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Why do some countries regulate baby names?
34 points by hansbo on Feb 1, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 70 comments

When my wife was heavily pregnant we were stuck thinking up girls names. (No idea at this point if a boy or a girl). She suggested Ruby and I said we couldn't as this is a name for a programming language and everyone would think we named her after that (me being a programmer). So I jokingly started to list as many programming languages as I could: Perl, Haskell, Fortran, Lua, Brain Fuck, etc. She stopped me at that point because "that's a beautiful name" (no, not that one). But, because we live in Germany we must conform to naming your child a proper name, so we gave her a "normal" middle name.

We were confident the baby would be a boy, but were wrong, and in the summer of 2011 our baby daughter was born.

Most people are happy with the explanation that it's Portuguese for Moon. But I have had a couple of knowing looks from colleagues. Luckily, the German authorities were fine with her double-barrelled "normal" name.

I agree that Lua's a nice name. Congratulations.

Were you really required to give her a middle name or did you do it 'to be safe'?

If you were asked to: Are you upset about that decision? Do you care? I'm not sure if this anecdote is arguing that a restriction in naming is bad or if it is a data point showing that you can name your child in a special way, rules be damned?

We added the middle name to be safe really. We had heard some horror stores about parents being denied kinder-geld due to an "incorrect" name.

We're both English, so middle names are common there (not sure about the US) and the middle name we chose rally suits the whole name, sort of finishes it of nicely.

I guess the point of the anecdote is really that in Germany, this sort of thing must be considered, but more of a light hearted Friday story!

I said we couldn't as this is a name for a programming language and everyone would think we named her after that (me being a programmer)

I don't get why that is an issue. I actually named my daughter after Ruby, a beautiful female name AND a beautiful programming language. Every time when asked if the Ruby being the one as in "Max and Ruby", I often need to emphasize that it's actually the one as in "Ruby on Rails", :) A bit much geeky? Probably. Being a programmer, I am proud of what I am doing.

BTW: I named my son after Ken Thompson, the guy who invented UNIX, the greatest programmer IMHO.

It's not really an issue, but I have had a number of people know me, know I'm a bit of a dweeb and clock it, normally with an eye-roll. (I personally actually like her being called Lua, I think it is really individual. She is about 20 months now and the name is really suiting her)

I agree that Ruby is a lovely name, but the only reason it wasn't included in the list is that my parents have a dog with the same name, so imagine the hilarity at Christmas and other family gatherings!

Congratulations on your son. I would have appreciated it far more if my parents named me after someone who really had a big influence on their life, not just, as in my case, my dad! I'm still convinced it was for sneaky tax purposes or something ;)

Thanks for clarification. Lua is a lovely name, I'm sure she will appreciate that when she grows bigger, :)

So, how is Fortran-Haskell Sandra Müller doing? ;)

Haskell sounds to me a good name for a boy.

Actually, we are possibly expecting another (it's a bit too early to officially announce) and my wife has suggested Haskell if it was a boy! (as guard-of-terra says below, it is the name of a boy).

It is rather worryingly beginning to grow on me.

I guess I can always say he was named after the England Rugby player[1] to hide my true geek creds, and portray a more rugged image of myself.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Haskell

Actually it IS a name for a boy. Haskell Brooks Curry he was.

Which part of the post made it not obvious that they named her Lua?

It's a subtle pun on the German practise of double-barrelled names that was popular a while ago. Especially amongst the more educated, when both partners wanted to keep their last name but also wanted a common name.

I think I missed this tip, Lua would be a cool name too.

Probably the part that did not include the translation of "moon" into Portuguese :P

I have group of girl friends named Ada, Perla and Rubi. The sad part is that they don't find it amusing.

My parents gave me a popular name but spelled it like another somewhat common name (a bad example would be Tom/Tim). I won't say what the name is to protect my anonymity (I have never met anyone who spelled it this way). Apparently, it was an alternate spelling listed in some book, used some generations ago.

I have spent my whole life correctly people. I was never harassed in school by other students, although some of my teachers would seem to take it as an affront and tell me that I was spelling my name wrong. My mother told me during my teens that if I wanted to change my name that she would understand, but oddly enough I like my name the way it is. Of course I would think differently if it was Ima Hoare.


a) an infinite number of names are not recognizable as such

b) children are cruel. Giving your children a bat-shit crazy name will lead to bullying. It's ironically one of the 'think of the children' rules I really understand (most of the time, .. I don't)

c) some people are just idiots: [1]

Disclaimer: German, wasn't allowed to name my son 'UseBCrypt' or similar. Still had a seemingly countless number of names to pick from and was able to name him in a way that's meaningful and still very special for us.

