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Admin's rejection of Dutch baby name prompts concern over language bias

Illustration picture shows a baby playing with a ball Friday 27 March 2020 in Brussels. (BELGA PHOTO LAURIE DIEFFEMBACQ)
09:19 23/03/2021

When two Dutch-speaking parents wanted to register their son with the Brussels authorities last week, the civil registry official thought that the name they wanted to give their child – Hannes – was too similar to the French word 'anesse', or donkey, and so refused to accept it.

The misunderstanding was later corrected. However, this is not the first time that Dutch-speaking parents have encountered difficulties in registering baby names in Brussels.

Baby Hannes was registered on the same day as the incident, after his parents refused to change his name and insisted it be recorded. The registrar eventually relented under pressure.

After Hannes’ mother revealed what had happened in a Facebook post, councillor for Dutch-speaking affairs Ans Persoons responded directly in the comments section, advising the parents to document the incident in an email to the cabinet of Ahmed El Ktibi, ‎the member of parliament responsible for international solidarity‎ in Brussels.

El Ktibi has since revealed that he was not aware of the incident until the story appeared in the media on Monday. He refused to make an immediate comment on the actions of counter staff at the registry office and the Dutch-language services available but his office issued a statement.

“We have yet to determine what happened and who the official was," said a spokesperson for El Ktibi’s cabinet. "Dutch-speaking parents come every day to make their birth declaration in Dutch and Hannes seems to me to be a very common name."

"It is incomprehensible - and illegal - that Brussels does not want to recognise a declaration because they do not like the name," said city councillor Mathias Vanden Borre of the Flemish N-VA party. "These are attitudes better suited to the 19th century, situations in which Dutch speakers are physically confronted with incomprehension and disdain from the government. It is good that this has now been corrected, but I will confront the mayor and Ans Persoons about this. This isn't the first time this has happened."

As Vanden Borre revealed, the case of Baby Hannes is not an isolated one. Two years ago, in the absence of a Dutch-speaking ticket office clerk, a father was forced to wait an hour before he could register his child because the clerk at the registry counter did not believe that the letter combination 'IJ' existed.

Written by Nick Amies