An Apple by any other name

Naming laws seek to shield children from their parents’ eccentricities

Historical, biblical, painstakingly unique or exceptionally common, first names are the great marker of identity. New parents need to look no further than the Internet for thousands of options, and some even enlist the help of naming consultants and numerologists to find the perfect moniker. For every thousand people in the world named Sarah or Michael, there’s an Apple, Pilot Inspektor or Sage Moonblood. But depending on where you live, your proposed name for your new baby could be illegal. Though North Americans are free to name their children almost anything—a New Jersey couple named their son Adolf Hitler in 2005—countries in Europe and Asia have enacted more stringent laws to protect children from their parents’ eccentric whims.

Germany: Children’s vornamen (first names) must be gender-specific, and are approved or rejected by the Standesamt, the office of vital statistics. Appealing a rejected name can be both time consuming and costly, and requires parents to think of a new name each time one is rejected. Because naming can be such a hassle, many parents opt for traditionally popular names such as Elisabeth or Alexander. Name changes are allowed in certain circumstances, such as marriage, clerical error or gender reassignment surgery. The name Matti was rejected for a baby boy because German officials deemed it too ambiguous.

Sweden: Sweden’s naming law was enacted in 1982, and was originally passed to prevent non-noble families from giving their children noble names. Elisabeth Hallin and Lasse Diding decided to name their son Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116, pronounced Albin, in 1991 to protest the country’s naming laws. Because they didn’t register their son’s name until his fifth birthday, Hallin and Diding were hit with a 5,000 kronor fine. They appealed the decision and tried to change their son’s name to A, also pronounced Albin, but the courts refused to accept the name and upheld the fine. Google, however, was deemed an acceptable middle name when Elias and Carol Kai named their son Oliver Google Kai in 2005. Michael and Karolina Tomaro locked themselves in a lengthy court battle for the right to name their daughter Metallica, after their favourite band. Baby Metallica was initially denied a passport, but the opposition dropped their case in 2007.

New Zealand: New Zealand’s laws leave a bit more room for interpretation, but registrar officials have been known to try to talk parents out of giving their children unusual names. Names cannot be offensive, unreasonably long, have inadequate justification or include or resemble an official title or rank. Although Sex Fruit, Fish and Chips and Adolf Hitler were rejected, there are people named Midnight Chardonnay, Number 16 Bus Shelter and Violence somewhere in New Zealand. Names also cannot begin with a number, much to the frustration of Pat and Sheena Wheaton, who wanted to name their son 4Real. Undeterred by the rejection of 4Real by the country’s registrar of births, deaths and marriages, the Wheatons opted for the name Superman instead. The couple said they still planned to call their son 4Real at home.

China: Chinese names are written with the family name first and the given name second, and babies are named based on the ability of computer scanners to read those names on national identification cards. Non-Chinese symbols and characters are not allowed, and, as of now, Chinese symbols that cannot be recognized on computers are not allowed. Wang @ was rejected as a baby name due to the inclusion of an unusual symbol. @ in Chinese is pronounced “ai-ta” and is similar to a phrase that means “love him.” Unofficial cultural naming taboos also exist that discourage people from naming their children after exalted people in China and neighbouring nations.

Denmark: Denmark might just have the strictest laws in Europe when it comes to naming. Parents can only choose from a list of 7,000 government-approved names—3,000 for boys, 4,000 for girls. If parents want to deviate from the official list, they have to get permission from their local parish, where names are registered. Alternative spellings of common names and gender-ambiguous names are most commonly appealed by parents hoping to make their children unique, but about 15 to 20 per cent of more than 1,000 names that are reviewed each year are rejected. Jakobp, Bebop, Ashleiy are examples of rejected names, but parents Greg Nagan and Trine Kammer had their daughter’s name Molli Malou approved in 2004 after having to write a letter to the Danish government explaining why they chose an uncommon spelling—they liked it.