1: http://mashable.com/2011/11/17/skyrim-baby/

I can't agree with you on this.

a) I dont really see this as an issue, though I could be missing something. Could you explain how this is a problem?

b) I would have to completely disagree with this, no baby or child growing up is going to have the predisposed notion to make fun of another baby/child for there name being "crazy". The notion of "crazy" is a matter of what EVERYONE perceives as crazy, and as such that is a problem with society. Idk if this really goes against your point but to say that kids will straight up bully someone else just because of there name is assuming a lot.

c) Cant argue with you there haha.

If you think bullies won't identify and relentlessly exploit any possible opening then you must have been going to different schools than the rest of us.

Example: The Hunt family naming their boy Michael, or the Dover family naming their boy Benjamin.

Just because society acts in antisocial ways doesn't mean that we should wait for society to fix themselves. If we could simply rely on society to do the right thing we wouldn't need locks or crypto.

Your argument on b) sounds incredibly naive to me. Children bully each other for far less than an unusual name.

As naive as thinking that a strict set of names will on some level prevent bullying when "Children bully each other for far less"?

If this is indeed a reasoning for why some countries have naming lists then they have far big problems then bullying in schools. Children are a direct reflection on their parents and their parents jobs at parenting. If this is the case the problem will not be fixed with a naming list, if anything this just exasperated the problem by telling anyone with a name not on that list "yep your name is crazy".

If you want to stop bullying you need to look to the parents and the media, not some naming list is a direct application of what is "politically correct".

On the same note, are these same countries going to reject immigrants with children who's names are on these lists? That would never be acceptable right? So now an immigrant has less rights then the people actually born in that country? Interesting.

a) You'll use that name (or have it on official documents) for a long time. Maybe there's a correlation between countries that have less rules for naming and countries that make it easy to change ones name?

Of course you can be 'Mustard Smith' and just introduce yourself as John and lead a mostly normal life. But that name was never a name to begin with. Names are not random nouns. You write mustard, not Mustard. John's a name, "Lightning" is - in my humble opinion - not. On various levels.

b) We have to disagree then. Of course there are different levels of ~abuse~ here. Some names are just silly (incidently I'd say the German example of allowing "Legolas" is on that list), but abusing your power to name a child to make a pun is offensive in my world. Choosing offensive names should be criminal.

Back to children: They will exploit differences. The more weird, crazy or .. stupid your name is, the easier it is to laugh about you. Will they make fun of ~everyone~? Sure. But crappy names make very easy targets.

b) feels like a good thing but when everyone applies it it actually promotes the least common denominator names and depletes the name space. This is a problem of many protective measures and safe moves.

Parents give uniformly ordinary names to children, the divide between "ordinary" and "weird" name increases further.

And some cultures might end up with having to choose between little more than ten names.

Personally I'd be in favour of some restrictions for naming children (no obscenities, no outright nonsense) but not for name changes once someone is an adult.

Deciding you want to be called something once you're old enough to make that decision yourself is one thing, imposing something on someone else when you're not having to live with the consequences is something else entirely.

The "it's our child" argument I don't buy at all. No, the child is it's own person, you're just responsible for it and you have some responsibility to think through the consequences of your actions.

Because it's easy to pass a law regulating baby names than it is regulating who can be parents -- no politician is going to get a law saying "stupid people shouldn't breed" passed. They're people and not property. Kids are not "accessories," but that seems to be how many parents see them. Names from movies? Food?

The stupidest names I've personally come across were the parents who named their twin boys "Zig" and "Zag." They thought it was "cute." I don't know what they think, now, but both boys go by their middle names.

The Europeans and Africans have had a time-zone head start in replying to this thread. In the United States, as the interesting article kindly submitted here reports, there is complete freedom in giving names. Adults can change their names easily (which probably helps bolster the freedom of parents giving any name to their minor children) and each member of a family can have a different surname from each other member--I know many examples. The culture of the United States is, of course, decidedly more individualistic than the culture of many other countries in this and other regards, and the legal system here follows the general pattern of favoring freedom typical to Anglo-American legal systems.

The most widely known popular culture expression of an extreme case of child naming for people in my generation is the late Johnny Cash's song "Boy Named Sue,"


written by children's author Shel Silverstein. In jest is truth, and the song helps a lot of people here empathize with children who get stuck with odd-sounding names. Plenty of Americans who were born in other countries arrive here with names that don't fit the naming patterns of English-speaking countries, but Americans have mostly learned to deal with a great diversity of names among their friends and neighbors. (Because my wife is a first-generation immigrant from Taiwan, and we have had occasion to live in east Asia since our children were born, we thought carefully about both English and Chinese names for our own children.)

