I was interested in the process of people changing their names from one language to another. Most monarchs have a different given name in different languages. However, this phenomenon also applied to ordinary people who either moved from one country to another and had their name changed, or to ordinary people who became famous during their lives and somehow ended up with their names being translated. This practice seems to have been more common before the 20th century than it is today.
In order to reduce the scope of the question, I am excluding all transliterations from other writing systems. Names from non-Latin writing languages obviously have to be transliterated into the Latin alphabet and the rules for doing so are heavily language-dependant, so those cases are ruled out. I am also excluding monarchs and popes who had Latin-derived names that are translated by tradition.
What I am interested in is the translation of names between two languages using the Latin alphabet and for ordinary people.
Examples of ordinary people changing their names or having them changed:
- Immanuel Kant's father changed the spelling of the Cant Scottish family he descends from. Even though he never went to France, he is known as Emmanuel Kant in France.
- Henri Nestlé founder of the namesake company was born in Germany as Heinrich Nestle.
- Jean Ziegler swiss writer has been born in the German-speaking part of Switzerland as Hans Ziegler.
- Jean-Luc Mélenchon french politician, descended from a Spanish Melanchón family.
- Nicolas Sarkozy another french politician, descended from a Hungarian Sárközy family. It's not surprising the diacritics were dropped since they don't exist in french language – however, what is more interesting is that he's known in Hungary as Sarkozy and not his original Hungarian name, leading to neither the original Hungarian pronunciation, nor to the modern French pronunciation.
- My great-great-grandparents were born in Germany and named Oskar & Johanna Heftle but were known in french speaking Switzerland as Oscar & Jeanne Heftlé, even though they still both had German citizenship when they married here.
Example of people not changing their names:
A good friend of mine – whose name I'll obviously not spell out here – comes from the German speaking part of Switzerland. His name is a name that has a direct French equivalent and could be easily translated, but I don't think anybody ever had that idea.
Many immigrants came from former Yugoslavia in the 90s, having names ending in -ic. Those should really be respelled -itch (french) or -itsch (german) for people to pronounce them correctly. However as far I know such a spelling change was never done.
I could go on like that forever, but you get the idea. Nowadays people do not change the spelling of their names when going from a country to another country using the Latin alphabet. This results in major pronunciation errors, confusion, and exclusion of people with those weird names even many generations after they fully assimilated to their new country.
My questions is:
- Were those changes in names voluntary in the past, or where they imposed on people moving to a country speaking a foreign language?
- At which point in history did the bureaucracy stop people from altering their names when emigrating from a country to another so that they had to keep the spelling in their original language?