Names, names, names…

The news about the young Icelandic girl fighting to retain her chosen name has sparked a lot of interest in one of my favourite subjects, onomastics is the correct term for the study of names, apparently!

Here is another article from the BBC about names… I’ve come to the conclusion that some people are very strange:

A 15-year-old Icelandic girl has won the right to keep her first name, despite it being “unapproved” by the state. Why do some countries restrict baby names? Parents-to-be often find it hard enough to find a name they both like, let alone one the state might also be in favour of.
Bjork Eidsdottir had no idea when, in naming her new-born girl Blaer 15 years ago, she was breaking the law. In the eyes of the authorities Blaer, which means “light breeze”, was a male name and therefore not approved. It meant that for her entire childhood, Blaer was known simply as “girl” on official documents, but Reykjavik district court ruled on Thursday that it could indeed be a feminine name.
“Finally I’ll have the name Blaer in my passport,” she said after the ruling.
Several countries – such as Germany, Sweden, China and Japan – also restrict names. Why? In the case of Iceland, it’s about meeting certain rules of grammar and gender, and saving the child from possible embarrassment. Sometimes, although not in every case, officials also insist that it must be possible to write the name in Icelandic. There is a list of 1,853 female names, and 1,712 male ones, and parents must pick from these lists or seek permission from a special committee.
Similar concerns about child welfare are present in Germany, where a Turkish couple were not allowed to call their baby Osama Bin Laden. One couple named their baby Berlin after the city in which they met, prompting the registrar to mount an objection. He eventually relented after the family’s lawyer pointed out that the courts had allowed the name London. Gender confusion prevented a German boy being Matti, because the sex of the baby wouldn’t be obvious. You won’t find any Germans named Merkel, Schroeder or Kohl, either, because surnames are banned as first names.
The name 4Real fell foul of authorities in New Zealand, because names cannot start with a number. A judge there also made a young girl a ward of court so that she could change the name she hated – Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii.
When Japanese parents register their new-borns, the local authorities can say no if they don’t think the name is appropriate. In 1993, the name Akuma, meaning “devil”, was not permitted, and in China, people have been forced to change their names because they were deemed too obscure.
The UK and the US have much more liberal naming laws.
“American parents can pretty much name their child anything,” says Michael Sherrod, co-author of Bad Baby Names: The Worst True Names Parents Saddled Their Kids With. “In fact, parents see it as an important expression of their freedom of speech, enshrined in the US constitution. When I discovered the restrictions that other countries have, I was absolutely astounded.”
Strange names are nothing new; census records in the 18th and 19th centuries revealed people named King’s Judgement, Noble Fall and Cholera Plague.
“In all, there have been 20 people named Noun, 458 named Comma, 18 called Period but only one called Semicolon. Getting on to more risqué territory, Ima and Wanna are also popular, especially with surnames like Mann, Hoare or Pigg,” he says. “More offensive names have also been allowed. But why would parents do that to their children? A lot of parents say they want their kids to be unique. They think it’s fun and differentiates their child from everyone else, and gives them a personality. Americans are also very proprietary about their children and take the attitude, ‘we can do whatever with our children and if they don’t like it they can change it when they’re older.'”
Children with unusual names tend to get a lot of abuse at school but then embrace it when they’re older. There’s no question that some of the more offensive names could be considered as child abuse, but that doesn’t mean legislation is the answer.
“I’m not saying courts should not intervene, but I would prefer they do so only when parents cannot agree and the item gets taken to court. I think, for the most part, parents are pretty good at compromise. I would say anecdotal evidence is that the number of cases considered abusive is so tiny as to not require much law, if any.”
But courts have stepped in on occasion. When Thomas Boyd Ritchie III tried to change his first name to III, he was told by a court in California it would be ‘inherently confusing’.

  • Iceland – Elvisno was allowed but Carolina was not
  • New Zealand – Number 16 Bus Shelter was allowed but Yeah Detroit was not
  • Germany – Legolas was allowed but Matti was not
  • Sweden – Metallica was allowed but brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116 unsurprisingly was not

USA unusual names – Female, Enamel, Lettuce, Mustard M Mustard, Vagina, Mutton, Post Office…and others too obscene to mention





  1. grumpytyke

    It’s good to know that there is one thing left where the UK is more ‘liberal’ than most, including Germany. I wonder how long it will be before some influential do-gooder gets some restrictions put on this too – for reason of ‘human rights’, ‘health and safety’, or some such.



    In some cultures/languages/countries, names have very strong semantics. A Lithuanian name is quite distinguishable for other names. Then, from its termination, you will guess the gender and -in the case of female names- if the lady is married or not. When linguistic rules are so meaningful, doesn’t it make sense for the government to impose those rules ? Usually there is a clear governance to appeal, etc.


  3. Isabel Lunn

    I was interested in this as Diane Crossley and I like to “collect” strange names, often glimpsed in the Oldham Chronicle, though not exclusively so. Apart from misspellings, these are two of our recent “favourites” – “Cede” pronounced as Sadie and “Miracul” because the child survived despite being very premature. He might have survived, but I predict years of playground teasing/bullying.
    At the other extreme, Mick tells me that when he first went to live in France in the early 70s, the French had very strict rules about what you could call a child. They had to be named after a saint in the Catholic church. Where he was in Brittany this caused extra problems as there are a lot of Breton saints which the Bretons like to call their children after, but were not at that time recognised by the church. However one of the strangest refusals was when a friend of his wanted to call his son Anthony. The poers that be insisted that it must be Antoine and it was only when he was able to get a Catholic friend from Plymouth to send an authorised list of saints that the child was allowed to be called Anthony.
    Nowadays restrictions have been lifted.


    1. Lois

      I’e always collected names too… there were some kids with strange names at Hathershaw weren’t there, and Greenhill before, Bari tells me. Wasn’t there a girl called Queen Elizabeth, and another called Venus (before the days of Venus Williams!) I remember Evon, who I think should have been Yvonne! And I think there was a lad called Asole…


      1. Isabel Lunn

        Yes it was Queen Elizabeth Ruthven. I think Ruthven had a sugar plantation and was a slave owner.Yes there was Evon and also Winfield who was named after the Woolworths brand. One of the funniest was Nek Alam.


  4. Isabel Lunn

    It was actually Angela Queen Elizabeth Ruthven. and I know the one you mean like Awol, I think it was Ajmol and he was in the same class as Nigel Braithwaite and Tony Marshall.
    A friend of mine taught some boys who were from one of the former French colonies in Africa where they named their children using a French calendar with Saints names for each day. However some days like the 14th July were labelled Fête Nat. so that’s what the kids were called!


    1. Lois

      Calling the register must have been fun! When I taught in Moss Side I once had Kanaris Kanaris, Pemberton Evans – or was he Evans Pemberton, and Earl Gray -yes really! , Also Carlisle Levere Rock – a magnificent name for a tiny sweet boy!


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