by Markus Stolz

Spelling
regulations #1

byMarkus Stolz
January 20, 2010, 10 Comments

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.

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  1. AlexJanuary 21, 2010, 12:38 am

    haha, those Greeks! They always have their own way of managing things. I know my mum who only holds a Greek passport, but never spoke a word of Greek- being born in Germany from a German mother and Greek father- had to struggle hard on some occasions..
    greets, Alex

  2. Kostas KatsoulierisJanuary 21, 2010, 12:50 am

    Yet one more reminder of Greece’s tunnel vision and archaic bureaucracy. You can just imagine what Heinrich Boell would do with Sophia’s story! This stubborness over the correct spelling of your daughter’s name is laughable when one considers Greek road signs. Every day on the way to work I see signs pointing in the direction of Piraeus, Peiraias, Pireefs and Pireas…

  3. elloinosJanuary 21, 2010, 7:38 am

    Alex, thanks for getting involved – I think speaking the language does make a real difference for me, somehow it makes me part of the culture. I was only having a hard time in my first year in Greece, although I am still surprised at times :)

  4. elloinosJanuary 21, 2010, 7:41 am

    Kosta, buereaucracy in Greece is “very special” indeed. I try to see the funny side in things, and your comment about the spelling of road signs did make me smile – there must be at least a dozen different spellings for Varibobi alone :)

  5. ChristinaJanuary 21, 2010, 2:41 pm

    I kept smiling and laughing so much when I read this that I had to respond!
    This is all soooo familiar… Greek authorities always had a huge problem translating foreign names into Greek and back to something in latin characters, but I can see that the situation is becoming worse as years pass by, instead of improving. They just cannot comprehend that if you have a foreign name it already has a way to be written with latin characters, and furthermore, when people pronounce it in Greek, you would like for it to sound familiar…
    I’m half Danish from my father’s side, therefore my surname is totally not Greek (Krog). When at some point I got the Greek citizenship, and as I was living in Greece, my surname of course was already translated in Greek for obvious reasons and the obvious choice was “Κρογκ” (even though the “g” in danish is silent). When I went to get my Greek passport and filled in all the necessary papers etc, and went back to get it, the tranlsation in latin was KroNg!!! And yes, my look was blank too!! When I asked, the answer was that the Greek difthong “ΓΚ” or “ΓΓ” was translated as “NG” and not just “G”!!! And when I asked if someone called “Γκουμας” would be written as “NGoumas”, I got a black look from the clerk!! And guess what! There is an exception to that rule if the surname starts with ΓΚ… go figure… But they did tell me that next time I should write in my application how I want my name to appear in latin… (even though I know from other friends that this doesn’t work…)
    What you cannot imagine though, is the solution that I was given… They kept my passport and actually changed the name on the same passport. OK, this is back in the 90s, when greek passports were hand written and only had a plastic over the page with the photo. They opened it, corrected it (with a smudge) and then restamped it! I knew when travelling abroad that passport control people always looked twice at me and at my document!
    Just sharing this so you know you are not alone out there…

    PS: You didn’t save “Sophia” though eh? It remained “Sofia”??

  6. elloinosJanuary 21, 2010, 3:01 pm

    Christina, thank you so much for sharing your experience. Your comment really made me laugh. I loved your witty question about the spelling of NGoumas, simply superb! Sophia is still translated as Sofia, but at least this does not cause any headaches for the pronounciation. As for the hand written alteration, let’s just call this an example of efficiency :) Honestly, I loved your comment, thanks again for engaging!

  7. […] Two days ago I wrote about our experience in obtaining a Greek passport for our daughter. The Greek authorities use the Greek spelling from the birth certificate and then translate this phonetically into Latin characters. In our case this led to a “new” Latin name – STOLZ became STOLTS. You can read about it here. […]

  8. Dimitrios StergiouNovember 23, 2011, 5:36 pm

    Nice to know that i am not alone out there. My son was born in Sweden, and the Swedish document have him as “Alexander-Hermes”

    When we went to the Greek embassy in Sweden to register him in Greece as well, they were very firm on the fact that he would be registered as “ΑΛΕΞΑΝΤΕΡ-ΧΕΡΜΕΣ”. Needless to say, we almost had a heart attack – is it so difficult to realize that both names are Greek?

    To cut a long story short, we had to baptize our son at the Greek church, give him the name “Aλέξανδρος – Ερμής” and then go back to the embassy with the certificate issued by the church to register him under the proper name

    Bloody hell!

  9. OrgesaFebruary 12, 2012, 10:14 pm

    Hello Mr. Stolz,

    my husband case is just the same, they have changed his surname in the Greek passport and this is causing us lot of problems regarding other documents.

    I will really be grateful to you if you can help me with some information how to proceed. Please whenever you might have some time. Me e-mail address is orgesa21@yahoo.com.

    Best regards,

    Orgesa

  10. elloinosFebruary 12, 2012, 10:28 pm

    Email sent, hope it will be of use.

  1. […] Two days ago I wrote about our experience in obtaining a Greek passport for our daughter. The Greek authorities use the Greek spelling from the birth certificate and then translate this phonetically into Latin characters. In our case this led to a “new” Latin name – STOLZ became STOLTS. You can read about it here. […]