Who, What, Why: Why do some countries regulate baby names?

A 15-year-old Icelandic girl has won the right to keep her first name, despite it being “unapproved” by the state. Why do some countries restrict baby names?

Parents-to-be often find it hard enough to find a name they both like, let alone one the state might also be in favour of.

Bjork Eidsdottir had no idea when, in naming her newborn girl Blaer 15 years ago, she was breaking the law.

In the eyes of the authorities Blaer, which means “light breeze”, was a male name and therefore not approved. It meant that for her entire childhood, Blaer was known simply as “Girl” on official documents.

But Reykjavik District Court ruled on Thursday that it could indeed be a feminine name.

“Finally I’ll have the name Blaer in my passport,” she said after the ruling.

Continue reading the main story

The answer

  • the most common reason is to save the child potential embarrassment
  • the risk of confusion is also a factor
  • some countries have rules about names being gender specific or meeting grammar rules
  • numbers are also often banned

Several countries – such as Germany, Sweden, China and Japan – also restrict names. Why?

In the case of Iceland, it’s about meeting certain rules of grammar and gender, and saving the child from possible embarrassment. Sometimes, although not in every case, officials also insist that it must be possible to write the name in Icelandic.

There is a list of 1,853 female names, and 1,712 male ones, and parents must pick from these lists or seek permission from a special committee.

Similar concerns about child welfare are present in Germany, where a Turkish couple were not allowed to call their baby Osama Bin Laden.

One couple named their baby Berlin after the city in which they met, prompting the registrar to mount an objection. He eventually relented after the family’s lawyer pointed out that the courts had allowed the name London.

Continue reading the main story

Your name’s not allowed…


  • Yes: Elvis
  • No: Carolina

New Zealand

  • Yes: Number 16 Bus Shelter
  • No: Yeah Detroit


  • Yes: Legolas
  • No: Matti


  • Yes: Metallica
  • No:Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116


  • No: Akuma (means Devil)


  • No: Mona Lisa

Denmark, France, Spain and Argentina also strict

Gender confusion prevented a German boy being Matti, because the sex of the baby wouldn’t be obvious. And you won’t find any Germans named Merkel, Schroeder or Kohl, either, because surnames are banned as first names.

The name 4Real fell foul of authorities in New Zealand, because names cannot start with a number.

A judge there also made a young girl a ward of court so that she could change the name she hated – Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii.

When Japanese parents register their newborns, the local authorities can say no if they don’t think the name is appropriate. In 1993, the name Akuma, meaning “devil”, was not permitted.

And in China, people have been forced to change their names because they were deemed too obscure.

The UK and the US have much more liberal naming laws.

American parents can pretty much name their child anything, says Michael Sherrod, co-author of Bad Baby Names: The Worst True Names Parents Saddled Their Kids With.

In fact, he says, parents see it as an important expression of their freedom of speech, enshrined in the US Constitution.

“When I discovered the restrictions that other countries have, I was absolutely astounded.”

Continue reading the main story

Unusual American names

  • Female
  • Enamel
  • Lettuce
  • Mustard M Mustard
  • Vagina
  • Mutton
  • Post Office
  • …and others too obscene to mention

Strange names are nothing new, he says. Census records in the 18th and 19th Centuries revealed people named King’s Judgement,Noble Fall and Cholera Plague.

“In all, there have been 20 people namedNoun, 458 named Comma, 18 called Periodbut only one called Semicolon.”

Getting on to more risque territory, Ima andWanna are also popular, especially with surnames like Mann, Hoare or Pigg, he says. More offensive names have also been allowed.

But why would parents do that to their children?

“A lot of parents say they want their kids to be unique. They think it’s fun and differentiates their child from everyone else, and gives them a personality,” says Sherrod.

“Americans are also very proprietary about their children and take the attitude, ‘We can do whatever with our children and if they don’t like it they can change it when they’re older.'”

Children with unusual names tend to get a lot of abuse at school but then embrace it when they’re older, he says.

Continue reading the main story

What’s the picture in the UK?

