What’s in a name?

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What do Adolf Hitler, Nutella, Osama Bin Laden and Matti have in common? They are all banned names in various parts of the world. Adolf Hitler and Matti are both banned in Germany; the former for obvious reasons, the latter because it would not be obvious what gender the child was. People in Turkey are not allowed to call their children Osama Bin Laden, and just this month a French court has ordered parents who named their child Nutella to change it. The child is now called Ella. Another case in the same region of France saw parents have to change the name of their child from Fraise (strawberry) to Fraisine, a name which was popular in the nineteenth century.

Up until 1993 parents were not technically free to choose whatever name they wished in France, but this law was changed. Now a parent may name their child whatever they like as long as it is not deemed contrary to the child’s interests. Things that would fall into this category include sparing the child from any potential embarrassment or names that could be confusing. Some countries also require names to follow specific gender and grammar rules and numbers are also often banned. New Zealand falls on both sides of this particular rule; it’s apparently okay to name your child ‘Number 16 Bus Shelter’ but not ‘4real’ as names are not allowed to start with a number. Although, I’m not entirely sure how Number 16 Bus Shelter Smith feels about this rule.

Other places that also have strict rules are places like Spain, Argentina, Chile and Denmark. Japan also has rules; a child is not allowed to be named ‘Akuma’ which means devil. Sometimes a court will go as far as to make a child a ward of the court so they can change their name, such as in the case of ‘Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii’ who hated her name so much she was prepared to get a legal divorce from her parents in order to change it. Can’t say I blame her to be honest. Iceland is another country which is notoriously strict on what parents can name their child. In theory there is a list of 1,853 names to choose from for girls and 1,712 names for boys. This came to a head in 2013 when fifteen year old Blaer was asked to change her name because it did not fit within Icelandic language gender confines. Blaer means ‘light breeze’ in Icelandic and is typically male. This view meant that for her entire childhood Blaer was known as simply ‘Girl’ (Stúlka) on all official documents. She has since won a court case to keep her name and have it legally recognised. Blaer is not the only child to fall foul of this rule, in 2014 Harriet and Duncan Cardew, who have an Icelandic mother were identified as Stúlka and Drengur Cardew on their passports (Girl and Boy Cardew) because their names were not recognised by the Icelandic authorities (quite sinisterly named the Icelandic Naming Committee).

The UK has much more liberal laws when it comes to naming your child; as long as it isn’t profanity, it’s pronounceable, and doesn’t result in others believing you have a conferred or inherited title (e.g. Lord, Doctor, Princess), then pretty much anything goes. Also in the UK your forenames and middle names are allowed to be no more than 250 characters including spaces. In this vein you are apparently allowed to name you child all the names of an football team (as long as they fit with 250 characters). Since 1984 two people have been registered as being named ‘Superman.’ The US naming laws can be equally as liberal, sometimes getting into the downright silly (Ima Mann, anyone?). Other obscure names registered in the US include Enamel, Female, Erie, Disney and Post Office. It does make you wonder why parents do this to their children; apparently it’s mostly because they want their child to be unique and give them personality straight from the off. When this results in you calling your child Mustard M Mustard, however, it might be time for a rethink.

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