What’s in a name?

There are lots of things to prepare when you are expecting the arrival of a baby. The pram, bottles and blanket you have chosen will probably not have much of an effect on your child’s life in the long run. Their name, however, will more than likely be with them forever. Could the decision you make change your child’s prospects? And is it sensible other countries place stricter regulations on what you can name your child?

I like my name. What I don’t like is its increasing popularity. When I was at school I was never in the same class as another Jasmine, never had to be identified by my last initial or, even worse, an adjective! I think being called ‘tall Jasmine’ may have been crippling for my 13-year-old-self’s confidence. Looking down recent ‘most popular’ names lists I see that future Jasmines will suffer a different fate (according to one list Jasmine was the 27th most popular girls’ name in 2011). But is having a popular name really such a bad thing? And can you go too far with outlandish choices?

In New Zealand there are strict regulations about what you can and can’t name a child. These include:

  • No one-letter names
  • No names over 100 characters
  • No names that ‘include, or resemble, official titles or ranks’
  • No religious references
  • No names that ‘could cause offence to a reasonable person’


Some of these rules seem to be in place for practical reasons. Justice, for example, has been refused by the courts on the basis that when a girl has grown up people may mistake her for a judge. When I first saw these rules I wondered how you could define a name that would cause offence to a ‘reasonable person’. Then I read some of the names that have been turned down. Prepare yourself…

  • Mafia No Fear
  • Anal
  • Sex Fruit

I was pretty shocked. Why would a parent try to name their child that? I can only think it would be in protest of the naming regulations. In one case in 2008 a judge actually placed a child under court guardianship in order to change a child’s name from Talula Does The Hula In Hawaii.

Many other countries have policies that include not allowing surnames as first names and making sure that names immediately identify the gender of a child. In Denmark if you don’t want to pick a name on the official list (oh yes!) you must get permission from your local church and then have it reviewed by a government body. So should Britain place tighter controls over what you can call your child? Having seen some of the attempted names in New Zealand I’m inclined to say yes but then I’ve never met a Mafia No Fear or a Sex Fruit over here so perhaps there’s no need. In the UK there are no specific regulations but an official does have the right to refuse to register a name which could be found offensive. Here are some that have got through:

  • Superman
  • Gandalf
  • Gazza

I suppose they’re not necessarily offensive but Gazza (as in the famous football player) was later convicted of drink driving and accused of beating his now ex-wife. Would you really want him as your namesake?

Surely what matters most is what kind of effect a name will have on the person who has to live with it. So how will your name affect your childhood? And what about your adult life?

It’s not much of a stretch to believe that children would often not prefer to have bizarre names. After all, most young people want to fit in and an odd name can definitely increase the chance of being bullied at school. Perhaps it’s best to avoid names that rhyme with rude words, just to be on the safe side. Furthermore, in their book Freakonomics Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner argue that the name a person has will affect whether they get invited to job interviews.

If a name suggests that the person comes from a ‘low-income, low-education’ family then they stand less chance of getting a call back from their CV which is pretty worrying for many reasons. But then picking a name that statistically should improve a child’s likelihood of success seems a bit contrived and fashions change over time. Goodness, this naming thing is complicated.

No pressure, then!

Do you have an unusual name? Have you decided to name your child something truly original? Or do you have a name-related experience you’d like to share? Please comment below – we’d love to hear from you.

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