This is just weird! Did you know that depending on where you live, there are certain laws that must be adhered to when deciding on a name for newborns? So much for freedom of speech! But, many of these laws have been implemented to try to protect children, while others just don’t make any sense at all.
So, what is a naming law? Well, it's pretty straight forward really, it's a set of parameters set by governments in states, provinces or countries and regions that must be followed. Baby naming laws restrict the names parents can legally name their children. And it’s not just first names! Some regions have very specific requirements for middle and surnames too!
While intended to protect little ones, some places have taken extreme measures, implementing unbelievable laws during what should be an exciting time for all parents and their newborns. Did you know that not meeting the legal requirements of naming a baby can result in fines? Some of these naming laws can prohibit parents from choosing noble names and in another country, names must be decided upon computer input requirements! While names like Alice, Sandy and Sarah are banned in some places, it may not be that surprising that names like Anal, @ and Osama Bin Laden have been rejected.
We believe precious moments like naming babies are an incredible milestone to celebrate at the beginning of parenthood! From Tennessee and Hawaii to Canada, Germany, Iceland, Denmark, and Saudi Arabia — here we dive into 25 of the most unbelievable baby naming laws — you’ve got to read to believe.
Singapore’s Ministry of Social and Family Development identifies that registering a child’s name must be completed within 12 months. Failure to do so results in a $100 fine per day for each day after the first year, that the child’s name has not been registered.
According to I on Singapore “registrars in Singapore do not appear to have any duty or discretion to refuse registration of certain names for children. The Registration of Births and Deaths Rules simply provide the particulars of birth ‘shall be recorded in the register of births in Form A set out in the First Schedule. Form A, in turn, lists a number of particulars to be filled in, including the full name of the child.”
According to Singapore's Immigration & Checkpoints Authority outlines when to register births.
"Births should be registered within 14 days from the date of birth, including Sundays and public holidays...Delayed registration refers to births registered after 14 days and within 42 days. Delayed registration is strongly discouraged... If registration is done after 42 days, a letter of explanation stating the reason for late registration must be submitted for the Registrar/Registrar General's approval. Late registration cases can only be registered at ICA."
In a country with a one baby limit, now computer scanners are in the mix! Naming greatly revolves around the readability on China’s national identification cards.
While obscure characters are out, the government has committed to provide additional support on the tech front.
With over 70,000 characters in the Chinese language, only a fraction of these characters can be represented by computers and that's why "children's names are limited to characters which are machine readable."
According to the Portuguese American Journal the Portuguese government implemented a baby naming law that states “naming a child isn’t a right, but rather a responsibility and children are entitled to the protection of the law even when considering name giving.”
No nicknames or unisex names allowed either!! In fact, Portugal not only has a set list of names approved, there is also a list of not approved names that are published periodically by the Institute of Registration at the Ministry of Justice.
With thousands of names on the banned names list, here are a few examples of names that are illegal in Portugal: Nirvana, Alice, Bianca, Jennifer and Marlon.
Guten tak! No unisex names here folks! Or names of products or objects as first names either. Even once you select a baby name, it’s up to the office of vital statistics to approve.
Names can be no longer than 28 characters and if a chosen name is gender neutral, a second name identifying gender is required.
Namesmust be approved by the local registration office, where representatives consult a list of first names and foreign embassies for foreign names. "The name has to indicate gender, it cannot be a last name or a product, and it cannot negatively affect the child. If the name submitted is denied, it can be appealed; otherwise a new name has to be submitted. A fee is charged for each submission."
With nearly 16,000 babies born in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan in 2015, dashes are acceptable but characters and symbols are a no-go. And, anything goes in Ontario! Even food names like Kale or Strawberry are acceptable.
British Columbia and Quebec are the only two provinces in the country that can ban names that are considered embarrassing.
The only restriction that falls upon all provinces is the prohibition of using numerals and symbols in names.
While Italy’s laws for baby naming are designed “likely to limit social interaction and create insecurity,” according to Italian Genealogy traditionally “there has been a strong custom in Italy that determines how children are named:
And recently strides have been made to outlaw the rule that babies are only allowed their father’s surname on his or her birth certificate. Earlier this year, the court “declared the unlawfulness of rules providing for the automatic attribution of the paternal surname to legitimate children, when the parents wish otherwise,” the court said in a statement.”
Across the United States, most states offer the choice of the mother’s name, the father’s surname or both. Though there are some states that aren’t quite keeping up with the Jones’.
