Greek authorities can be quite stiff about their regulations. They can also be quite irrational up to the point that it’s simply beyond any logical argument to refute them.
In 1998 my eldest daughter Sophia was born in London. We got her British birth certificate in the ever so efficient British way – it took all but 10 minutes at the registry office. We also went on to register the birth at the Greek and German embassies, to ensure that the she would obtain both these citizenships.
At the Greek embassy, there was the usual form filling. My Greek wife did not hesitate one bit about writing my daughter’s name in the Greek letters that sounded most like the German original. I need to explain the Greek alphabet a bit:
“STOLZ” is pronounced “STOLTS” in German. There is no single letter in Greek corresponding to the German “Z” as a “TS” – the Greek “Z” is spoken like a soft “S”, i.e. like the “Z” in the word lizard. So “STOLZ” in Greek letters would be pronounced “STOLS”.
Therefore, to maintain the sound of the name correctly, the birth certificate entry was as follows: ΣΟΦΙΑ ΣΤΟΛΤΣ (i.e. phonetically SOFIA STOLTS). When our other children were born, we used the same method.
Years later we moved to Greece and we wanted to get my daughter a full Greek passport, in addition to her already held German one. My wife filled out the necessary forms, submitted all relevant documents like the Greek and British birth certificates (which clearly state the Latin name “STOLZ”, paid an immense amount of money and was sent away with the instruction to pick up the newly issued Greek passport a few weeks later.
When we got the passport back, the name section read as follows:
Name (Greek characters): ΣΟΦΙΑ ΣΤΟΛΤΣ
Name (Latin characters): SOFIA STOLTS
Our look was blank. My daughter’s name in Latin characters firstly and foremost is: SOPHIA STOLZ. What had happened to that? We got in touch with the authorities, to understand why the Latin spelling had been altered. We got the same answer, on every door we knocked: For the Greek authorities, the only valid way to write a name into a Greek passport, is its Greek spelling on the birth certificate, and THAT is then translated, phonetically on a letter by letter basis into Latin characters.
We tried our best to convince the passport authority, that this was all wrong. STOLZ was around long before STOLTS was invented :-) Besides, how can the same person have two passports, a German and a Greek one, with two different legitimate Latin names? We were asked to consider changing the German one. How is one to argue with that?
The solution was a bureaucratic Odyssey, whereby a court order was issued to correct the birth certificates of all our children. We succumbed to spelling it “ΣΤΟΛΖ”, which is of course pronounced “STOLS” in Greek, but was the only choice to achieve the correct Latin spelling “STOLZ”. Then the whole passport issuing procedure was started all over. The surname is saved.
At their school everyone wonders about that weird sounding surname: Stols. The question “shouldn’t it be STOLTS?” comes up all the time….
A surprising update can be found here.