The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

12 countries where the government regulates what you can name your child

Fifteen-year-old Blaer Bjarkardottir, left, and her mother sued Iceland for the right to the traditionally male name Blaer. (AP)

New Zealand released an updated list of its legally forbidden baby names this week, sparking some controversy among people who apparently think “4real” and “Lucifer” should not be banned, or maybe just that the state shouldn't be in the business of saying what you can or can't name your own children.

But New Zealand is not alone. A number of countries regulate names, and many are much stricter than New Zealand. (Regulators there did, after all, allow “Number 16 Bus Shelter.”) In Iceland, for instance, parents must choose from a list of roughly 1,800 girls’ names and 1,700 boys’ names, according to the BBC. And in China, Mental Floss reports, parents can only use characters that computer scanners can read.

All told, at least a dozen countries, including Germany, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Morocco, Japan and Malaysia, have baby naming laws.

The reasons for the laws vary dramatically by country, rather like names themselves. Many hands-on Scandinavian democracies, such as Sweden and Norway, regulate names out of concern for the child’s reputation and well-being. Other countries have less egalitarian concerns: Morocco, for instance, banned ethnic Berber names for years, a practice condemned by Human Rights Watch and other groups.

Technological constraints have also become a factor, the Economist reports: Government databases often can’t handle long names or foreign characters. That has limited name choice in New Zealand, China, Japan, Lithuania and Poland, among other countries. It’s even a problem in the United States, which is relatively quite liberal toward weird names. Some states won’t allow diacritics, as in José or Amélie. (They'd be Jose and Amelie, instead.)

Other names blocked by government agencies include: Metallica, Superman, Veranda, Ikea, and Elvis (all blocked in Sweden); Matti, Osama bin Laden and Adolf Hitler (Germany); Akuma or devil (Japan); @ (China); V8, *, 5th, Anal and Christ (New Zealand); and famously, before winning a national legal fight to use her name, Blaer (Iceland).

In the United States, at least, nontraditional names have trended steadily upward since the '60s, according to the Economist. Just last month, the American baby Web site Nameberry called Phaedra, Mingus and Thor three of the “hottest” names of 2013.

Those might not fly in Iceland, Spain or Germany, where names must clearly denote a child’s gender. Phaedra, for the record, can be a boy's or girl's name.