  • A spokesman for the General Register Office says there are no restrictions on parents – except for exceptional cases, such as a name which could be deemed offensive, when an official could refuse to register it
  • Superman, Perri 6 and long names containing all members of a football team permitted

There is no question that some of the more offensive names could be considered as child abuse, but that doesn’t mean legislation is the answer, says Sherrod.

“I’m not saying courts should not intervene, but I would prefer they do so only when parents cannot agree and the item gets taken to court.

“I think, for the most part, parents are pretty good at compromise. I would say, anecdotal evidence is that the number of cases considered abusive is so tiny as to not require much law, if any.”

But courts have stepped in on occasion.

When Thomas Boyd Ritchie III tried to change his first name to III, he was told by a court in California it would be “inherently confusing”.

Did your child’s name break any naming rules? Tell us, using the form below. A selection will be published.

Tokyo’s Disneyland hosts a gay wedding

Tokyo’s Disneyland hosted a gay wedding on Friday which went viral on social media there, the NYT reports:

“My partner Hiroko and I just held a gay wedding at the Tokyo Disney Resort. Even Mickey and Minnie are here to celebrate with us!” Ms. Higashi, 28, wrote in a Twitter post that also had a picture of the newlyweds posing with the big-eared Disney characters and a flower-festooned cake. Her entry was reposted more than 6,000 times, drawing largely positive responses.

“Congratulations,” replied Masaki Koh, a Japanese gay porn star. “Your wonderful wedding will bring inspiration and hope to many people who still hesitate to take the first step. I was also encouraged that Tokyo Disney Resort was so understanding.”

The lead-up to the wedding was not all smooth sailing, however:

She reported on her blog and on Twitter that she had inquired about weddings at Tokyo Disney Sea, a part of the Disney Resort. But when it became apparent to the organizers that her partner was female, Ms. Higashi reported, she was asked if one of them could wear a tuxedo — so that other visitors to the park would not feel uncomfortable.

Her posts set off the first stir on Japanese social media sites.

A week later, the organizers at Milial Resort Hotels, a subsidiary of the company that runs Tokyo Disney, got back to Ms. Higashi with good news: both brides were welcome to wear wedding dresses (or both tuxedos, for that matter). “Mickey Mouse supports gay marriage!” Web headlines declared.

Read more: http://www.towleroad.com/2013/03/tokyo-disneyland-hosts-lesbian-wedding.html#ixzz2MmGbBag4

Obama’s gay marriage case submitted to Supreme Court

President Barack Obama’s administration has pressed its case to institutionalize gay marriage, formally asking the US Supreme Court to abolish a 1996 law that defines marriage as only a union between a man and a woman.

The Supreme Court is to hear pro and contra arguments on March 27 on Obama’s gay marriage proposal, submitted on Friday. Rival Republicans in Congress also filed their case, urging the court to retain the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA.).The test case, backed by Obama, centers on a lesbian whose same-sex marriage in Canada in 2007 was not recognized by US authorities as grounds for inheritance when her partner died. She was left facing a $360,000 (273,000 euro) requirement to pay estate taxes.The legal brief filed by US Solicitor General Donald Verrilli argues that the Defense of Marriage Act “violates the fundamental constitutional guarantee of equal protection”.Gays ‘denied’ benefitsVerrilli said DOMA denied “an array of important federal benefits” to tens of thousands of same-sex couples, which were otherwise available to heterosexual couples.It was time for the court to take a “careful look” at laws that discriminated against gays and lesbians, Verrilli said.

Republican defenders of DOMA said it was inconsistent for the US Justice Department to question the 1996 law.”The time to speak was in 1996, when Congress gave careful consideration to the need for DOMA,” they said.Obama has on various occasions proposed the right to gay marriage and drawn parallels to the 20th century’s major civil rights campaigns, especially by peoples of color.In 2011, Obama abolished the Pentagon’s previous policy requiring about 17,000 homosexual couples in the military to hide their sexual preferences.In March, the Supreme Court is also due to weigh the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, a law which bans gay marriage in that state.ipj/slk (AFP, Reuters)