Supreme Court overrules decision allowing first name ending in letter 'y'

Supreme Court of Estonia building, in Tartu.
Supreme Court of Estonia building, in Tartu. Source: Supreme Court of Estonia

The Supreme Court has returned a circuit court decision to allow a child born in Estonia in 2018 to have a first name ending in the letter 'y'. Authorities in the town of Rakvere had previously forbidden the name choice, or rather, its ending in that letter, on the grounds that the letter 'y' does not exist in the Estonian alphabet.

Regional daily Virumaa Teataja (link in Estonian) reports that the child's mother wanted to name them Nelery. The child was born in fall 2018.

Rakvere city government overruled the naming saying it does not fit with Estonian naming conventions, with the letter 'y' not being an "official" Estonian letter. This would require the name spelling to be modified to "Neleri".

Court documentation shows that the Supreme Court has proposed referring to precedent at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

Nelery's mother also says that one particular city official had a personal objection to the chosen name.

After having to pick the Rakvere city government-approved name spelling, the child's mother approached the interior ministry, saying the population register listed an individual with the same name, in her preferred spelling (i.e. Nelery-ed.).

However, the ministry overruled her complaint on the grounds that the use of a "foreign" letter in a name can only take place when the name is used in other countries, adding that it had found no evidence that "Nelery" was a first name anywhere else.

The mother's next move was to appeal to the first-tier Tartu Admnistrative Court; the court upheld her appeal in fall 2018, saying it would be disproportionate to refer to all first names ending in -y as "foreign".

Rakvere city government in turn appealed the decision to the second-tier Tartu Circuit Court, sticking to its original line of 'y' being a foreign character; the circuit court said that the issue could be resolved via summary proceedings and left the administrative court's decision in force.

ERR approached Kristel Mänd, public relations officer at Rakvere city government, who provided no comment other than to say that even if the Supreme Court had ruled differently, i.e. upheld the Tartu Circuit Court's decision, proceedings would still be ongoing.

First names in Estonia ending in the letter 'y' are hardly unheard of; spellings such as Gerly, Ly, Marly and Janely have been seen, with Emily in fact being one of the most popular first names for girls last year.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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