Thinking of naming your little bundle of joy RoboCop or Monkey?
That might not be an option.
The court is profoundly concerned about the very poor judgment which this child’s parents have shown in choosing this name.
While most parents assume that they have free reign when naming their kids, that’s not always the case. Certain names are illegal, and depending on where you live, you might be surprised by some of the laws on the books.
The United States of America
Let’s start in the United States, where the Constitution protects our right to choose any name for our little ones—no matter how boring, how unique, how idiotic.
The 14th Amendment states that “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States” without due process. When combined with the freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment, that means that parents have a lot of freedom.
Still, states have the power to impose a few conditions. For instance, in many parts of the country, a name can’t be extremely long. Many states require names to use the 26 letters in the alphabet, and states may challenge a name that includes symbols or numbers.
In California, the name José is banned for that reason—the little accent mark over “e” makes it technically illegal. According to a comprehensive legal analysis of parental naming rights written by Carlton Larson, that law is likely unconstitutional, but it’s the current law of the land.
Some states have no naming laws whatsoever (we’re looking at you, Kentucky), and courts generally uphold parents’ rights when challenges occur. That might explain why pop culture frequently influences baby names in the United States. In 2013, the name “Arya” experienced a spike in popularity thanks to Game of Thrones, while in 2010, Renesmee received a similar boost thanks to Twilight.
Twilight author Stephenie Meyer wasn’t impressed, by the way.
“I am someone who strongly believes in reality, and that you don’t monkey around with people’s names,” Meyer told Entertainment Weekly. She believes that what a child’s future looks like “has a large part to do with the name you give them. I would never name a real child Renesmee.”
As is the case with many of the countries listed in this article, New Zealand has a public registrar that determines whether or not baby names are acceptable. The registrar’s decisions, however, can be downright confusing.
It makes a fool of the child.
For instance, officials banned “Lucifer,” as the name has an (obvious) religious meaning, but also allowed “Number 16 Bus Shelter” and “Violence.” The most common rejected name in New Zealand is “Justice,” which seems odd at first glance—until you realize that “Justice” is a title for a judge, and New Zealand bans self-applied titles.
Other rejected names include “4Real,” “Juztice,” and “Yeah Detroit.” In 2008, a New Zealand judge agreed to make a 9-year-old girl a ward of the court so that she could legally change her name from “Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii.”
“The court is profoundly concerned about the very poor judgment which this child’s parents have shown in choosing this name,” Judge Rob Murfitt wrote in his decision. “It makes a fool of the child and sets her up with a social disability and handicap, unnecessarily.”
Denmark has the somewhat notorious Law on Personal Names, which aims to limit harm done to a child by preventing parents from choosing an excessively absurd name.
While the government provides an approved list of about 33,000 names, Danish parents can submit applications to an appeals board (known as Ankestyrelsen) to get approval for unlisted names.
Sounds easy, right? As you might have already guessed, that’s not the case—to receive approval, a name must follow Denmark’s conventional spelling system and must indicate the gender of the child.
All told, the Ankestyrelsen rejects about 15 to 20 percent of new proposed names; something like “Andrue,” for instance, wouldn’t make the grade, while names like “Pluto” and “Monkey” are out of the question (and yes, a parent did reportedly submit Monkey for consideration).
In Japan, parents must choose a kanji name that uses commonly accepted characters, and they traditionally choose creative kanji characters that exemplify the type of person they want their child to become.
If you hear it once, you’ll never forget the name.
However, they can’t choose an intentionally ridiculous name. That rule drew some attention in 1994 when a couple tried to name their son “Akuma,” which translates to “Devil.”
Officials called the name “an abuse of the right of parents to name a child,” but because the laws at the time didn’t specifically prohibit that type of name, the courts couldn’t force the parents to make a change.
“If you hear it once, you’ll never forget the name,” the boy’s father told reporters. “It is the best possible name.”
Following a public outcry, the couple renamed their child, choosing “Aku,” which can also mean “race” or “run.”
