Many things in Germany are named after people with the scheme first name-last name-thing.

It seems that streets and schools always have two hyphens, likewise "made-up" names, e.g.,

Others do not seem to follow this convention, e.g.,

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Are there any rules for hyphenation here? (Is Robert Koch-Institute a misspell?)


Indeed there are rules. According to proper German orthography, in names or terms like this you have (obligatorily!) to hyphenate everything up to the type of the institution or object. (The technical term for this is Durchkoppeln.) So the correct spelling is

Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München

Ada-und-Theodor-Lessing-Volkshochschule Hannover

Heinrich-und-Thomas-Mann-Straße 18


Unfortunately, this rule (which you can look up in all authoritative orthograpic guides, starting with Duden) is increasingly less observed, clearly due to US American / English habits.

Also, many institutions who are internationally active, decide to present themselves in "international" (actually: US American) spelling, hence you find things like

Leibniz Universität Hannover

which in the eyes of some looks "cooler", but is against the rules of German spelling (and causes a sick feeling in orthography-aware people). I suppose the heads of these institutions are actually aware of the rules, but in their urge of being internationally compatible they decide to break them, especially for their logos. And from the logos the bad spelling finds its way into occurences in ordinary text.

Finally, things like

*Robert Koch-Institut

are a total mess, as they mix both spelling traditions in the worst possible way. The German reader interprets the hyphen as a binding which is closer than a non-hyphen / blank, and so Robert Koch-Institut would be the Koch-Institut (cooking institute?) of some person called Robert. That's plain nonsense here.

(See however David Vogt's alternative answer. He points out that the silly spelling is actually recorded as "official" spelling for this institution, in the legal documents that establish the institution. Which now opens the floor for you to choose which spelling you prefer: the good one, or the legal one. If you are an employee of the institute, you might be obliged by your superiors to use the legal one. If you are a journalist, book author or otherwise independent advocate of German language and culture, you might prefer the good one.1)

Sidenote: given the recent prominence of the Robert-Koch-Institut, here is a business idea for somebody looking for an opportunity: open a restaurant and call it Robert's Koch-Institut. (Yes, the apostrophe is wrong, as German does not have genitive-s separation by apostrophe, but shop owners ignorantly use it all the time.)

1 The problem here is similar to the problem authors have to deal with when a company starts calling itself e.g. SIEMENS, in capital letters, and possibly registering its name that way at court. The "official" name of the company is then indeed SIEMENS, but no good journalist or author would spell it that way. It is still Siemens, all the more as this is not an abbreviation such as CDU or RWE but a proper family name. We do not have to follow all the marketing mannerisms of corporations in our writing.

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    I'm afraid English influence is not the only reason. Many Germans don't seem to know that connecting all parts of a compound noun (Durchkoppeln) by a hyphen is the only valid way. The result is that one sees all kinds of wrong spellings. – RHa Mar 22 '20 at 20:26
  • @RHa Thanks for introducing the terminus technicus! I take the liberty of adding it to the answer above. – Christian Geiselmann Mar 22 '20 at 20:40
  • Btw, the genitive apostrophe has been officialized by Duden für personal names. (Like the omission of hyphens, a concession to the practic.) duden.de/sprachwissen/rechtschreibregeln/apostroph#D16 – Nico Schlömer Mar 23 '20 at 8:59
  • @NicoSchlömer Yes, Duden is always keen to record changes in common practice. I am more conservative (regarding spelling). – Christian Geiselmann Mar 23 '20 at 12:08
  • A little sidenote on your statement "Also, many institutions who are internationally active, decide to present themselves in "international" (actually: US American) spelling, hence you find things like": At my former university the head of our department had to repeatedly tell his employees and student to write "Technische Universität Berlin". Being an international department many members wrote the name of the university like "Technical University Berlin" which is just a translation of the actual name and it gets mixed up. – JoeBe Mar 24 '20 at 1:12

The correct spelling according to the official rules is Robert Koch-Institut. Under Schreibungen mit Bindestrich, Vorbemerkungen it says:

Die Schreibung mit Bindestrich bei Eigennamen entspricht nicht immer den folgenden Regeln, so dass nur allgemeine Hinweise gegeben werden können. Zusammensetzungen aus Eigennamen und Substantiv zur Benennung von Schulen, Universitäten, Betrieben, Firmen und ähnlichen Institutionen werden so geschrieben, wie sie amtlich festgelegt sind.

The relevant law Gesetz über Nachfolgeeinrichtungen des Bundesgesundheitsamtes says:

Im Geschäftsbereich des Bundesministeriums für Gesundheit wird unter dem Namen "Robert Koch-Institut" ein Bundesinstitut für Infektionskrankheiten und nicht übertragbare Krankheiten als selbständige Bundesoberbehörde errichtet.

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    Well, I would not call this a correct spelling. It is a bad spelling made "official" by an ill-conceived normative act (in an area not related to orthography). – Christian Geiselmann Mar 22 '20 at 21:00
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    @ChristianGeiselmann Badness and correctness are separate dimensions. I'm just saying the spelling is correct according to the official rules. – David Vogt Mar 22 '20 at 21:06
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    Yes. It seems we have to differentiate between two forms of correctness. You are speaking about a normative act, especially registering an institution under a certain name with the authorities. I am speaking of the rules of good expression in German. The legal name of the institution may be recorded at court in the silliest way possible. Still, as a newspaper editor and author I am not bound to use this "official" spelling but may (and should) stick to the rules of good orthography. – Christian Geiselmann Mar 22 '20 at 21:14

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