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Baby Names

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Baby Naming Laws from Around the World

Rules from Sweden, Japan, Denmark and more

By Jillian Capewell |

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  • Denmark


    This Scandinavian country has several laws in place in order to protect children from parents trying to be funny or unique in their naming choices. A New York Times article attributes this to the country’s philosophy of “sameness, not uniqueness.” Strict laws require parents seeking to name their child something other than one of the 7,000 government-approved names must get their choice officially approved by Copenhagen University’s Names Investigation Department. And you thought getting your mother-in-law’s approval was tough!

  • France


    If you’re wondering why so many Americans associate names like Jacques or Pierre with the cheese-and-croissant crowd across the Atlantic, perhaps a law put in place towards the end of the 18th century has something to do with it — the French were restricted to naming their children after a small number of popular saints. Although a 1966 law permitted alternative spellings, foreign names, and diminutives, it wasn’t until 1993 that parents were given free reign of what to name their children.

  • New Zealand

    New Zealand

    This country has a running list of names banned from the official registrar — in 2011, they banned Lucifer after three sets of parents tried to register this name. Also on the list? Messiah, Mr., 89, and C. Additionally, names such as King, Duke, and Judge have been shot down on the basis that they sound too much like titles.

  • Germany


    Germany’s government also reserves the right to reject an odd baby name. Among the rules: One must be able to tell if your child is a boy or a girl based on their first name (what would we do with all those Taylors, Jaimes, and Jordans?), the name may not be the name of a product or brand, and it is not allowed to “negatively affect the well-being of the child.”

  • Norway


    Norwegian officials jailed a mother for two days in 1998 for failing to pay a fine imposed for naming her son Gesher (“bridge” in Hebrew). Today, the country has dropped a list of pre-approved government names for a more general ban on ones that include “swearing, sex, and illnesses.”

  • Japan


    In Japan, the government maintains a list of a few thousand “name kanji” — which are characters of Chinese origin but used with Japanese pronunciation and are commonly used to spell given names — that parents must use when naming their children. This rule serves a practical purpose — so any new names can be easily read and written in Japanese.

  • Sweden


    In 1982, Sweden enacted a naming law to prevent non-noble families from giving their children noble names. Names are also up on the chopping block if “they can cause offense … or discomfort.” In 1991, a Swedish couple tried to give their child a notable moniker in protest of the strict naming laws: Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116, pronounced … Albin. We’re guessing he won’t find any keychains with that name on it.

  • Portugal


    Unless one half of the couple naming their Portuguese baby is foreign, you’d better consult this country’s long list of approved and rejected names before settling on a favorite. It’s on the books that children’s names must be traditionally Portuguese, a full name (not a nickname), and not a unisex name. Why is there so much focus on a proper first name? Due to the passing along of family names, a child may have up to four last names, including two from his mother’s side and two from his father’s — talk about a mouthful!

  • China


    What guides China’s naming laws? Practicality. Instead of focusing on the suitability of names that could be considered detrimental to a child, laws focus on whether or not a name can be input correctly in the digital system for creating Resident Identity Cards, which citizens must carry after age 16. A rare or unusual character would make it difficult for a child to be entered in the system.

  • The United States

    The United States

    With Hollywood full of little Tu Morrows and Pilot Inspektors being pushed around in strollers, it should come as little surprise that there are few laws on the books restricting baby naming here. A few states prohibit characters such as @ or numbers in names, but beyond that, the land of the free can also be home to the bizarre baby names.

About Jillian Capewell


Jillian Capewell

Jillian Capewelll is an editorial assistant and graduate of SUNY Geneseo in upstate New York, where she was an editor for the college newspaper. Jillian started at Babble as an intern and returned after spending a year teaching Beatles songs to French children. She has wanted to write for a living since completing the construction-paper classic Penguin Surprise Do Stuff at age four with the help of her mom, who had to spell all the words. Aside from Babble, Jillian's work has also appeared on xoJane

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