If looking at the EU with its 27 countries, and cross-border issues, it is ever more important to distinguish between rights linked to a person's nationality and commercial rights. The EU is primarily a commercial union, and any impact on (national) name rights should be considered in this context - i.e. to facilitate the movement of persons not the movement of goods and services".
Resisting the temptation to take a poll of readers, the IPKat is nonetheless interested to receive interesting and thoughts about choice of name and its interface with (i) regular IP and (ii) rights of privacy/publicity.  Please post your comments below.

Popular titles involving princesses: 
The Princess and the Pea here
Princess for a Day here
Princess Daisy here
Princess in Rags here
The Princess and the Personal Name: a reader comments The Princess and the Personal Name: a reader comments Reviewed by Jeremy on Monday, January 03, 2011 Rating: 5


  1. If I remember this correctly, the only person who (after 1945 at least) was permitted the use 'von' in his name was Herbert von Karajan. Even the pretender to the Austrian throne is called merely Otto Habsburg (or Otto Habsburg-Lothringen), rather than 'O. von H.'.

    Perhaps the dislike of inherited titles (which I believe is anchored in the Austrian constitution) is more than balanced by the Austrian habit of addressing people by the titles they have earned in some way or another (Frau Doktor, Herr Ingenieur, Herr Hofrat etc.) I guess no Austrian would dream of calling O. von H. anything other than Dr. Habsburg.

  2. I've written a short essay (in Portuguese) for college regarding Conflict Law applicable to names and its relation to the EU law.

    If you are interested in this subject, you should definitely read the following case-law: C-168/91 (Konstantinidis), C-148/02 (Garcia Avello) and C-353/06 (Grunkin-Paul). There's also an interesting article written by Matthis Lehmann concerning this subject: "What's in a name? Grunkin-Paul and beyond, in Yearbook of Private International Law”, Vol. 10 (2008).

    I am thinking about re-writing such essay, so that I may publish it with these new developments. If any of the fellow readers knows about some articles regarding this matter (languages: portuguese, english, french and spanish), I would very much appreciate if you share such information.

    Thanks in advance,


All comments must be moderated by a member of the IPKat team before they appear on the blog. Comments will not be allowed if the contravene the IPKat policy that readers' comments should not be obscene or defamatory; they should not consist of ad hominem attacks on members of the blog team or other comment-posters and they should make a constructive contribution to the discussion of the post on which they purport to comment.

It is also the IPKat policy that comments should not be made completely anonymously, and users should use a consistent name or pseudonym (which should not itself be defamatory or obscene, or that of another real person), either in the "identity" field, or at the beginning of the comment. Current practice is to, however, allow a limited number of comments that contravene this policy, provided that the comment has a high degree of relevance and the comment chain does not become too difficult to follow.

Learn more here:

Powered by Blogger.