Nutty Names

As trade mark practitioners, we are always emphasising the importance of creating the right business name. One would assume it is equally important to apply one’s mind to naming one’s own child. However, it seems that not everyone takes it quite so seriously…

A French court has prohibited parents from naming their baby girl Nutella after Michele Ferrero’s* popular hazelnut spread.

The court ruled that the name would make her the target of derision, stating that “it is contrary to the child’s interest to have a name that can only lead to teasing or disparaging thoughts”.

The court ordered that the baby girl be named “Ella” instead.

It’s hard enough to find a baby name that both parents like, let alone one that the state approves. Believe it or not, the local authorities in several countries, including Iceland, Germany and Japan, have been known to restrict names in certain circumstances. For example:

  • Surnames are banned as first names in Gemany so you won’t find anyone named Merkel Shroeder or Kohl.
  • 15 years ago, Icelandic authorities ruled that Blaer, which means “light breeze”, is a male name and therefore cannot be approved as a name for a baby girl. However, a court ruled last week that Blaer could indeed be a feminine name and the girl was finally able to have her birth name on her passport.
  • A German court ruled that a Turkish couple were not allowed to call their baby Osama Bin Laden on account of child welfare concerns.
  • The name 4Real was banned by New Zealand authorities because names cannot start with a number.
  • Gender confusion prevented a German boy from being named Matti, because it was decided that the sex of the baby would not be obvious.
  • The name Akuma was not permitted in Japan, as it means “devil”.
  • Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii naturally disliked her strange and unnecessarily long name and the court made her a ward of court in New Zealand in order to change it.

Other parts of the world, such as the USA and UK, have far more liberal name laws. American parents see the ability to name their children whatever they please as an important expression of their freedom of speech. Some parents think it is fun to give their kid a wacky name. Others believe that an unusual name will bestow a unique personality on a child. However, some parents take things a little too far. For example, a census record from the 18th and 19th centuries revealed people named King’s Judgement, Noble Fall and Cholera Plague. There have been 20 people named Noun, 458 named Comma, 18 called Period and only 1 called Semicolon. Some offensive and risqué names have also been known to be permitted in liberal countries, such as Ima Hoare.

Michael Sherrod, co-author of “Bad Baby Names: The Worst True Names Parents Saddled Their Kids With” says that children with unusual names tend to get a lot of abuse at school but then embrace their name when they get older. There is no question that some of the more offensive names could be considered child abuse, but Sherrod does not believe that legislation is necessarily 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”.

This does not stop the courts from intervening on occasion in America. When Thomas Boyd Ritchie III tried to change his first name to the Roman numeral III, his request was refused by a California court on the basis that this would be “inherently confusing”. While we might agree with the reasoning, should courts really be able to interfere with a parent’s right to name their child?

We’re guessing your name doesn’t sound so bad now

Kim Rademeyer – Partner