I have been thinking about names a lot this week. Why? I am not really sure. I don’t recall thinking about people’s names all that much before—aside perhaps from the usual eye-rolling on reading the latest celebrity-baby-name revelation in the latest gossip rag . . . (Aha—I think I may have just answered my own question . . . )
I have always been quite happy with my own name and never wished it to be anything else. (‘Sally’ is a diminutive of the more traditional ‘Sarah’.) It is a fairly ordinary name (compared to some) and you wouldn’t think it liable to upset anyone unduly—unless, possibly, you live in Morocco. Apparently, in Morocco your child’s name must reflect ‘Moroccan identity’, so although you may legally name your baby ‘Sara’ (the Arabic version), you may not name her ‘Sarah’ (the Hebrew version).
That’s okay. As my birth certificate actually states my name to be ‘Sally’ rather than ‘Sarah’, this may, hopefully, be enough to keep me out of trouble should I ever decide to visit Morocco, but it also makes me wonder—if a name as simple as Sarah can be deemed illegal in a country because of the letter ‘h’, how are some of this generation’s children, many of whom have, shall we say, increasingly ‘interesting’ personal monikers, ever going to be able to go out and about travelling the world without causing some sort of major international incident?
And I am not only talking about celebrity baby name choices either. (Admit it—you thought of a couple of those right away too didn’t you?) Well, it seems there are plenty of ordinary people out there who are ready, willing and (seemingly) able to give their children the most extraordinary and bizarre names imaginable.
Most countries do have laws in place about what you may or may not call your children, and some are stricter than others. 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. In Iceland the name must only contain letters in the Icelandic alphabet, and must fit grammatically with the language (so no Caroline or Christine as there is no letter ‘c’ in Icelandic.) Denmark has a list of 7,000 pre-approved baby names. If parents want a name that is not on that list they must get special permission from their local church and then it must be reviewed by government officials.
New Zealand also requires parents to run prospective names by the government. Its naming rules are similar to those of Australia but recent applications received by their authorities seem just a tad more ‘out there’. Over the last few years New Zealand has repeatedly rejected applications for people to name their children Lucifer, Christ, Mafia No Fear, 4Real and Anal. (Seriously.) However, in spite of rejecting those names, in 2008 the same authorities made international headlines when they allowed a set of twins to be named ‘Benson’ and ‘Hedges’ and also agreed to the name ‘Number 16 Bus Shelter’ . . . (I really feel that I should comment on this, but honestly, speechless . . . )
Although I am not a parent (to any two legged children at least) I do understand that some parents might want their child’s name to be special or unique, and I think that is a lovely idea. I am also not entirely averse to being a bit imaginative or creative with spelling choices (and you might have to be if you live in Morocco or Iceland), but, in all seriousness, one would hope that any parent might give at least a moment’s thought to the fact that said child will have to go through a significant portion of his life having to bear that name—at least until they are old enough to throw themselves upon the mercy of the courts to have it changed.
So, anyone out there in the position of thinking of naming a child, I have only one thing more to say. Enjoy the process! Have fun. Be original . . . be innovative . . . be creative . . . and, please . . . be kind.
And spare a thought for the eight year old girl who was removed into care because her parents refused her appeals to have her name changed from ‘Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii’. I kid you not . . .