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Bizzare law of Naming a Child: Know in Which Country you Cannot Keep Your Child Name Yourself



Parents too often find it tough to find a name for their children that they both like. Several unique names from Cricket to Apple have become the rage in the United States, especially among celebrities. It might sound strange and ridiculous; some legislators of certain nations around the globe have passed laws that govern the naming of children. Majority of people are unaware of this as they consider the actions a violation of their rights. However, these laws have been enacted purposely.


The naming law controls the names that their parents give their children at birth. The rationale of this law is the protection of the child from being given certain names that are considered offensive or embarrassing. Plenty of nations like Denmark have adopted the naming law, while some restrict the name parents give to their children, the others restrict the script that the names can be written.


Denmark is the land with the existence of unique naming laws that are strictly followed. Parents can choose a name from a list of 7,000 names that matches completely with the gender of the child and must never be unusual. Furthermore, the surnames cannot be the first names, cannot have imaginative spellings of the usual names, and must be in line with Danish orthography. For instance, the name Camilla is allowed under the regulations, however, spelling it as Cammmilla is not allowed. Moreover, some ancient Danish names are protected by the law. There are names that are prohibited by law, while others are acceptable. While Pluto, Anus and Monkey are some of the names prohibited under the law, Fee, Molli, Jiminico and Benji are approved.

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Several reasons have led the authorities to enacting these naming laws. Children sometimes are given odd names suiting the desire of their parents. Many children have been found being abused at their young age of having a different name. These naming laws protect the children from harassments, abuse and bullying as well as protection of certain Danish last names that are rare or of noble history. Before assigning the name to the children, they are regulated for identification of the gender of the child without creating confusion.


In the past, Danes had single names such as Jens, however, with the growth of the population, the requirement for another name arose, thereby adding second names. Family names or the surnames were based on four main sources. These included patronymic (based on the parental names), geographical (residence), nicknames (characteristics of the person) and occupational names (nature of work).

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Even there were restrictions in the choice of using the Christian names. Partly due to the tradition of naming a new-born child after a deceased family member, a large percentage of the population were given one of the 20-25 most common names. Often the families followed a certain pattern while naming new-borns. The first daughter of the family was named after her paternal grandmother, the second daughter after her maternal grandmother, the first son after his paternal grandfather and the second son after his maternal grandfather.


However, there were exceptions as well. For a long period, it became customary not to use the names of the living, and a couple whose parents were present on the earth choose names from more distant generations, thereby naming a child after his or her great grandparents. When someone lost their spouses and remarried, the first child born after remarriage were given the name of the deceased. A child could have been named after a parent if it was born after its father’s death or if its mother passed away during the childbirth. Often new-borns were named after older siblings who passed away.


Usually a child would be the same sex as the person he or she was named after, however, this was not always the rule. In the memory of a deceased grandfather called “Soren”, a little girl could be baptized “Sorine”, which is the female version of the same name. A little boy might be named after a grandmother called “Marie” and he would receive the name “Marinus”.


From 1800 to 1920 giving children Christian names became more popular and people often gave four to five names. Even “foreign” and “unusual” names were also trending. During the period names like “Thorvald Julius Gotfred Amandus” or “Alvilda Margarethe dagmar Ernestine” and so forth. Naturally, children began to use only one name or just an abbreviated one. Skyldfri, meaning “Innocence” used as a female name; this was particularly popular illegitimate girls.


According to the common rules of the land, women were required to change their names after marriage. With the turn of the 20th century, the trend began to change gradually and more women kept their maiden names. Laws enacted during 1981and 2005 stated that children can have either parents’ surname as per the existence of traditions before 1928.


Presently, Denmark’s Law on Personal Names only applies in instances where either of the parents is Danish and was enacted for stopping the practice of patronymics, which continued to be one of the sources of naming children. Patronymics practice used the construction of Christian names of children, which combined the father’s name with “sen” for son and “datter” for daughter. For instance, Jens Nielsen’s son Soren would be Soren Jensen and daughter Maren would be Maren Jendatter. This caused the families to change their names every generation. The practice created bureaucratic nightmare and made difficult for the authorities for tracing the family history.


Since authorities wanted people to use their family surnames, the practice of patronymics were legally abolished in 1826. However, it took several decades before patronymics were ceased. Any person born between1826-1870, it is impossible to state whether the name was constructed using patronymics or a family surname unless one knows the name of the person’s parents.


However, the law intended on creating consistent surnames in place of patronymics, later on adding regulations for the choice of first names. The Naming Law prevents certain surnames from being adopted. This was designed to appease the nobles who were worried about the people taking their last names. It was not until the 1960s when someone tried naming their child Tessa, which is similar to the Danish word for urine, the laws expanded to include their first names as well.


Under the Danish law, every child must be given a first name and a surname by the time they grow six months old. Though the land provides a list of 7,000 names, parents can deviate from it, the application process is completed in joint association with the church and the government. The process is a bit lengthy, where the parents first seek approval from their local parish because it is where all the names are registered. Once the parents request for approving a name outside the list, the name is sent to Copenhagen University’s Names Investigation Department and the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs.


Cases are reviewed on a case by case basis by Copenhagen University, which is primarily responsible for applying the law. Later in 2004, 1,100 names were reviewed and around 15-20% of them were rejected, the most common cause of rejection being odd spellings.

Besides being strict on spellings the law of the land also forbids the use of unisex names and the approved ones are assigned to single-sex only. Denmark is one of the four countries that prohibits the use of unisex names, the other three being Germany, Iceland and Portugal. However, Germany looks at gender-neutral names on a case by case basis for determining if they are harmful to the child. However, unisex gender-neutral or unisex names have become popular around the globe.


However, several intellectuals have pointed out to be problematic as the requirement that names reflect gender is an outdated concept and reinforces the gender binary. Moreover, the list of preapproved names limits the diversity of names that are available to parents who don’t want seeking approval for naming their children.


Denmark has a strong record when they need to protect LGBTQ rights. Rainbow Europe, the organization responsible for conducting studies of LGBT rights across the continent of Europe ranked the nation of Denmark 8th in terms of LGBT protections. Since 2014, transgender individuals can legally change their gender without undergoing any type of surgery. In 2018, the land proposed the rights to be extended to children under 18. However, the other LGBT friendly protections don’t mesh with its strict naming rules, which have emphasized an outdated gender binary.


Most of the approved are of English and Western European origin, which allows for a very little variety for the new parents in naming their children who are not eager to seek government approval. The land sought to protect the cultural heritage through traditional Danish spellings as well as approving more traditional names. This has come at the cost of embracing diversity and recognizing the rich cultures existing around the world. Denmark needs to decrease its emphasis for preserving the traditional names, thereby allowing more names reflecting the increasingly multicultural nature that is present today.


Unique children’s names have become more unique today. However, the strict naming laws followed by countries such as Denmark are finding themselves to be more outdated as unisex names from diverse origins are becoming more common today. The land urgently needs to update the laws as well as reflect the trends of the new millennium.


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