Iceland has a patronymic naming system; the child assumes a new surname based on their father’s name (and occasionally their mother’s name). The name contains the father’s given name, followed by “-son” for boys and “-dóttir” for girls. Therefore, if your father’s name was, say, Monkey, you’d be either Monkeyson or Monkeydóttir.
Actually, though, not so fast: Before your parents sign your birth certificate, they’ll have to run their choice past the Icelandic Naming Committee, which is exactly what it sounds like (they’re pretty good at naming stuff).
The committee works with an approved list of fewer than 4,000 names (1,712 male names and 1,853 female names as of 2012, per Reader’s Digest).
You can talk about Iceland's restrictive human names laws all you want but "Wolf" is a legal human name so there
— Freyja Katra, just a gay cat (@FreyjaErlings) December 12, 2016
Approved names must only consist of Icelandic letters, and they must be acceptable to Icelandic grammar rules. Perhaps most importantly, names can’t cause the child “any future embarrassment,” so Monkey is out of the question yet again.
As the Icelandic alphabet doesn’t contain the character “c,” you can also forget about Charles, Camilla, or Chunky (our second choice after “Monkey”). Finally, female babies can’t take male names, and vice-versa. You can visit the Icelandic Naming Committee website here to see if your name would be banned.
France had especially strict naming laws before 1993; parents had to consult a list of acceptable names, which relied heavily on the names of Catholic saints. These days, parents can choose any name, provided that it won’t result in extraordinary stress for the child.
It’s a question of principle.
What, might you ask, would cross that line? Well, in 2015, a French court rejected a couple’s decision to name their child Nutella, noting that the name, while creamy and delicious, wasn’t in the child’s best interest. Instead, the court ruled that the child be named “Ella.”
Other banned names include “Fraise,” which translates to “Strawberry” in English, and “Babar,” the name of a cartoon elephant.
In isolated incidents, French authorities have also stepped in to govern the names of animals. One dog owner was forced to rename his dogs “Itler” and “Iva” because the names were clearly intended to “make people think of Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun.”
“It’s not a question of how dangerous the dogs are,” said the town mayor, who made the decision. “It’s a question of principle.”
While China has strict naming law regulations, it does guarantee its citizens the right to choose their own names. Parents can name their kids after celebrities, companies, or products, but they cannot use non-Chinese symbols. That means that names like “John” and “Monkey” are out of the question (sorry again, Monkeys of the world).
China also bans names that can’t be input into government computers, so some Chinese characters aren’t allowed—especially unusual characters associated with smaller ethnic groups.
In total, about 32,232 characters are acceptable as components of a Chinese name, but there are more than 70,000 Chinese characters total.
China also bans “overly religious” names, including Muhammad and Medina, which has drawn the attention of some human rights organizations.
German naming laws follow some of the other conventions on this list: The chosen name must indicate the child’s gender (bad news for little Riley or Jessie) and can’t “negatively affect the wellbeing of the child.”
Most people are reasonable and have the welfare of their children in mind.
There’s a way around this, as parents can apply a gendered second name. In other words, “Jessie Frank” could work.
Parents can’t choose product or object names, however. German courts have also rejected names like Woodstock, Stompie, and Grammophon, but accepted similarly creative names like Speedy and Jazz.
“Most people are reasonable and have the welfare of their children in mind,” Munich judge Isabell Götz told TIME.
While Sweden has relatively lax naming laws, its Naming Law of 1982 specifically prevents non-noble families from giving their children the names of noble families. Additionally, the law prevents names that are inherently ridiculous.
In 2008, a Swedish couple received a fine after trying to apply the name “Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116” to their 7-year-old child. That’s pronounced “Albin,” by the way.
While Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116’s parents claimed that the name was a “pregnant, expressionistic development that we see as an artistic creation,” the courts disagreed. Similarly, courts rejected “Metallica,” and more controversially, “Allah” or “Jesus,” since those names might be offensive to the general public.
The couple that named their kid Metallica, by the way, ended up appealing the decision—and winning.