In Germany, you can name your newborn “Legolas”, but “Matti” is right out. The name was considered too gender-neutral to pass Germany’s strict baby name regulations.
Germany is one of several countries that regulate the names parents are allowed to give children, a legislation move that protects the next generation from being saddled with monikers like “Sunshine” and “Chance”.
I’ve always loved my odd name, and gave my kids weird ones (at least one of which would never have made it by Germany’s censors). But I’ve met kids named “Electra” and “Princess”. I’m sure a few of my hippie kid peers would have been glad for a little state control in the naming department.
Germany’s rules are fairly straightforward, if oppressive: you have to be able to tell the gender of a child from the first name, and may not “negatively affect the well-being of the child”. You are also not allowed to name your child after any product or brand.
Other countries have even stranger rules:
- Sweden allows adults to change their names only once in their lives
- Japan has a published list of “name kanji” from which all baby names must be chosen
- Denmark combines those approaches with a list of names for parents to choose from. The Law on Personal Naming requires that children have gender-specific names with conventional spellings. 15%-20% of the baby names submitted each year are rejected.
- Iceland requires that new names pass several tests including fitting grammatically with Icelandic.
- New Zealand has a vague law disallowing names that “might cause offense to a reasonable person, is unreasonably long or without adequate justification”. They’ve used this to reject “Adolf Hitler” but allowed “Number 16 Bus Shelter”. I guess they decided there was sufficient justification for naming that baby after a bus shelter. Must have been quite the story.
- Chinese law requires that all names be readable by a computer scanner for use on national identity cards. How very pragmatic.
Have you ever been introduced to a kid with a name so awful you’ve thought, “There ought to be a law…” Should there be?