Why they won't put an accent on your ID card

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 November, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 November, 2010, 12:00am

An Irish-Canadian father has run into a brick wall at the Immigration Department over how the names of his newborn twins should appear on their birth certificates.

Sean Scully, who has lived in Hong Kong for five years, wants the names of daughter Meabh and son Padraig to appear with the acute accents used in Irish to denote a long vowel.

But the department says accents and other diacritical marks used in various languages to indicate pronunciation can't be used because it accepts only Chinese and English and its software isn't equipped to show accents.

Scully says his wife found out about the rule in September when she went to register the twins within the required 42 days after their birth.

'The Birth Register Office told my wife that they only accept English and Chinese for the birth register and the accent on 'a' and 'e' is not allowed,' Scully said. 'The officer told my wife they don't have the software to do it.'

The twins were issued with certificates without the accents but Scully wasn't satisfied and wrote to protest.

The department replied that Hong Kong birth entries had to be in English or Chinese. An officer wrote: 'Your request to place an accent on the 'e' and 'a' which is not in the English language cannot be accorded.'

Now Scully isn't sure what, if anything, to do next. 'I guess there's nothing I can do with immigration but I would like to seek helpful information from the Canadian and Irish consulates on this,' he said.

The department also noted that Scully was up against global rules on passports.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) does not permit diacritical marks in the machine-readable zone of the passport and recommends the same rule be applied to the visual inspection zone.

Immigration consultant Eddie Kwan King-hung said some of his clients had problems in registering names on official documents, but these were usually over special characters in Chinese names and they had to submit documents to prove they were officially recognised Chinese characters.

'The final say on whether they are accepted lies with the Immigration Department,' Kwan said.

Kwan, who also offers migration services to Canada, said French words with accents could be shown in Canadian passports or official documents, as French was an official language of that country. Irish passports contain both Irish names with accents and the equivalent English names.

The Immigration Department does, however, show some flexibility in helping parents name their babies.

Siobh?n Thomas, whose husband is a Cambodian, at first had problems registering their son's name in accordance with Cambodian tradition that uses the paternal grandfather's given name as a surname.

'The women at the Birth Registry helped us a lot and asked for more information on the Khmer naming system,' Thomas said.

After she got a statement about naming customs in Khmer culture from the Cambodian consulate in Hong Kong, immigration officials allowed them to give their son a different surname from the father.

An immigration department spokesman said the birth certificate provided the prime source of personal identification.

'To help identification of the holders of documents, and to facilitate operational compatibility among different countries and organisations, the department has to follow the standard set by international organisations when issuing such documents,' he said.