Brussels municipalities offer discounts for changing 'foreign-sounding' first names

In Brussels and elsewhere in Belgium, people can change their first name, but there is a fee for doing so. However, discounts are given for changing "ridiculous or obnoxious" forenames, for people without a forename on their birth certificate or after a gender change. In Etterbeek, however, discounts are also given if a person's original forename sounds "foreign", writes RTBF.

Since 2018, changing a forename has been a municipal responsibility, with costs municipalities can determine. Etterbeek, one of the 19 Brussels municipalities, has taken an unusual approach to this rule, offering a discount for "foreign-sounding" names.

"The fact that some communes continue to set criteria, such as foreign-sounding first names, is worrying," says Ahmed Mouhssin (Ecolo), a regional MP. The rule has also been adopted by the Brussels communes of Evere and Forest, but not by the City of Brussels or Koekelberg.

"If my name is Mohamed, a foreign-sounding name, and I want to be called Pascal, I'm told I can get a discount"

"When we contact one of these local authorities and ask for a list of foreign-sounding first names to qualify for the famous discount, we are told that it doesn't exist," he said. "But what does that mean? If my name is Mohamed, a foreign-sounding name, and I want to be called Pascal, I'm told I can get a discount."

He believes the regulations represent a desire for assimilation "but also a way of keeping part of the population in the category of people of foreign origin, regardless of how long they have lived in Belgium or how many generations have gone before them. The same rate should apply everywhere".

No legal action necessary

According to Bernard Clerfayt (DéFI), the minister responsible for local government, local authorities simply follow the rules. "The exercise of supervisory powers relates to the legality of these rules, particularly in the light of the constitutional principles of equal treatment and non-discrimination in taxation between taxpayers," he said.

"The municipalities that have decided to charge a fee for changing first names have all complied with these principles, ensuring that the fee is not higher for cases involving foreign-sounding first names. For this reason, no legal action against these regulations has been deemed necessary."

Free service for everyone

In the Brussels region, some local authorities, such as Saint-Josse-ten-Noode, have abolished the conditions for granting a reduction and offer a free service for all requests to change a first name. The procedure takes three months, a period given to the applicant to assess the consequences of his request.

2022 was a record year for first name changes, as 5,104 people went to their local council office to change their first name. The procedure is reserved for Belgians, recognised refugees and stateless persons. The first name(s) requested must not confuse and must not harm you or anyone else.



Related news

Website preview
Around 600 Belgians changed gender marker on ID card last year
Around 600 Belgians changed the gender marker on their ID cards in 2022, the country's Institute for the Equality of Women and Men announced on Thursday.
Website preview
From 'Luik' to 'Liège': Flemish road signs now show original destination names
Signs at the revamped Antwerp-West interchange direct drivers to Liège instead of the Dutch variant Luik. This is a deliberate change, meant to reduce confusion on Flemish roads.



Get updates in your mailbox

By clicking "Subscribe" I confirm I have read and agree to the Privacy Policy.


Belga News Agency delivers dependable, rapid and high-quality information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, from Belgium and abroad to all Belgian media. The information covers all sectors, from politics, economics and finance to social affairs, sports and culture, not to mention entertainment and lifestyle.

Every day, our journalists and press photographers produce hundreds of photos and news stories, dozens of online information items, plus audio and video bulletins, all in both national languages. Since the end of March 2022 English has been added as a language.

For public institutions, businesses and various organisations that need reliable information, Belga News Agency also offers a comprehensive range of corporate services to meet all their communication needs.


Arduinkaai 29 1000 Brussels