Now let’s talk about a Romansh family that made headlines for fighting to register a Romansh baby name in Switzerland.
But first, some background.
Switzerland has four national languages: German, French, Italian and Romansh. Romansh is spoken in mountainous eastern Switzerland and is “the direct descendant of the Latin that was spoken in these mountain valleys at the height of the Roman empire, and shares the same Latin roots as French, Italian or Spanish.” It was the last of the four languages to be officially recognized, in 1938.
Right around the time Romansh became an official language, a Romansh carpenter by the name of John Truoz-Saluz — who’d moved westward with his family to the German-speaking city of Solothurn — welcomed a baby girl.
The baby was named Tina.
John tried to register Tina’s name with the government, but the name was rejected.
The clerk at the Solothurn registry office couldn’t find Tina in the German-language Duden, and, according to Solothurn cantonal law, “nobody could legally bear a given name which was not listed in the Duden.” So the name couldn’t be accepted. (The clerk then suggested Tinka, a diminutive of Katinka, as an alternative to Tina.)
John appealed to the municipal council, to the cantonal supreme court, and ultimately to the Swiss supreme court in Bern.
It took a year and a half of battling the government, but finally, in 1940, the federal court overruled the lower courts by deciding that “an original citizen of one canton had the right to name his children, despite the laws of his adopted canton.”
- “Court Battle on Baby’s Name” Spokesman-Review 16 Jun. 1940: 8.
- Tagliabue, John. “In Multilingual Switzerland, One Tongue Struggles.” New York Times 29 Sep. 2010: A11.