In Louisiana, the father’s surname goes unless the father is not known or refuses to recognize the child as his own. At minimum, the mother’s surname can be used, only in combination with the father’s surname and upon the father’s approval. How old school!!!
In Tennessee it’s all about daddy too, where dad’s name wins in the event of a disagreement on a combined last name.
North Dakota, South Dakota and Indiana are all about mom! Legislation requires any child born of an unmarried mom takes her surname. In Indiana, name changes are still like the olden days.
According to Indiana legislation, “...to obtain a legal name change in Indiana, an applicant must submit a petition to the court. The applicant must publish notice of the petition in the newspaper for three weeks and the last week’s publication should be at least 30 days before the hearing.”
The sky’s the limit in Hawaii! Symbols are permitted but because of government computer software, each symbol must be accompanied by one letter at minimum.
In Montana, traditionally symbols are not allowed but should parents wish to use a symbol, once the birth certificate is received, a symbol can be written in and sent back to the office of vital records for approval.
How is this possible? Did you know the state of Connecticut does not require parents to put a name on the baby’s birth certificate? Even more baffling, there are no laws around the acquisition of a birth name.
This is worrisome for identity and security reasons. Michigan’s right behind Connecticut as law doesn’t specifically state that the child be named on his or her birth certificate.
In Alabama you can literally name your baby anything! Even the last name can be unique to the parents! Only catch, no symbols and the name must be comprised of letters in the English alphabet.
Massachusetts has imposed strict character limits when it comes to naming babies. First names, middle names and last names must each be 40 characters or less — this means that your entire name must be 120 characters, that’s 20 less than a tweet!!
Unlike many non-Hispanic countries, in Mexico (Latin America and Spain) it’s tradition for children to take their mother's first names, not their fathers. According to Focus on Mexico, in Mexico “you get two last names from your parents. The first last name is from your father and the second name is from your mother.
A lot of the time, you just hear the given name and father's last name, but the second name is also used a lot, especially in formal documents.”
Mexico also bans names that may be considered “derogatory, pejorative, discriminatory or lacking in meaning.” According to Reuters "It's about protecting children," said Cristina Ramirez, the director of Sonora's Civil Registry. "We want to make sure children's names don't get them bullied in school."
According to the Icelandic Naming Committee, parents applying for a new given name outside of names included on the National Register of Persons, must be approved and fees must be paid during the application process.
All names must contain only letters from the Icelandic alphabet and be grammatically aligned. There are no more than 3 names allowed (a combination of first and middle). Surnames get even more interesting!
The children’s last names traditionally carry the father’s first name. For example, if the father’s name is Darin, the son’s last name would be Darinsson or Darin’s son in English and the daughter’s last name would be DarinsdÃ³ttir or Darin’s daughter in English.
New Zealand’s Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages (BDM) identities baby names must not be “offensive, longer than 100 characters, including spaces, an official title or rank, or resemble one (eg Justice, King, Prince or Princess, Royal) unless you can justify why your baby should be allowed that name” and cannot be spelled with numbers or symbols.
According to CNN “Lucifer cannot be born in New Zealand. And there's no place for Christ or a Messiah either. In New Zealand, parents have to run by the government any name they want to bestow on their baby.”
In 2015, the name Royal was denied 9 times and Justice and Messiah were not far behind.
Since 2006, naming laws in Malaysia have been more strict, with the child’s well being at the heart of the decision. According to BBC News, “...parents will not be able to call their babies after animals, insects, fruit, vegetables or colours.” Numbers are also a no-no.
According to the Malaysian Government before 2006, names like Chow Tow which means smelly head, Sor Chai which means insane and Khiow Koo which means hunchback are since banned.
Recently, Moroccan parents-to-be living abroad were offered to name their babies with a name of their choosing with the “condition that it does not constitute an affront to good morals or the public order.”
According to Morocco World News, before this new directive, Morocco’s civil registry services “had the authority to say no if they don’t think the name being chosen for a newborn is appropriate.”
The Moroccan law that governs the choice and registration of first names requires given names have “a Moroccan character and must be neither a name of a family nor a name composed of more than two first names, nor the name of a city, village or tribe.”
But what about those parents-to-be still living in Morocco? Well, the laws are not so lenient in-country. According to Human Watch Rights reported “a two-part official definition of "Moroccan" as it relates to given names. The first part of the definition says:
Moroccan in character means the characteristics of the Moroccan society, from its north to its south and from its west to its east. The personal name has to be in use in Morocco to the point where it has become frequent.
That is, to the point where holding that name has entered into custom, so the name sounds foreign neither to the Moroccan ear nor to the Moroccan milieu, with all its constituent parts. It is, thus, a name that is widespread, to the point that there is no discomfort or difficulty in recognizing it.
