(CN) – The European high court upheld an Austrian law that removes royal titles from citizens’ family names, finding that the law aligns with European Union principles.
An Austrian-born woman, who had been adopted as a girl by a German citizen with the title “prince” in his name, sued the Viennese registry when it removed the “princess” title from her name.
Austrian authorities registered the girl’s adopted name, Ilonka Fürstin von Sayn-Wittgenstein, which translates as Ilonka Princess of Sayn-Wittgenstein, in 1991, also issuing a passport including the princess title.
While living in Germany, Fürstin von Sayn-Wittgenstein had obtained a German driver’s license and ran a German business under her full adopted name.
But a 2003 ruling by the Austrian Constitutional Court revived a law from 1919, the year that Austria became a federal republic, banning Austrian citizens from using surnames that include royal titles. The law, eventually codified as a constitutional amendment, was interpreted after 1945 to apply as well to German names in Austria.
Germany, though it stripped privileges from royal titles during the Weimar Republic, allowed the continued use of royal titles within names.
Fürstin Sayn-Wittgenstein said the removal of her title hampered her freedom of movement, since using two different names could cause difficulties in EU member countries. She also claimed it would hurt her family life, as she had been using the princess title for 15 years.
The Luxembourg-based Court of Justice’s ruling found that surnames with noble titles form a basic element of a person’s identity, which is a protected human right. The court also pointed out that registering multiple names could cause confusion when a person moves between EU member states.
But the Court of Justice said the national identities of member states, including their constitution as a republic, also deserves protection. Thus, the Austrian ban on noble titles is an acceptable public policy carrying out equality before the law, the court concluded.