The original Freakonomics book has a very interesting section on names in the United States, including the case of the Johnson family (Johnson is the second most frequent surname in the United States) who had many children, and named one Winner. Then Winner Johnson went on to become a problem child and eventually a career criminal. Meanwhile the family had another child, whom they named Loser ("my friends call me 'Lou'") who eventually grew up to be a law-abiding, responsible citizen and a police officer. It's hard to know what influence names have, but anyway in the United States people are rather used to unusual names and bugs in the first iteration of giving names are curable by name changes.

My great-grandfather came to the U.S. with two sons, Alpo and Ariante. Alpo in particular got a lot of grief about his name.

He mostly just called himself "Al", but I loved watching the scene play out when he had to give his legal name. He would say "Alpo", and the person behind the counter generally would give a visible start. Then grandpa would nod and say, very matter-of-factly, "Like the dog food." It instantly turned his name into a non-issue.

I'm sure there is some weak comparison between the government saying "a name is defined as one word from this list and one word from this list" and the government saying "a marriage is defined as one man and one woman".

Well meaning people always think their perspective of how the world should look is the right one and people in a democracy think they can use that perspective to control others (For the love of FSM will someone please think of the children!!!)

Well, because some people have no sense. Especially people with a reduced educational background. Sometimes it's for 'evil purposes' as well.

Oh, and in Iceland they use patronyms, it means her son/daughter will be called ("last name") Blaersson/Blaerdóttir (something like that)

Edit: see comment below, son/daughters have their father's name, not mother's.

> Oh, and in Iceland they use patronyms, it means her son/daughter will be called ("last name") Blaersson/Blaerdóttir (something like that)

it's patronyms, not matronyms

Actually, it's not that uncommon for an Icelander to have a matronymic surname.

Oh you're right =)

In Brazil, during the dictatorship (1960s-1980s), names were whitelisted. Everyone had "normal" names in Portuguese or approved names from other languages ("Jacques").

After the dictatorship, no limits. Some pretty...different... names have started to proliferate, typically for people of lower socioeconomic status. To see, take a look at the Brazilian national team's roster over time.

One particularly good example: Maicon, currently at Manchester City, worth many, many millions of dollars. "Maicon" is the phonetic spelling for "Michael." In fact, his name is Maicon Douglas. Not joking: http://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maicon_Douglas_Sisenando (for some reason the EN wiki page reversed the names)

Well, if you live in a european non english speaking country and you hear people giving their children names like: Tarzan, Sandokan, Dell Boy, Superman and Ronaldo it's easy to wish that giving names is somehow regulated.

As someone said, children are cruel, and will mock the hell out of Ronaldo, and even a lot of adults will lough behind the back at someone with the name Tarzan.

On the other hand, there are so much beautiful names that one shouldn't be forbidden to choose from because they are not on the list.

What's wrong with Ronaldo?

Nothing wrong if you leave in Brazil, Spain, Portugal or some of the countries where it is common / normal name, or if your origin is from some of those places. But imagine that someone in Brazil give his child a name like: Vukašin, Milutin, Slobodan, Dejan, Jirži, Mbutu. I bet verry few people would be able to evn pronounce it.

I see your point. Many names are culturally/ethnically loaded. It would seem odd if an Chinese-American guy was named José or a Mexican-American guy was named Cheng.

That's the selling point of romance languages: very easy pronounciable by anyone.

Anyone can pronounce Ronaldo.

Japanese would have a hard time with the "R", Arabs would have a hard time with the "o".

Not "everyone" can pronounce Ronaldo.

I argue that Ronaldo -> Ronardo is still much closer/more intelligible than, say, Vukašin -> Vukasin [especially if you pronounce it with american u and a and get [vakeisin].

Only because of the two soccer players named Ronaldo whose name has been heard by every football fan on earth.

There is nothing intrinsically "easy" about the name itself.

Marco, Paolo or Carlo are even easier.

Ronald is not that easy to pronounce in Japanese or Korean...

Koreans should not have any problems: 런알도?

"Ronald" is harder which is my point exactly.

>it's easy to wish that giving names is somehow regulated.

Only in Europe could this seem reasonable. How much money is spent on such nonsense?

Approximately none, I imagine.

If you register births — and I imagine most states do — then it doesn't take a lot to impose a whitelist of names you'll allow.

What people call their kids in the privacy of their homes isn't regulated, only what's on their birth certificate, after all.

(Not sure where I stand on this. I'm in the UK, where names are not regulated and one man famously changed his to 'Yorkshire Bank Are Fascist Bastards' following a dispute[1]).

[1] http://www.marketingweek.co.uk/yorkshire-bank-loses-its-good...

From the article:

>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.

