Some thoughts on naming laws

Many Asian and European countries have lists of approved names, both for babies and adults changing their names. These lists aren’t set in stone, and have had new additions over time. In general, I support the concept, and don’t think it’s a cruel restriction.

A quick look at the countries with such laws and lists reveals they’re historically rather monolithic cultures, without a thriving tradition of immigration like the Anglophone world. It’s only been in recent years that we’ve seen a large uptick in the number of non-Europeans moving to places like Sweden, Germany, and Denmark.

Not only do naming laws ensure all approved names adhere to the national language’s orthography, but they also outlaw names which might be seen as ridiculous, offensive, or shameful. The best-known example is Adolf, which is illegal in many countries.

When one applies for permission to use a name not on the approved list, the name must indicate sex, conform to the language’s orthography, cannot be a surname or commercial product, and cannot have a negative effect upon the child.

Children born to foreign citizens don’t have to be given names on the approved list, but they should follow the onomastic rules of the parents’ native country.

Some countries have longer lists than others; e.g., Denmark has 18,000 female names and 15,000 males names to date, while Iceland only has about 1,800 each.

Other countries, like Italy, don’t have lists of names which must be used, but shameful, ridiculous, and offensive names are nevertheless barred.

Countries with a long tradition of being under the influence of another empire (e.g., the former republics of the Russian Empire and USSR) have taken steps to ban names from that foreign culture, or at least strongly disapprove of them. It makes sense they’d want to reclaim their native names after finally gaining their freedom.

Malaysia goes further, since their National Registration Department may refuse to register not only objectionable and vulgar names, but also names based on colours, numbers, titles, equipment, fruits, and vegetables.

Saudi Arabia has 50 banned names.

Not only has Tajikistan banned Russified names, but is also trying to ban Islamic and Arabic names on its list of 3,000 approved names. All names must be Tajik, as Arabic and Muslim names are considered too divisive (on top of a lot of other Islamophobic legislation, like banning hijabs and closing mosques). However, religious Muslims don’t want to use native Tajik names.

Naming laws might seem restrictive, old-fashioned, anti-creative, authoritarian, etc., to those of us in the Anglophone world, but they’re meant to enforce basic guidelines instead of punishing people. We’re more used to seeing a wide range of names, from many languages, due to the long tradition of being melting-pots.

It’s far different in many other countries, where the culture is relatively more closed. While there are long traditions of sizable ethnic minorities (e.g., Armenians in Iran, Germans in Hungary, Serbians in Slovenia), they’re still from within the same general Indo–European cultural heritage.

Looking at Hungary’s list from 2016, for example, reveals not only historic and popular invented Hungarian names like Imre, Kálmán, Jolán, Csilla, Piroska, and Lájos, but Magyarized forms of names from other cultures.

Under the policy of Magyarization begun in the late 19th century, there were relatively few approved Hebrew names, like Eszter and Dániel. Today, there are many more, like Jáél, Sifra, Tirza, Mika, Ezékiel, and Józsué.

We also see the obvious influence of Hungary’s Muslim minority, in names such as Aladdin, Ahmed, Szultána, Nasira, Zafira, and Abdullah. Many English and pop culture names are also represented, like Gandalf, Szkarlett, Cinderella, Dzsesszika (Jessica), Brendon, and Lennox.

If critics would actually look at these lists, or the specific types of names not allowed, they’d see most countries’ naming laws are anything but cruel, restrictive, and set in stone. They prevent ridiculous names like Urhines Kendall Icy Eight Special K and Moxie Crimefighter.

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