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Sounding Swiss These are Switzerland’s most common surnames

The controversy over employees at an insurance company call centre adopting fake Swiss names instead of foreign ones has put the issue of surnames and nationality in the spotlight. 

A recent news report revealed that Swiss Life allows staff to adopt a common Swiss surname, rather than use their own real but foreign-sounding name. The company says it is only meant to simplify communication.  

So what names are they likely to use on the phone? "Müller", the most popular surname in Switzerland? Or "Schmid" or "Meier"? They are the second and third most common. 

(Kai Reusser /

Call centre workers who chose to change their names when calling customers said it made things easier. Even Swiss workers with complicated names swapped them for simpler Swiss aliases.

“Closing a deal is hard enough but with a complicated name it makes it doubly so,” one employee told the tabloid newspaper Blick. 

The call centre manager told Blick that the use of false names was “common practice” by “everyone in the industry”. In an article in the Sonntagszeitung newspaper, Dieter Fischer, president of the call centre association Callnet, denied that was the case. 

“Such an approach is not tolerated,” he told the newspaper. According to him, the practice violates Callnet’s code of ethics for ensuring trustworthy and transparent customer contacts.  

On Tuesday, Swiss Life defended the practice stating that “the use of false names is not discriminatory and does not caused damage to someone’s personal integrity”. According to Swiss Life, nine out of 19 call staff members used false names, all on a voluntary basis.

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