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The Swiss insistence on double-barreled surnames
(originally published in the April 2009 issue of Expat In Switzerland)

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And the confusion that ensues...

(names changed to protect the innocent)

One of the many unexpected surprises of relocating to Switzerland was the change of name that my wife underwent. She was no longer permitted to be referred to as Mrs Smith. She now had to be Mrs Smith-Schmidt. We had not been warned about this and it came as quite a surprise. We had been down to the Gemeinde to do our good citizen bit and register for our residence permits. When they arrived some weeks later mine was fine – the photo could have been better but at least it was in the correct name. However, my wife’s contained her maiden name appended by way of hyphen to our family name. We neither asked for this nor were warned that it would happen. My wife spoke to the Gemeinde and was informed that this was normal in Switzerland, for the wife’s maiden name to be so co-joined to the husbands surname to create a new family name. It did not matter that she is Mrs Smith in her German passport – the Swiss authorities insist on creating a whole new ID for her. Upon further exploration I found another couple who on moving here the Swiss authorities insisted on double-barreling both the family names for both the husband and the wife.

Now this is all quite quaint until it comes to daily practicalities. Take for instance the credit card issuing department of a certain large Swiss bank. When we called to notify them of a problem with an online ticket purchase being mistakenly doubly charged to the card they said they would send us a form to sign to reclaim the funds. We had applied to this card as Mr & Mrs Smith – not Mr & Mrs Smith-Schmidt. However the bank have proven to be incapable of deciding how they should address my wife – on the card she is Mrs Smith (as we requested), in the statements they mail to us she is Mrs Smith-Schmidt (as on the residence permit) and this week they decided to address her solely by the name Schmidt. Of course we have the name Smith on the post box, and Swiss postal services awkwardly deliver only to a name as displayed on a letterbox, not an apartment number. Therefore we did not receive the form addressed to Mrs Schmidt. All in all quite annoying. It is all very well having rules that insist on changing your name, and rules that insist on only delivering to a name. Unfortunately Swiss accuracy & efficiency is not always as advertised and in this instance never the twain did meet.

Luckily we noticed the little yellow slip from the post office left by the entrance to our apartment building enquiring whether a Schmidt lives there and in this instance we
received our mail, albeit rather late and not before wondering where that form was!

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