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New character system to recognise Eastern European names

Petkovic or Petković? Swiss national football coach Vladimir. Keystone / Samuel Golay

In 2024, Swiss administrations will start using a new IT system that will recognise special characters from, for example, Eastern European languages.

This content was published on May 12, 2021 - 18:51
swissinfo.ch/doš

The current character encoding system allows for western European signs like the Spanish ñ, Danish ø or Swedish å, but not certain eastern European characters like the Croatian caron (š) or acute accented ć.

As a result, many people in Switzerland have had to alter their names on passports or official documents, a process which is “frustrating for those concerned”, the government wrote on Wednesday.

A 2016 report by the Tages Anzeiger newspaper found that in the period 1990-2014, the names of more than 100,000 people from Eastern Europe were “westernised” in order to fit the Swiss system.

Most affected were people from the former Yugoslavia with names ending in -ić; here, their names appear as -ic, without the acute accent. Around two-thirds of all Serbian, Bosnian or Croatian names end in -ić.

For example, the newspaper wrote, Robert Matešić, a German doctor with Croat roots, became Robert Matesic when he applied for a Swiss passport.

Progress

The new system promised by the government on Wednesday will thus from 2024 introduce a harmonised character system based on the “ISO-8859-1 + Latin A” encoding, which allows for “all existing diacritic signs in the Latin alphabet”.

The government said it was necessary to harmonise the change across all of Switzerland’s many layers of administration – from national to cantonal to local – in order to avoid the risk of confusion.

As for those who wish to rebaptise themselves within the new system, how this is to be organised is yet to be determined.

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