Traditional or old world Germanic names have two parts. One part indicates the gender and the other the characteristic of the person. For example, Adelbert or Albert is composed of adel meaning noble and a derivation of beracht meaning bright or shining.
Given names are generally gender specific. Male names cannot be used for females and vice versa. The only exception to this rule is "Maria" which can be used as a male second name as in Erich Maria.
German children are given one or many pre-names (vornames). Only one of these names however is used as their main name or call name (rufname). Parents choose a name because they like it or they may name a child after a relative. Religious catholics frequently give saints names as secondary names. Some combinations of male first and second names such as Hans-Joseph are traditionally hyphenated. The maximum number of first names is five.
Germany has very strict naming laws. Names must be known as a human names. For example, pet names, common nouns, place names and invented names are not allowed. They must also not be offensive or humiliating. The Name Registrar (Standesbeamter) has the right to bar a name. Parent's can appeal the Standesbeamter's decision in court.
Given names may only be changed to correct an error made by the state when recording the name, naturalization of foreigners who may wish to take on a more Germanic version of their name and gender reassignment by transsexuals.