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:


How I Moved to Thailand with my Family on Less than $1000

It's cheaper than you think to make that move abroad you always dreamed about

6 Favorite Children’s Books about Ramadan

Our top picks for Muslim and non-Muslim kids alike

Breastfeeding Around the World

In photos and figures

Are French Kids Better Behaved Because They are Spanked?

Should spanking be part of your parenting toolkit to have well behaved kids?

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!



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!
Unfortunately, the school and community are no longer there. The farm is being sold and there are tentative plans for a new iteration to be set up in Costa Ric...
From How I Moved to Thailand with my Family on Less than $1000
HI! I love your website! Just read your review of books that teach about culture and food! I can't wait to try some of the recipes you've share...
From Armenian Recipe: Apricot Tart
Please, refrain from using "western /western society" for anglosaxon countries. Western can be Mexico and Spain as well, anything on the west side of the world is western ...
From The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep
We've tried to make use of, but It doesn't works by any mean...
From African Parenting: The Sane Way to Raise Children
I'm back. Sorry, I stopped caring for this magazine for a while and forgot to discuss the meat of the matter. This article, as well as the linked article from 2011, fails to discuss cultural norms ...
From What Confused Me Most about Brits
Fascinating. I have been to Germany and met this guy who was soo rude! This article explains everything!! Since all Germans are so terribly rude it should come as no surprise that I should have met ...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
@ Josep. How could you possibly comment on how Germans treat people if you have never even been there? A three-day stay in Berlin and a one day stop-over in Frankfurt was enough for me to see the ut...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
I am trying to find a Sikh triangular Nishan Sahib flag and haven't found one. Do you know where I can find on...
From Vaisakhi Craft: Make a Flag
I have tried to buy a Sikh triagular Nishan Sahib flag and had no luck. Do you know where I can find on...
From Vaisakhi Craft: Make a Flag

More Other People's Parenting