Draft bill stops people with valid criminal convictions from changing names

Tallinn Prison.
Tallinn Prison. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Criminals with a serious and valid conviction will not be allowed to change their names when they are released from prison under the new draft Names Act. The act also lays out terms for same-sex partners and naming children which some parties do not agree with.

ERR reported on Tuesday that some criminals want to change their names when they are released from prison to hide their past. According to the new draft, this will no longer be possible.

"The new Names Act highlights certain crimes where changing a name is prohibited in the interests of society," said Minister of Population Riina Solman (Isamaa) when presenting the bill on Tuesday.

Solman mentioned serious crimes such as terrorism, murder, rape or pedophilia. 

The minister gave an example of pedophiles who have changed their name but taken on a name someone else already has which she said can cause problems for the innocent person. "Unfortunately, there have been quite a few examples," Solman added.

When the new law enters into force, it will no longer be possible to choose the name of an existing person. The ban on changing a name will not be for life but until the criminal conviction is deleted from a person's criminal record.

New surnames will be created

In order to keep similar names to a minimum, the new law allows parents to decide at a later stage what name they want to give their child. For example, they will be able to see how many people in Estonia already the same name. 

"Parents can make an informed decision - whether to give the child a name that someone already bears, or to make a change of their choice if they wish," Solman said.

Estonian spellings of names will be preferred under the new act. It will still possible to give a child an old-fashioned or gender-neutral name. 

An example of names which parents have wanted to call their children but have not been allowed to by the ministry. Source: Ministry of Interior.

As mentioned above, when the new law enters into force, it will no longer be possible to choose the name of an existing person.

Solman said the Estonian Language Institute (EKI) has recommended that in order to diversify surnames, those who want a new surname could propose new names themselves. EKI is also ready to compile a list of new surnames from which a person can choose if they do not have a good new name.

Minister of Social Affairs Tanek Kiik (Center) told "Aktuualne kaamera" on Tuesday that he is in favor of a version of the bill which would give people more decision-making power in choosing a suitable name. For example, the current version states that life partners may not take a common name.

Kiik said his approach to the naming law would be somewhat more liberal. 

"Indeed, I would treat the residents of Estonia more equally. I think that maintaining, strengthening and protecting the institution of marriage is, of course, important and sensible, but we cannot exclude those people who are not allowed to marry by law today," Kiik said.

The act would also only allow children to be given the father's or mother's surname. A double surname, which would then contain the surname of both mother and father, may not be given to the child. However, up to two surnames are allowed for adults. Equal Opportunities Commissioner Liisa Pakosta said that many families had approached her with questions about this.

Speaking about the draft bill, chairman of the Social Democratic Party Indrek Saar said these are currently the most important issues which the coalition should address. Saar advised the Minister of Population to find a consensus with the coalition partners.

"The Ministry of Social Affairs has also drawn attention to this, among other things, that there are a number of questions in the Names Act," said Saar.

The draft Names Act was submitted to the government's draft information system EIS on October 12, from where it will be forwarded to the government session. The draft has already been through a round of discussions with ministries and interest groups.

Last year, 798 people changed their first names, 1,066 changes their last names and 140 people changed both their first and last names.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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