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FAMILY

These were the most popular German baby names in 2021

Popular German baby names offered a surprise winner in the boy's category in 2021, a new winner in the girl's category, while a Covid-related name also enjoyed an inexplicable bump in popularity.

Babies at a hospital in Saxony-Anhalt
Babies at a hospital in Saxony-Anhalt in 2017. Photo: dpa | Waltraud Grubitzsch

Emilia and Matteo were the most popular names given to German babies in 2021, both of them reaching the top of the rankings for the first time.

A list compiled by amateur researcher Knud Bielefeld was published on Thursday after his small team sifted through around a third of all the birth certificates issued this year.

Emilia has been slowly climbing through the rankings, meaning its win wasn’t such a surprise, Bielefeld said.

“Matteo, on the other hand, has gone very steeply uphill. He wasn’t even in the top ten two years ago and now he’s already at number one, which is very unusual,” he added.

Both names fit well into the German naming landscape, Bielefeld said.

“Especially with Emilia, many similar names come to mind. Ella, Emma, Emily. Matteo also has many similar names that we’ve known for a while. Mattis, Matthias or Mats. The names are already very familiar, but also have a little something new,” he explained.

But Bielefeld struggled to explain the quick rise of Matteo.

“I haven’t found any event. I’m also not aware of any particular role model in radio, television, media or sports,” he said.

The other names in the top tens held few surprises. Among girls, Emilia was followed by Hannah, Mia, Emma and Sophia. Among the boys, Noah, Leon, Finn and Elias made up the top 5.

“These are all the names that have been in the top 10 for a while,” said Bielefeld.

One interesting inclusion though was the name Luca.

“Luca is interesting,” Bielefeld said, adding that he questioned whether parents would stop naming their children Luca because of the Luca app, which millions of Germans currently use to check in at restaurants for contact tracing purposes.

Smartphone with Covid apps

A smartphone screen shows a number of Covid-related apps. The name Luca has remained a popular boy’s name, despite the unpleasant associations of the Luca app. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Dernbach

“But that hasn’t happened. If anything, the name has become even more popular this year.”

This year, Luca landed at number eight, up from 12 or 13 in previous years. The summer also saw the release of an animated film from Pixar Studios called “Luca” on the Disney+ streaming service.

READ ALSO: How much does it cost to bring up a child in Germany?

In contrast, the popularity of Greta has slumped. The name, famously that of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, no longer seems to have the attraction it once had.

“The year before last, Greta was still at number 30. It plummeted to 130th last year and this year it went even further downhill. Greta is down to number 200.”

Basic trends regarding parents’ choice of names in the different regions of Germany have remained the same.

“In southern Germany, names that are actually out of fashion are more common,” Bielefeld explained. The reason for this, he says, is that names are more often passed down from generation to generation in the south. Examples include Annika, Nina, Franziska, Sebastian, Matthias and Dominik.

In northern Germany, Scandinavian and Frisian names such as Ava, Jetta, Lena, Jonte, Joris and Piet are over-represented.

According to Bielefeld, there are two trends in eastern Germany.

“On the one hand, retro names are popular there. And the other trend is English and American names,” he says.

SEE ALSO: How much does it cost to bring up a child in Germany?

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CULTURE

How Germans are rethinking their way of death

Traditionally a very religious country, Germany is rethinking its way of death. One start-up is even claiming to have found a way of prolonging life - digitally at least - beyond the grave.

How Germans are rethinking their way of death

Youlo – a cheery contraction of “You Only Live Once” – allows people to record personal messages and videos for their loved ones, which are then secured for several years in a “digital tombstone”.

Unveiled at “Life And Death 2022” funeral fair in the northern city of Bremen this month, its creators claim it allows users to have their final word before they slip gently into the good night.

Traditionally, Lutheran northern Germany has long had a rather stiff and stern approach to death.

But as religion and ritual loosened their hold, the crowds at the fair show people are looking for alternative ways of marking their end – a trend some say has been helped by the coronavirus pandemic.

“With globalisation, more and more people live their lives far from where they were born,” said Corinna During, the woman behind Youlo.

When you live hundreds of kilometres from relatives, visiting a memorial can “demand a huge amount of effort”, she said.

And the Covid-19 pandemic has only “increased the necessity” to address the problem, she insisted.

READ ALSO: What to do when a foreigner dies in Germany

No longer taboo

During lockdowns, many families could only attend funerals by video link, while the existential threat coronavirus posed – some 136,000 people died in Germany – also seems to have challenged longtime taboos about death.

All this has been helped by the success of the German-made Netflix series “The Last Word” – a mould-breaking “dramedy” hailed for walking the fine line between comedy and tragedy when it comes to death and bereavement.

An angel figure stands on a grave at the Westfriedhof in Munich.

An angel figure stands on a grave at the Westfriedhof in Munich. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe

Much like British comedian Ricky Gervais’ hit series “After Life”, which turns on a husband grieving the loss of his wife, the heroine of “The Last Word” embraces death and becomes a eulogist at funerals as her way of coping with the sudden death of her husband.

“Death shouldn’t be a taboo or shocking; we shouldn’t be taken unawares by it, and we certainly shouldn’t talk about it in veiled terms,” Bianca Hauda, the presenter of the popular podcast “Buried, Hauda”, told AFP.

It aims to “help people be less afraid and accept death,” she said.

“The coronavirus crisis will almost certainly leave a trace” on how Germans view death, said sociologist Frank Thieme, author of “Dying and Death in Germany”. He argued that there has been a change in the culture around death for “the last 20 to 25 years”.

These days, there are classes to teach you how to make your own coffin and even people who make a living writing personalised funeral speeches. Digital technology which was “barely acceptable not so long ago” was also beginning to make its mark, he said.

‘Straitjacket’

Historian Norbert Fischer of Hamburg University said they have been a shift toward individualism in the “culture of burials and grief since the beginning of the 21st century.

“The traditional social institutions of family, neighbourhood and church are losing their importance faced with a funeral culture marked by a much greater freedom of choice,” he said.

However, the change has been slower in Germany because “legal rules around funerals are much stricter than most other European countries,” said sociologist Thorsten Benkel, which is at odds with “what individuals aspire to”.

Some political parties like the Greens also want to loosen this legislative “straitjacket”, particularly the law known as the “Friedhofszwang”.

The 200-year-old rule bans coffins and urns being buried anywhere, but in a cemetery. Originally passed to prevent outbreaks of disease, it has been largely surpassed as a public health measure, particularly since cremation became popular.

Germany also had a very particular relationship with death in the aftermath of World War II.

Back in 1967, the celebrated psychoanalysts Margarete and Alexander Mitscherlich put Germany on the couch with their book “The Inability to Mourn”.

One of the most influential of the post-war era, the book argued that Germans had collectively swept the horrors committed by the Nazis in their name — and their own huge losses and suffering during the war –under the carpet.

Thankfully, said Benkel, mentalities have “changed an awful lot since”.

By David COURBET

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