Early on in her first year, third-year student Amara Zafira Raharjo realised that her first name on Canvas and OSIRIS was a full stop (.) and that her series of names was placed in the surname column. Therefore, in the EUR system, the Indonesian student is listed as ‘. Amara Zafira Raharjo’.
A common Indonesian problem?
Three of the students featured in this piece are Indonesian. This problem seems to be common among Indonesian migrants, probably because most Indonesians have no surname. This is not entirely unique, as many residents of Egypt, Iceland, Madagascar and Bhutan likewise have no surnames.
Amara is not the only one. Communications student Nailah Gamal from Egypt has the same problem. She preferred not to have her real name published in this piece after having experienced negative reactions from her environment for initially raising this issue.
It is a particularly annoying problem during exams, says Nailah. “Every time I go into an examination hall, my name isn’t listed in alphabetical order. I also get really distracted when the invigilator comes around, because they look at my residence permit, and then they look at their list of student names, and then they look at my residence permit again and back to their list… It takes super long to check my name – and I sometimes get questions about it. It’s irritating”, says the third-year student.
A double first name
Amara tried to solve the problem at the Service Desk. There, she was told she could replace the full stop with her ‘preferred name’. The Communications student thought the issue had been resolved, until she saw her name listed as ‘Amara Amara Zafira Raharjo’ on Canvas later that day. Her full name is still listed as her surname. And because the Service Desk replaced the full stop with ‘Amara’, she now has a double first name.
The opposite happened to first-year Psychology student Natri Zahra Izzatunnisa, who is also Indonesian and was originally listed in the system with two first names: Natri Natri Zahra Izzatunnisa. In her case, it was her first name that the Service Desk had changed to a full stop.
An EUR spokesperson confirmed that they are aware of the issue with the first names of international students. The number of students who report it to the Service Desk is not recorded. However, according to the spokesperson, at least one student comes in to address the issue each month on average.
A full stop – even on your diploma
Nadira Alya has just completed her Master’s degree at the Rotterdam School of Management. During her studies, she was in the system with a double first name, but on her graduation statement, the dreaded full stop was once again firmly placed ahead of her name. “The spelling differs from that of my passport, so I’m worried that this could be a problem later on”, she says. She has no idea who to contact to resolve the issue. “I know some Indonesian alumni who also have a full stop on their diploma. I don’t think they’ve taken any steps yet to have that fixed.”
EUR is trying to prevent this problem from occurring, says the spokesperson. “Before diplomas are printed, we manually remove the full stop so that the name appears correctly on the paper diploma”, she explains. “Documents with a full stop, like the graduation statement, are generated automatically. The student can always report the issue to the Service Desk and have a new document created.”
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No first name in Rotterdam
Nadira has only had this problem since she moved to Rotterdam. She previously lived and studied in Groningen to complete her bachelor programme. “And everything was fine there: I had a first and last name – no problem”, she says. She therefore believes the problem lies with the Municipality of Rotterdam. The university’s data come from the Personal Records Database (BRP), which is maintained by the municipality.
The Municipality of Rotterdam also had a problem getting the name Nailah right, says the Egyptian student. Whereas her name was correctly stated on her Dutch residence permit, it was only when she registered at the Rotterdam city hall that she noticed that the column with her first name was blank, doubling her first name in the EUR system and later turning it into a full stop.
The personal records database takes precedence
When you come to live in the Netherlands, you have to register with the municipality where you will be living within five days of your arrival. You need documents such as your birth certificate and passport to register. Your details are then recorded in the Personal Records Database (BRP), and you are issued with a Citizen Service Number (BSN) to allow you to arrange your affairs. The details in the BRP take precedence, and every institution will adopt those data, including the spelling of your name. The data used by the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (which issues your residence permit) are similarly based on the BRP data.
Within the Municipality of Rotterdam, registration is based on Section 19 of Book 10 of the Dutch Civil Code, which means that it follows the naming laws of the country of origin. In the event that you have a series of names, your full name will be placed under the surname.
But where does the full stop come from?
The system used to register names in the Netherlands is the Personal Records Database (Basisregistratie Personen, BRP), which the municipality uses to register every resident. “How a name appears in the BRP takes precedence, and other organisations always adopt that name”, a spokesperson from the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) explains. “For example, if someone is registered with the IND with a first and last name but is registered in the BRP with a series of names (names with no distinction between first and a last name, ed.) , our data will be overwritten by the BRP.”
According to a spokesperson for the Municipality of Rotterdam, the municipality follows the naming convention of the country of origin. “With regard to Indonesian naming law, guidelines state that there should be no distinction between a first name and a surname. For that reason, all names must be listed under the family name (the surname, ed.)”, the spokesperson explained. “To register the series of names, we take our cue from documents such as the birth certificate or passport.”
Furthermore, the spokesperson for the Municipality of Rotterdam confirmed that not every government agency handles the issue in the same way, making it perfectly possibly for Nadira to have a first and last name in Groningen, but not in Rotterdam.
EUR unable to change details
After her unsuccessful attempt to change her name at the municipality, student Nailah tried to do the same at the university. “I was told that, unfortunately, that would not be possible, because the spelling has to be identical to the records kept by the municipality”, she says.
The EUR spokesperson confirmed this to be true. The data used by Studielink and the Education Executive Agency (DUO) come from the Personal Records Database (BRP), with the university, in turn, using the data from Studielink and DUO. Because the system is integrated at national level, EUR is unable to change those data.
Even in her day-to-day life, Amara notices that the spelling of her name causes discomfort. She previously heard her fellow students laughing at her double first name when a lecturer passed the attendance list around the room, with one student mockingly saying, “Why is her name Amara Amara Zafira?”
“The worst part is what it means symbolically”, Nailah adds. “The fact that they give me a full stop as my first name is so humiliating to me.” As a non-EU student, you have to prove yourself both financially and academically to be able to enter the country, she continues. “We try our best to adapt to the system and to the culture. The least you should be able to expect from a formal institution is that they register your name correctly. The fact that this doesn’t happen here feels like the country is rejecting you.”
Can you change your surname?
If you want to have your surname changed in the Netherlands, any change has to take place through Justis, the screening authority of the Ministry of Justice and Security. The Justis website states that, if you have a series of names, you can submit an application for your first and last name to be recorded free of charge.
When obtaining Dutch nationality, your name is recorded in the form of a first name and a last name. If the name that is recorded is incorrect (for example, if your first name has become your surname), you can thereafter only apply to change the last name. However, due to the considerable costs (800 euros) involved and because you are only eligible to change your name under certain conditions, it is recommended that you always check with Justis first regarding your options.