The second part says that given names must also come from one of the following five categories:
(1) Arab names that have been used in Morocco for a long time;
(2) "Attributes of Allah" (asma'a Allah al-husna), as long as they are preceded by "‘Abd" [meaning "servant of"] and not just by "el-" [for example, ‘Abd el-Karim but not el-Karim];
(3) Amazigh names, whose meaning might vary from one region to another;
(4) Names that have become common in recent years in Morocco and whose pronunciation in Arabic is clear and origins are Islamic; and
(5) Hebrew names for Moroccan Jews.
The directive also refers to existing lists of first names, many of them Amazigh in origin, that the High Commission of the Civil Registry had approved or rejected prior to the promulgation of Law 37-99. The directive states that civil registries may consult those lists, with their 'approved' and 'refused' names, but that these determinations are not legally binding.”
And that’s a fact! In Japan only one first name and one last name are permitted for babies.
The selected name must also be suitable in the world of kanji, where there are parameters around specific characters that must be used per the governing law of a nam in kanji that can be easily identifiable.
According to the Japan Times, last year the Supreme Court “upheld the constitutionality of a controversial Civil Code provision requiring married couples to use the same surname in official matters.” Additionally, “the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has repeatedly urged the government to take “immediate action” to amend the law.”
Nutella crepe or croissant anyone? Certainly, just not for a baby name! French law states that parents are free to choose any name, providing it is in the child’s best interest. If the government deems the name is inappropriate, the parents are often taken to court with the demand of changing the name.
A long way from 1993 when names had to be selected from a list, naming legislation has changed though France has still made some surprising decisions when it comes to refusing names. Daemon, Manhattan, Strawberry and MJ join Nutella on the naughty list!
While law explicitly states that names cannot be extravagant in Spain, there are more restrictions around surname inheritance.
Similar to Mexico, there are four basic rules to surname inheritance in Spain: everyone has two last names, a child’s first last name is the father’s first last name, the child’s second last name is his or her mother’s first last name and women do not change their last names when married.
Since 1989, the government’s baby naming rules have loosened the reigns, but it can be confusing for first names and even more so for last names.
According to Prague TV “last year 250 parents asked for approval for baby names. Kayra (the Czech Language Institute recommended Kairy or Khayra), Wift, Nyna or Míkol were not approved.”
Between the Czech Declension and ova, surnames are fairly strict in the country. Traditionally the word “ova” is added to women’s last name upon marriage and then the man’s last name with “ova” added to the end becomes the woman’s last name and means “belonging to.”
More than 50 names were recently banned in Saudi Arabia where naming laws are strict, specifically around political relations and religion. As of 2015, parents were no longer able to name their children by names such as Alice, Linda and Binyamin (Arabic for Benjamin).
According to the Daily Star “parents are prohibited to keep names that fit into at least three categories: those that offend perceived religious sensibilities, those that are affiliated to royalty and those that are of non-Arab or non-Islamic origin.”
Some surprising names including Sandy, Abdul and Malaak are also among the banned names.
Since 1982, a Swedish naming law has provided governance to prevent non-noble families from using noble names. Luckily a few changes have been made to the law in recent years.
According to the government "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."
First names must be reported to the Tax Agency and any subsequent changes must be made through the Swedish Patent and Registration Office.
You may be surprised to find out that names like Lego and Google were approved middle names but maybe not so surprisingly names like Elvis, Metallica and Superman were rejected first names.
With strict guidelines on personal names in Denmark, parents have thousands of names to choose from a pre-approved list. Even creative spellings of approved names are a no-no. No unisex names here either! Don’t even think about naming your little one Monkey!
There’s a slight chance names can get approved after review from church and government officials though nearly 20% of proposed names are denied each year.
Under Denmark's Law on Personal Names, "all first names are picked from a list of approved names (18,000 female names and 15,000 male names as of Jan 1st 2016). One can also apply for approval of new names, e.g. common first names from other countries. Names must indicate gender, cannot have surname character, and must follow Danish orthography (e.g. Cammmilla with three m's is not allowed)."
Norwegian-born nationals are not permitted to use last or middle names as first names. And if you fancy a name change, remember name changes are only permitted once every 10 years in the Nordic country.
Last names are interesting too because if changing your last name to a name less than 200 people have, permission is required from each of those people.
According to the Washington Post “many hands-on Scandinavian democracies, such as Sweden and Norway, regulate names out of concern for the child’s reputation and well-being.”