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Why France won’t let you name your child ‘Nutella’

This is a food product, not a child. (Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)

A couple who named their child "Nutella" are now the proud parents of baby "Ella" after a French court rejected their decision to name the child after the delicious hazelnut spread. The child, born in September, was renamed by the court, which determined that the "Nutella" name was not in the best interest of the child, French media reported.

According to a report from the French daily La Voix du Nord (translated by Time), the court's decision notes that "the name ‘Nutella’ given to the child is the trade name of a spread" and that "it is contrary to the child’s interest to be wearing a name like that can only lead to teasing or disparaging thoughts.”

Government officials in the United States rarely impose restrictions on what American parents name their children. So for some, it might come as a surprise to learn that this is not the case in many other countries. Current French law is much more liberal on the subject than it was just a few decades ago, however. Until 1993, French law limited which names were acceptable for new parents — a list that relied heavily on Francophone versions of the names of Catholic saints.

Now, French parents can choose whichever first name they please, unless officials decide that the name is not in the best interest of the child. It's a provision that is often enforced in the French courts, despite increasing creativity among parents. As the Local notes, French parents have successfully gleaned some names from "Game of Thrones" in recent years, from Joffreys and Jaimes to Mélissandres.

But the courts have forced a new name on baby girl "Babar," and a girl by the name of "Fraise" (or "strawberry") was recently renamed. The latter decision was in large part due to the idiomatic French phrase "ramène ta fraise," which translates as a crude version of "get over here." As with "Nutella," the court decided that baby "Fraise" would face undue mockery; so "Fraise" is now "Fraisine."

France's regulation of baby names is hardly unique. In New Zealand, you can name your kid "Number 16 Bus Shelter," but not "Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116," "Bishop" or "Mafia No Fear," among other banned first names. In Iceland, Spain or Germany, baby names must indicate the gender of the child. Sweden has blocked the names "Metallica," "Superman," "Veranda," "Ikea" and "Elvis"; and Japanese parents can't name a child "Akuma" ("devil").

[MORE: People in Messi’s hometown have been barred from naming their babies Messi]

Iceland governs name choice by committee: Parents may choose from a list of a couple thousand approved names, depending on whether the child is a boy or girl. If a parent wants to go off-list, the committee will have to weigh in.

The baby-naming freedom situation is much more liberal in the United States, if a little legally mysterious. A 2011 survey of state laws governing baby names called the state of baby naming laws "a legal universe that has scarcely been mapped, full of strange lacunae, spotty statutory provisions, and patchy, inconsistent case law." The most common state restrictions on names, the study found, are "prohibitions on obscenities, numerals, pictograms, diacritical marks, and overly lengthy names."

For instance, California has in the past rejected the name Lucía because the state Office of Vital Records doesn't accept names with accents or other diacritical marks. But in New Jersey, one infamous white supremacist couple named their kids “JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell," "Adolf Hitler Campbell" and "Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell." Although the Campbells pretty clearly have the legal right to choose these names, the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services ended up taking the children after reports of abuse in their home.

Another example: A judge in Tennessee was fired after changing a baby's first name from Messiah to Martin, writing that "labeling this child 'Messiah' places an undue burden on him that as a human being, he cannot fulfill."

The decision was eventually overturned. 

MORE READING: Why did Saudi Arabia ban 51 baby names?

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