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What it’s like to share a name with the world’s most notorious dictator

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What it’s like to share a name with the world’s most notorious dictator
Adolf's notorious namesake, during a in the summer of 1938 during an air force manoeuvre on the Darß (Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania)
11:26 CEST+02:00
A new film will hit screens this autumn about a young couple who decide to name their child Adolf. So how many Adolfs are there, and what does it feel like to share your name with one of history's biggest monsters?

Anne Haeming couldn't believe her ears. A few years ago, the Berlin based journalist interviewed someone who went only by his initials, A.W. On the insistence of her editors, Haeming asked what A.W. stood for. Adolf Walter, came the reply. 

Were you to draw up a list of names you wouldn’t wish on anybody, Adolf would probably be very near the top, a good few places ahead of Richard Head and Peter File.

Nobody, after all, is going to assume you are named after the architect Adolf Loos or the Swedish protestant king Gustav Adolf. Unlike other mass murdering dictators, Hitler boasted a first name which was reasonably uncommon, at least outside of Germany, thereby tarnishing it forever.

Not the worst of his crimes, admittedly, but it has certainly made life difficult for Adolfs ever since.

In October, a new film called “Der Vorname” (The first name) will hit German cinemas. Directed by Germany’s favourite football-playing filmmaker Sönke Wortmann (Deutschland: Ein Sommermärchen, Das Wunder von Bern), the film is an adaptation of a French comedy in which a young couple decide to call their child Adolf.

No doubt you can imagine what hilarity ensues. But the premise of the film may not be quite as absurd as it first appears. For while the name has become understandably rare in the last 70 years or so, there are still a handful of Adolfs around.

A historian at the Pomeranian State Museum shows off an oil portrait of the former Swedish King Adolf, who led the country to military supremacy during the Thirty Years' War. Photo: DPA

Famous Adolfs

Some are even public figures like the new head coach of Bundesliga football club Eintracht Frankfurt, Adolf “Adi” Hütter. Earlier in August, Hütter told broadcaster FFH how he feels about his name.

“You can probably imagine that I’m not 100 percent happy with my name,” said the 48-year-old Austrian. “You don’t notice it as a kid, but at some point you begin to get associated with the past.”

Hütter said that his grandmother had convinced his parents to name him Adolf in honour of his uncle, who suffered a fatal accident at the age of just 27.

“I suppose I could wish for another name, but my mother called me Adi from day one, and pretty much everybody knows me as Adi.”

Hütter isn’t the only famous sporting Adolf to go by the diminutive Adi. Perhaps the second most famous Adolf in history was Adi Dassler, the founder of multi-million dollar sports manufacturer Adidas.

Noble Wolf

Dassler’s success notwithstanding, Adolf is generally as unpopular a name as you might imagine in Germany. According to the website beliebte-vornamen.de, it has been almost non-existent since 1951, having been among the 20 most popular boys names at the end of the 19th century.

The name is said to originate from the old high German word “Adelwolf”, meaning “noble wolf”.

In 2006, a survey of nearly 30,000 baby names in Germany found just one Adolf, and that was as a middle name.

Name:Adolf

After her experience with A.W., Anne Haeming decided to find out if there were any other Adolfs, and tell their stories. Of a shortlist of 20 names, she managed to get in touch with five of them.

Now, in a journalistic project called “Name: Adolf”, Haeming allows men named Adolf to give their accounts of what they feel about their name, how and why they got it, and what they think of when they hear it.

"The key thing is that the Adolfs get to tell their stories," Haeming told The Local. "I am just giving them the space to do that."

The accounts are fascinating, and often wildly different. Most of the men explained that they had been named after a male relative, often a father or grandfather.

Adi, born in 1957, says that his name was given to him as family tradition, and in memory of his grandfather Adolf, a “patron” figure who had forbidden his children from joining the Hitler Youth during the war.

“It should be obvious to anyone who thinks about it that someone who calls their child Adolf in 1957 is not doing so in order to glorify a megalomaniac,” he says.

Photo: DPA

Changing the name

Though he was nicknamed “Idolf Hatler” at school, Adi claims that he has “never had any problems” with his name.

That is not true for other Adolfs on Haeming’s website, however. Another Adi, born in 1948, says that his parents hid behind the justification of family tradition, but in truth both of them had begun as passionate Nazis.

This Adi, who grew up in the town of Linz, where Hitler went to school, tells of how he began to question his name in the 1960’s, which lead to tension between him and his parents.

“I was cruel to my parents, I withdrew from them,” he says. “I was sorry for that in later years.”

A further interviewee had a similarly difficult experience with his name, and eventually changed his name to Dolf.

“I couldn’t go into new situations without fear like other people could,” says Dolf. “I would always be ready for confrontation."

While some go by Adi, and others by their initials, Dolf is the only one of Haeming’s interviewees who has gone to the trouble of officially changing his name.

It is much harder to do so in Germany than in many Anglo-Saxon countries. The deed poll is a phenomenon exclusive to common law legal systems, whereas civil law systems like Germany’s tend to have stricter naming laws.

Haeming's project, which combines transcripts and video footage of her interviews with the Adolfs, went live on June 17th last year, the official "name day" of the name. 

Since its emergence, more Adolfs have got in touch with the journalist, and she is planning to tell their stories too in the coming months. Haeming also hopes to eventually translate the whole project into English. 

Read the full testimonies of all the Adolfs who spoke to Anne Haeming here (in German)

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