Here’s why you won’t find any strange baby names in Denmark
Every September, teachers across the country await the arrival of their new class registers with anticipation. It’s not necessarily that they care which students are in their classes, rather what they are called. The big question: who’s got the stupidest name this year? From the little bit tacky to the completely wacky, there is no shortage of creativity when it comes to names.
But, in the interests of saving a child from a lifetime of ridicule, should parents be given less, not more freedom when it comes to what they choose to name their child? Or are the baby naming laws seen across much of Europe archaic and outdated?
The United States has very liberal baby-naming laws, extending the First Amendment right to free speech to the naming of children, with only some states banning the use of obscenities. In New Jersey, one couple even legally named their children Adolf Hitler and JoyceLynn Aryan Nation, although they were later taken into the care of social services.
The UK is even more liberal - with no laws in place about what you can or cannot name your child. It seems British parents are not afraid of embracing strange baby names. Whilst the Office for National Statistics only releases the top 100 names each year for each gender, a poll by parenting network Baby Centre has revealed that Kiwi, Haiku, Rhino and Anakin - the real first name of Darth Vader - are just some examples of the more unusual names given to newborns in the UK in 2016, with each being chosen by at least one family.
So what happens when you take it to the other end of the spectrum and impose restrictions on baby-naming? I heard someone say that Denmark is the country that gets everything right and in many ways, it’s true. The Scandinavian home hygge is a place where eating cake is actively encouraged and where work-life balance is prioritised. The Danish consistently come out on top of world happiness studies, with citizens reporting lower stress levels than other countries.
But when it comes to naming their children, the Danes have some of the strictest laws in the world, with new parents only allowed to select their children’s monikers from a list of 7,000 choices. This database is regularly updated, but if you do want to name your child something outside of it, you’ll need to apply for permission from local authorities. In the past, "Pluto" and "Anus" have both been rejected. Iceland has an even smaller list of approved names than Denmark, with just 1,800 names available for each gender.
On the list or not, the names Danish parents bestow upon their children cannot be the same as a well-known brand, cartoon or similar character, must not be a surname and must follow the traditional Danish spelling. One of the most standout features however, is the fact that the first name must indicate the child's gender, a rule also present in Germany, which too maintains comparatively strict naming laws. In Denmark, for example, you literally cannot call a female child Storm because it is seen as a male name, despite it being associated with girls in other countries.
Yet, it could be argued that this gender-specific requirement is increasingly out of touch with the “post-gender” attitudes that are now gaining prevalence across Western culture. Canada has just introduced a gender-neutral passport category, British retailer John Lewis recently announced that they are doing away with gender distinctions on children’s clothing and in the US there has been a sharp rise in the number of “post-gender” names such as Hayden and Charlie, with parents keen to provide their child with the option of fluidity later in life. Despite making special allowances for people that identify as transsexual, this requirement also seems out of sync with Denmark's own attitude to gender; in 2016, it became the first country in the world to declassify “being transgender” as a mental health issue, ahead even of the World Health Organisation.
But even without restrictions like Denmark’s, how far is too far when it comes to strange baby names? As a Tegan, I've spent a lifetime excluded from named hairbands and personalised key rings (get your tiny violins out, please), but it could have been much worse. In April 2017, Russia passed laws preventing parents from using obscenities, abbreviations or numerals in their names, citing an example of a child who was named BOChrVF260602, which literally translates as “biological object of human species”, followed the first letters of the surnames of the parents and the child’s date of birth. The child in question, now a teenager, still has no official documents because the Russian state refuses to acknowledge his name. Whilst the Russian government isn’t exactly known for being laissez-faire at the best of times, it’s hard not to feel sorry for that kid on the first day of school - or for that matter, for the Starbucks barista taking his coffee order.
Whatever your opinion as to the involvement the state should have in the baby naming process, it’s hard to deny that choosing your child’s name remains a huge responsibility, given the impact that a name can have on an individual’s sense of self-hood and on other people’s perception of them. A 2016 study by the Australian National University revealed that people with unusual names are less likely to be successful in job interviews, and few of us could truthfully admit we've not made a snap judgement of someone will be like, based only on their name. For now, though, the subject of strange baby names is one that will undoubtedly continue to entertain and teachers all across the world will, I am sure, continue to laugh at their students’ misfortune come the start of the new academic year. Just please, no more baby Hitlers.