« Back to Blog

What’s in a Name

During a recent trip to Europe, German friends who have a new baby made reference to the fact that gender-ambiguous names are “not allowed” in Germany unless a second name is added which clarifies the gender.  What do you mean “not allowed,” I asked?  You know, the government won’t permit it, they said.  My husband and I were incredulous.  Turns out that in Germany, you have to submit the name you want to use for your baby to the local office of vital statistics for approval.  And if they don’t like it, you can’t use it.  Which means there are no little Moon Units, Rolexes, Whoopis or Honey Boo Boos in Munich. And Germany is far from alone in this – a quick Google search reveals that many other countries also have rules governing name choice.   Even in Denmark–that cradle of fabulous modern design and progressive thinking–you must pick from a list of 7,000 pre-approved names.

Who’s being protected by these laws?  Kids, from their parents’ stupidity? Or unconventionality? Or creativity?  Seems like a pretty dull world if everyone can only be named what people have been named before.  Much as I envy so many (like, almost all) of the perks of life in the social democracies of Europe, this issue brought some deeply buried libertarian streak I didn’t even know I had screaming to the surface. The idea that government should be involved in the decision about what to name your child seems outrageous.  As would laws about what people should do with their last names when they marry.  Or divorce. Or transition to the opposite gender.  Or when they simply don’t like their given names and want to choose their own.

Our German friends were puzzled by our horrified reaction.  But if you could just pick any word you wanted for a name, the baby’s mom said, you could name your child something like– she paused for a moment, clearly trying to summon up the most ridiculous example she could of what notto name a baby– “Porsche”!  We were silenced. We didn’t have the heart to tell her how many Porsches and Lexuses and Infinitis were probably riding the school buses right then back home in Philadelphia.