Pin It
Thursday, August 4th, 2011

International Baby Naming Laws–Are They a Good Thing?

By
baby-name-laws/ Michael S. Schwarzer - Fotolia.com

In my last column I looked into a friend’s wacky baby-naming. As it turns out, the degree of freedom we enjoy here in the States with regards to baby names is not shared internationally. Naming laws abound worldwide: France, Poland and New Zealand are just a few countries that have laws on the books.

In Germany, the first name must indicate the baby’s sex–I’m not sure what they’d do with a name like mine, and who decides on which side a name like “Jamie” falls. Additionally, it mustn’t affect them negatively, which strikes me as pretty open-ended. What name can’t be turned into an insult with the creative genius that is elementary-age playground cruelty? Also, no last names as first names and no objects or products– Gwyneth’s Apple is out, as would be Madison and Taylor, two favorites here in the U.S. An office handles the process and if your choice is rejected you may appeal it, but they have the final say and it comes with a fee. On the upside, they have a naming guide you can pick from to make it easy.

In Sweden, the naming laws were originally an attempt to keep the common folk from naming their children like royals, but nowadays the law reads, “First names shall not be approved if they can cause offense or can be supposed to cause discomfort for the one using it, or names which for some obvious reason are not suitable as a first name.” Interestingly, they think naming kids Lego is no problem. But be careful with what you choose because if you want to change your name, you still have to keep the old one as part of it and you only get to change it once.

Other parts of Scandinavia are even stricter. The Danes have a “Law on Personal Names” that leaves parents to choose from a list of only 7,000 pre-approved names. If none of those work, you have to get permission from your church and then the government. Creative spellings are often rejected–Khristofer, I’m looking at you. Of the approximately 1,100 names that are reviewed each year, 15-20% of the names submitted are rejected. Ouch!

In Iceland, if your name’s not on the list, you will have to pay a fee to have it considered and its alignment with Icelandic tradition is part of the test. In most of these countries the names must be grammatically transferable and able to be written in the official tongue, which can make things tough for immigrants. In Norway, even last names have rules attached. If you want to change your last name, you must prove closeness with someone else who already bares the moniker, like a spouse. Certain last names, those with less than 500 people, aren’t up for grabs at all. The Finnish have the most fun incentive program, with each day of the calendar associated with a particular name, so that along with a birthday, most people have a “name day” to celebrate. More carrot, less stick.

Generally speaking, the European laws can be categorized as either protecting traditional names or attempting to prevent offensive, inappropriate or embarrassing choices. The big Asian powers seem more interested in how one’s name relates to others. Chinese names have to be readable by scanners used on the national ID cards, and since only 13,000 of the 70,000 Chinese characters are in the computer, folks are stuck with just those. Chinese authorities are even forcing some old people to change their names to fit with the times. In Japan, they have a whole alphabet for names, “name kanji,” and you get to use only those, for easy comprehension by others. Koreans seem to have outgrown the need for law, since they generally stick with one syllable first names and over half the country has the last name–Lee, Kim or Park.

The role of culture in the process of naming is interesting. Here in the U.S., we value freedom of expression and our lack of naming laws reflect that. In Europe, more emphasis is placed on tradition and the maintenance of class. In Asia, the group is prioritized over the rights of the individual. There is no clear right answer. I doubt Americans could stomach governmental interference into something as personal and creative as baby naming and that is why girls named Lexus or Harper Seven exist. If you want to see the worst of baby-naming, the website “Baby’s named a bad, bad, thing” has combed baby-naming bulletin boards for years of bad baby name material. It may even make you reconsider outlawing some.

© 2011 – 2013, Kellen Kaiser. All rights reserved.

More Great Stuff You'll Love:


An Islamic Perspective on Child-Rearing and Discipline

Does Islam's reputation for severity and harshness apply to how Muslims raise children?

Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan

Colleague drank your breast milk from the work fridge again? Tales of breastfeeding in Mongolia

Breastfeeding Around the World

In photos and figures

6 Favorite Children’s Books about Ramadan

Our top picks for Muslim and non-Muslim kids alike

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Kellen has watched other people parent for years. She has worked as a babysitter, infant teacher, nanny and in continuing education and quality improvement for childcare providers. She aspires to be a foster parent someday.

Leave us a comment!

4 Comments
  1. CommentsMelissa Ferrin   |  Friday, 05 August 2011 at 9:57 am

    Wow! I gave my son a German last name as his first name–to honor my maternal grandfather. Good thing we live in Mexico.

  2. CommentsJan   |  Sunday, 14 August 2011 at 9:57 am

    I’m pretty sure you could call your daughter Madison or Taylor in Germany. As far as I know a name is ok if it is used as a name somewhere else.

    And I think you can also have any name from your own cultural background. Not sure on that one, though.

  3. Commentsnina   |  Saturday, 16 June 2012 at 9:38 pm

    i liked it – are you glad

  4. CommentsBanning Baby Names | In Custodia Legis: Law Librarians of Congress   |  Wednesday, 26 October 2016 at 12:02 pm

    […] sources and reasons for the rules of these countries too, such as China, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, and Hungary (see above re “Titanic”).  Has anyone got some good […]









Notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail.
Or leave your email address and click here to receive email notifications of new comments without leaving a comment yourself.

Get weekly updates right in your inbox so you don't miss out!
[easy_sign_up phone="0"]

A Children's Book for Raising Global Citizens

Every life is a story. It’s easier to understand someone when you know their story.

Why I Travel 13 Hours Alone with My Kids Every Chance I Get

Travelling with children, while definitely more of a mission, contradicts the old saying that “life is about the journey, not the destination.”

A Diverse Book for Preschoolers in Celebration of Multicultural Children's Book Day

A book that honestly and simply celebrates the every day diversity that children experience.

Why My African Feminist Mother Gave Me the Identity of My Father's Tribe

She gave me an identity so different from her own.

2 Children’s Books about Jamaica

Explore Jamaica with your child.

Costa Rica with Kids: Two Weeks of Family Travel

Two weeks of Pura Vida in a country with so much to offer families.

Should I Worry about My Child's Accent in Her Foreign Language?

See why Dr. Gupta takes offense to this question and where children learn accents from

How to raise trilingual kids when exposure to Dad's language is limited

My kids only get 1-2 hours of the minority language per day-help!
Hi...I am an Asian who was adopted and raised by Caucasian American missionaries in South America. I have two kids-my daughter is 16 and my son is 11. When I had my first baby I too was indoctrinate...
From The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep
This Karina, the Karina from the article. I'm now 13. It took this article was written 3 years ago and barely coming across it right now. I was originally trying to look for my folkloric pictures fo...
From How This Single Working Mom Raised a Trilingual Kid
Nice recipe, thank for shari...
From Vaisakhi Recipe: Sarson Ka Sag
I've been in Germany Ten years now, Lived in Frankfurt and Stuttgart, specifically Leonberg. In Frankfurt I was shocked by how unfriendly the People were, how aggressive their Drivers, but in Leonbe...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
At DreamAfrica, we are a streaming app for animations and films from around the world. We celebrate cultural representation in digital media and invite you to download and share our DreamAfrica appp...
From What We Are Not About
Imagine those people who work at your typical IT Department, yeah those weirdos with low EQ, no manners, no social skills; indeed those who kiss the bosses' ass when it's convenient, but get offend...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
I contacted the editor of this magazine (Stephanie) and she told me she'd inform Jan about this article. I have since changed my mind about going to Germany because of Merkel's policies, and this i...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
@Daniela You speak BS, you have never seen Franconia, or you're a Franconian girl. In the second case, I know that no intellectual conversation could be made with Franconian people, because you'r...
From Are Germans Really Rude?

More Other People's Parenting