Maybe it is a volunteer committee but they almost certainly could find something better to do with their time.

I believe it's time for a "Falsehoods Governments Believe About Names" edition of this classic essay:


I'm an American and my son was born in Brussels. We were told that when I registered my son's birth, I should bring some proof that his first name was a _real_ name.

But the registrant either didn't care, or thought "Oh, those crazy Americans."

I live in a country -- not Sweden -- with a "book of valid names".

What most people miss is that the list IS NOT AUTHORITATIVE.

Once you move outside the "comfort zone" (lacking better words) of this list the only thing that happens is that you have to reasonably explain the name to authorities.

This can be as simple as showing that the name was already used in another country (say the USA). This only leads to people thinking harder about naming their child "Brfxxccxxmnpcccclll mmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116"[1]

[1]: http://boingboing.net/2008/02/20/swedish-couple-fined.html

In France, there is some freedom but the civil officers who register name can refuse if they deem it offensive or harmful for the kid. It is also insanely hard to change your name (years long, costly procedures and the name change is only granted in extreme cases, where you can prove it damages you severely). There was a famous case of couple, family name Renault, who wanted to call their baby girl Mégane (a common girl name). Problem is... Mégane is car model by french manufacturer Renault.

This was far more interesting in Orthodox Russia just one century ago. Children was given names by the church pope using the calendar table "svyatcy".

No wonder why people killed popes, destroyed churches and gave their children some crazy names based on slogans and acronyms

I don't like church but I think that you only tell us a small subset of truth. So small it might not be so true anymore.

There was a list of (saints) names associated with certain dates, but I don't believe that parents would be universally forced to take the matching name.

And remember that in the countryside, most people were married (by their parents' choice) while still being minors by modern standards. The traditional society is called traditional for a reason: it's not that you can't call your son with a random name, it's just this thought never occurs to you. You do what you're supposed to do by default.

>I don't believe that parents would be universally forced to take the matching name.

Well, I don`t believe that people would kill each other over burning some shitty book or what is written in it, so what?

>You do what you're supposed to do by default.

Most of people do. But if you don`t here enforcement comes.

Seriously, even in modern XXI century I can`t choose how my name is spelled in passport because of some old hag knowing it better.

And you are talking about rural areas where only authority registering births is pope. Why wouldn`t he enforce some shitty rules?

"Why wouldn't he" is a weak argument in the absense of facts or references.

Note that we're talking about prevalence of enforcement, not the anecdotes of it.

Because the government and the bureaucratic class know better than you do what you should name your child. How can you possibly question the benevolence of our leaders?

Sleep well, citizens. Consume. All is well.

While it can be seen like this, it does stop the unnecessary act of going through childhood being called things like Moon Unit[1] or Prince Michael II. But then again, I suppose there is an argument that if you can make it through childhood with a name like this, your going to end up a pretty tough adult.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon_Zappa

I feel the same way about people forced to go through life with the same name as two million other people. I think, "How sad it must be that you're just another Dan or Tenzin or Mohamed..." If only some greater power would step in and limit the number of repetitions of the same name. Let's say average name density can't exceed 1%. If parents can't be bothered to create a good name they shouldn't create a new life.

Presumably your first name is Admiral_19231

That's silly. If you're arguing for individualism, then children aren't property, so how is it any better to have parents naming their kids "Ima Hoare"?

Society has a duty to protect children from their parents if those parents are abusive.

I think it's a balance.

Stupid parents shouldn't name their kids "Ima Hoare"

Stupid governments shouldn't have a "permitted list" of 150 names and require an exception outside of that list.

Everyone should do the smart thing and not the stupid thing (also, I want a unicorn...)

I agree.

Sometimes society thinks that parents have children for society to get them. That's a nice package: you spend your health and money on children but you don't get to decide how to raise them: society does. That's your part in it then? Why bother at all? How does society expects to reproduce if they discourage parents from having children by making parents have all work and no play?

What say, if any, should society have when parents name their kids something offensive or demeaning, like "Ima Hoare"?

Where is this line which the society will never pass in their quest of telling parents what to do?

Just draw it now, please.

Perhaps English is not your first language. "Ima Hoare" means "I am a whore".

Do you believe in parents' unassailable right to name their children in this fashion?

You're speaking in generalities, and I'm asking for specifics. If you keep dodging the issue, I'll just assume you're trolling.

Why does the State have a say in what one names their child? Fuck off already, haven't you regulated enough of our lives?

The name on the birth certificate need not necessarily be the name by which the child is known in day-to-day life.

Because they have what is called a "society", and the notion that your name is not for you (and wouldn't even make sense to have one if you lived in a remote island alone), it's for societal uses.

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