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Would you, could you name your kid Adolph Hitler? A father in New Jersey did. It came to light when a bakery refused to scrawl “Happy Birthday Adolph Hitler” on a cake a couple years ago.
It turns out many states and countries have laws for naming your kid. I didn’t think the United States had any, and (once again) I’m
close horribly wrong. A Tennessee judge forced a mother to change her child’s name from “Messiah” to “Martin.” That judge, it turned out, overstepped her bounds. In general, many states enact laws to protect kids who can’t protect themselves. Apparently, New Jersey is not one of those states. (On the other hand, New Jersey doesn’t allow symbols or numbers, so whatever Prince became would not have stood in Jersey and I’m guessing neither C3PO nor R2D2 can live there.)
“Parens patriae” is Latin for father of the country, and it allows government officials to intervene on behalf of vulnerable kids who didn’t get to choose their parents. It’s worth noting that the impact of the Tennessee judge’s action was not far reaching. There are thousands of kids named Messiah running around America. Thousands more Jesus’ and Mohammeds and a decent smattering of Christs. Talk about big sandals to fill.
But I particularly enjoy what some other countries do about naming conventions. Here are a few to ponder:
Gender-specific: Several countries, Germany and Iceland among them, require a name to identify your gender. Matti, for example, was recently rejected in Germany for a boy because it didn’t indicate gender.
No More Chances: Some countries realize you can’t pick your parents who picked your name, so they give you a chance to change. But don’t squander your opportunity. In Norway, you can change your name once every ten years, but in Sweden you only get one chance for a lifetime. (I usually change a character’s name three times by chapter six. How did Stieg Larsson ever finish an entire manuscript?) By the way, recently rejected names in Sweden include Elvis, Ikea and Superman.
[Our favorite bad name story: In France earlier this year, a couple tried to name their daughter Nutella figuring she’d be sweet like the spread. A judge would have none of it. She ordered the name changed to Ella.]
Check the List: Denmark features one of the strictest laws on naming your kid. Santa Claus is likely happy because there’s a list. Only 7,000 names appear on the list for you to choose from. Anus, Pluto and Monkey are not among them. If you want to veer from the list, you need special permission from your church (hope you made a nice donation Sunday) and pass muster with a government agency.
Random Rules: In New Zealand, Benson & Hedges was just approved for a set of twins while Fish & Chips got the ax. C’mon, which is healthier for kids? The Kiwis add to a long list of rejected names every year. Latest rejection: Justice.
Too late: In Mexico, they reviewed the newborn registry and retroactively banned names. But it was too late for a couple kids already named Robocop and Circumcision. Ouch!
Our son, Gabriel, would need a name change in Saudi Arabia. It’s among 50 names this year deemed unfit. Linda bit the dust too.
All this coming to you from a guy named John, a name that has found permanent residence in the Top 25 since at least 1880. Alas, I was not born in 1880, my fingers were too tired to look any further back than that.