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Justice for elderly widow forced to change her name by the government

Daróczy v. Hungary  | 2008

Justice for elderly widow forced to change her name by the government

The court underlines that, while it is true that States enjoy a wide margin of appreciation concerning the regulation of names, they cannot disregard its importance in the lives of private individuals: names are central elements of self-identification and self-definition.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, July 2008

Background

Tiborné Daróczy was 71 years old when the government made her change her name.

In 1950 she had married Tibor Ipoly Daróczy, and had chosen to use the first name of her husband combined with the suffix “-né”, referring to their marriage. Her name had been registered as Tiborné Daróczy in all of her official documents, and she had used it in all personal and public business for over 50 years.

However, in 2004 Mrs Daróczy was issued with a new identity card. This carried the name Tibor Ipoly Daróczy - the “né” had been added to her husband’s middle name rather than his first name.

Mrs Daróczy complained to the Ministry of Interior to have her name changed back. However, she was told that she had to accept the new name.

Mrs Daróczy’s husband had died in 1996. For Mrs Daróczy, the name Tiborné had a very strong meaning and was a link to her late husband.

She argued that forcing her change her name had violated her fundamental rights.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The European court ruled that the government’s decision to change Mrs Daróczy’s name had been unacceptably rigid and had completely disregarded her interests. She had been forced to alter a name that she had used for more than 50 years. As well as its importance for her identity, her name had given her a strong personal link to her late husband.

…the Court is of the view that the Government should take steps to rectify the applicant’s personal situation and recognise in some official manner that she may retain her longstanding name of Tiborné Daróczy.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, July 2008

Follow-up

In 2009 Hungarian law was changed, to allow people in Mrs Daróczy’s situation to apply to change their name back to what it had previously been.  

Two weeks later, Mrs Daróczy received the official documents confirming that she was allowed to use her old name of Tiborné Daróczy.