Here in the U.S., you can name your kid almost anything, but that’s not the case everywhere in the world. Let’s take a look at some countries with pretty strict or otherwise fascinating baby-naming laws.
In Germany, you must be able to tell the gender of the child by the first name, and the name chosen must not be negatively affect the well being of the child. Also, you can not use last names or the names of objects or products as first names. Whether or not your chosen name will be accepted is up to the office of vital statistics, the Standesamt, in the area in which the child was born. If the office rejects your proposed baby name, you may appeal the decision. But if you lose, you’ll have to think of a different name. Each time you submit a name you pay a fee, so it can get costly. When evaluating names, the Standesamt refers to a book which translates to “the international manual of the first names,” and they also consult foreign embassies for assistance with non-German names. Because of the hassle parents have to go through to name their children, many opt for traditional names such as Maximilian, Alexander, Marie, and Sophie.
Rejected names: Matti was rejected for a boy because it didn’t indicate gender.
Approved names: Legolas and Nemo were approved for baby boys.
Enacted in 1982, the Naming law in Sweden was originally created to prevent non-noble families from giving their children noble names, but a few changes to the law have been made since then. The part of the law referencing first names 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.” First names must be reported to the Tax Agency, and they allow multiple first names, but if you later change your name you must keep at least one of the first names that you were originally given, and you can only change your name once. For instance, if you’re named John and want to change it to Jack, your new first name will be Jack John, keeping the original first name. Any further changes must be made through the Swedish Patent and Registration Office.
Rejected names: “Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116” (pronounced Albin, naturally) was submitted by a child’s parents in protest of the Naming law. It was rejected. The parents later submitted “A” (also pronounced Albin) as the child’s name. It, too, was rejected.
Also rejected: Metallica, Superman, Veranda, Ikea, and Elvis.
Accepted names: Google as a middle name, Lego.
In Japan, one given name and one surname are chosen for babies, except for the imperial family, who only receive given names. Except for a few examples, it is obvious which are the given names and which are the surnames, regardless of in what order the names have been given. There are a couple thousand “name kanji” and “commonly used characters” for use in naming babies, and only these official kanji may be used in babies’ given names. The purpose of this is to make sure that all names can be easily read and written by the Japanese. The Japanese also restrict names that might be deemed inappropriate.
Rejected names: Akuma, meaning “devil.”
Denmark’s very strict Law on Personal Names is in place to protect children from having odd names that suit their parents’ fancy. To do this, parents can choose from a list of only 7,000 pre-approved names, some for girls, some for boys. If you want to name your child something that isn’t on the list, you have to get special permission from your local church, and the name is then reviewed by governmental officials. Creative spellings of more common names are often rejected. The law states that girls and boys must have names that indicate their gender, you can’t use a last name as a first name, and unusual names may be rejected. Of the approximately 1,100 names that are reviewed each year, 15-20% of the names are rejected. There are also laws in place to protect rare Danish last names.
Rejected names: Anus, Pluto, and Monkey.
Approved names: Benji, Jiminico, Molli, and Fee.
The Iceland Naming Committee, formed in 1991, is the group that decides whether a new given name will be acceptable. If parents want to name their child something that is not included on the National Register of Persons, they can apply for approval and pay a fee. A name has to pass a few tests to be approved. It must only contain letters in the Icelandic alphabet, and must fit grammatically with the language. Other considerations include whether it will embarrass the child in the future and how well aligned it is with Icelandic traditions. It must have a genitive ending or have been previously adopted. Also, names should be gender specific, and no one can have more than three personal names.
Surnames in Iceland usually follow an interesting tradition. They are not family names, but are rather patronymic, or occasionally matronymic, with part of a person’s last name including their father’s name. If a father’s name is Erik, then his son’s surname would be Eriksson (or Erik’s son), and his daughter’s surname would be EricsdÃ³ttir (or Erik’s daughter). [note: According to one of our Icelandic _flossers, since ‘C’ is not an Icelandic letter, the correct spelling is ‘EirÃkur’ and his offspring would be EirÃksson/EirÃksdÃ³ttir, e.g. Leifur EirÃksson] Occasionally, there are true family names in Iceland, that are passed down to each generation. But they are usually in families originally from other countries, or in families where a family name was adopted at one point.
Approved name: Bambi
Rejected names: Harriet (it can’t be conjugated in Icelandic) and Duncan (there is no C in Icelandic.)
The Least Popular American Baby Names According to Early Records
6. NEW ZEALAND
New Zealand’s Births, Deaths, and Marriages Registration Act of 1995 doesn’t allow people to name their children anything that “might cause offence to a reasonable person; or […] is unreasonably long; or without adequate justification, […] is, includes, or resembles, an official title or rank.” Officials at the registrar of births have successfully talked parents out of some more embarrassing names.
Rejected names: Stallion, Yeah Detroit, Fish and Chips, Twisty Poi, Keenan Got Lucy, Sex Fruit, Satan, and Adolf Hitler
Approved names: Benson and Hedges (for a set of twins), Midnight Chardonnay, Number 16 Bus Shelter, Violence
Most new babies in China are now basically required to be named based on the ability of computer scanners to read those names on national identification cards. The government recommends giving children names that are easily readable, and encourages Simplified characters over Traditional Chinese ones. Parents can technically choose the given name, but numbers and non-Chinese symbols and characters are not allowed. In the 2000s, people were being advised to change their names for the benefit of the identification cards, although now the government is promising more support for obscure characters.
Rejected names: “@”: Wang “At” was rejected as a baby name. The parents felt that the @ symbol had the right meaning for them. @ in Chinese is pronounced “ai-ta” which is very similar to a phrase that means “love him.”
You are not allowed to use a first name that is traditionally a last name or a middle name, unless you come from a culture that doesn’t make that distinction. You’re also not allowed to change your name more than once every ten years. Apart from that, parents are not allowed to give a child a name that would be a major inconvenience. But the real fun comes in changing surnames. If you want to change your last name to something more than 200 people have, go for it! If 200 or fewer have it, you need to ask for permission from everyone with that name.
Previously rejected names: “Gesher” was rejected as a boy’s first name to the point where the child’s mother was jailed for refusing to pay the $420 fine.
BONUS: THE UNITED STATES
According to UC Davis law professor Carlton Larson, in Massachusetts, each name (first, middle, and last) must be shorter than 40 characters each for computer input reasons. And many states require using only the 26 letters of a standard keyboard. This means in California you can call a child Jose, but technically not José. And in Tennessee, a child of married parents can have either the surname of the father or the surname of the mother in combination with the surname of the father. Either way, the kid’s getting the dad’s name.