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I shall name him Superman: An international comparison of baby naming law reform by Alex May

Late last year we worked with the University of Winchester’s brightest law students to submit articles for our blog. This was a chance for them to be published online and boost their online profiles. We received some strong submissions but, in the end, we narrowed the field down and this article, written by Alex May is the winning entry.

Naming a baby

What should we call our baby? The first question for every new set of parents when they discover the amazing news of being pregnant. However, many parents will not know the laws involved in naming their new baby. In most circumstances, the chosen name would not endure any legal consequences.

What is the law in England & Wales?

So, what is the law on baby names in the UK? The short answer… there is not any.

Superman… Gandhi… Arsenal… Bear… they have all been accepted as baby names in Britain.

Registrations of births in England and Wales are made under the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953 and the Registration of Births and Deaths Regulations 1987, however, the legislation does not set out any guidance on what parents may name their child.

So, how do our relaxed and non-existent naming regulations compare against other countries on an international stage? In Britain, third parties can only become involved in the baby naming process in extreme cases, as long as a name is not offensive and fits in the box on the form it will be accepted. How can this be right when that name becomes a child’s label until they are of a riper age to make a change?

In the age of social media, bullying is now not only practice within schools, but cyber-bullying occurs far too often leaving children isolated and alone, it should then be questioned as to why Britain has little regulation on something that could define a child’s early life from the day they are born.

It must then be said that the judgement of Lady Justice King in Re C (Children) (Child in Care: Choice of Forename) should become an efficient and well use practice to regulate this area. She looked in relation to the child’s sense of identity and self-worth and to her day-to-day life as a child. The name, in this case, would potentially expose the child to treatment which goes far beyond acceptable teasing and therefore she ruled against it.

This judgement demonstrates exactly where the law should develop to, there should be more weight put on the child’s welfare over paternal rights, it should be the child’s future that should decide the acceptance of a name, not the parents right to call their child anything they want.

The law internationally

When compared with the international stage, Britain’s naming laws demonstrate a need for reform. In New Zealand the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act of 1995 s.18 states that it is undesirable in the public interest for a person to bear a name or combination of names if it might cause offence to a reasonable person or it is unreasonably long; or it is without adequate justification.

In contrast, Sweden’s Naming Act 1982 s.34 a first name may not be accepted as being liable to offend or likely to cause discomfort to the person who is to bear it or name which, for some other reason, is obviously not suitable as a first name.

France, the most child friendly naming laws, states in their Civil Code of Persons Chapter 2, Section 1, Article 57 Where first names or one of them, alone or combined appears to be contrary to the welfare of the child the officer of civil status shall give notice thereof to the government procurator without delay [or…] refer the matter to the family causes judge. Where the judge considers that the first name is not consonant with the welfare of the child… he shall order its removal from the registers of civil status.

The need for reform

Subsequently, when looking at Britain on a global scale our stance on baby naming laws is weak and should be reformed. New Zealand is the closest to Britain in terms of its requirements, the welfare of the child is not mentioned at all, but they still have legislation. Sweden and France have the most child-friendly laws and Britain should follow suit, or at the very minimum pass legislation clarifying our exact stance on baby names.

A baby name is one of the most important things in the start of a child’s life as it will be their name for at least 16 years until they can choose to change it by deed poll, but during those first years a child will enter education and be exposed to playground teasing, and an obscure and unique name could lead a child to receive teasing far beyond what is acceptable.

Quintessentially, if something as simple as a stronger emphasis on the welfare of the child eradicates the celebrity-led culture of ‘I want my baby to be different and have a unique name’ then reform should occur. As a unique name may be welcomed by the parents, but in terms of the welfare of the child, some names could have a massive impact on their baby’s future.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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