Illegal Baby Names Banned Around the World
Are illegal baby names really a thing? And how crazy does a name need to be to get banned, spark a legal battle, or find itself relegated to the list of forbidden baby names?
Not very, depending on where you live, though many of the illegal names on this roster would be judged totally outrageous anywhere in the world. Sometimes, a name is so extreme — or local baby name laws are — that the courts have to step in. Here are 15 real-life baby names that sparked actual legal battles in the last decade.
Illegal Baby Names
X Æ A-12 — Arguably the most controversial celebrity baby name of all time, SpaceX founder Elon Musk and his partner, singer Grimes, welcomed their son called X Æ A-12 in May of this year. But California prohibits birth certificates with non-English characters, meaning Æ (which we all learned is pronounced “ash”) and A-12 are off limits. Grimes and Musk eventually settled on X AE A-XII for their son’s birth certificate.
Venerdi (Friday) — In September 2006, Mara and Roberto Germano of Genoa, Italy had a baby boy and named him Venerdi, Italian for “Friday,” after the character Friday in Robinson Crusoe. But in December 2007, a judge at a Court of Appeals ruled that they could not use the name because it was associated with “subservience and inferiority.” He ordered the child’s name changed to Gregorio.
Adolf Hitler — The four children of a self-described “Nazi” father in New Jersey — named Adolf Hitler, Joycelynn Aryan Nation, Honszlynn Hinler — were taken into state custody in 2009. Though the state said that their names were not the reason, the parents didn’t believe them. And indeed, the authorities got involved only after a bakery refused to decorate a cake with the words “Happy Birthday Adolf Hitler.”
Blaer — Iceland, like several other Northern European countries, has strict rules about the names that can and cannot be given to children. There’s an official list of permitted names in the country, with just under 2000 girls names on it — but Blaer, meaning “light breeze,” was not one of them. So the authorities said that a girl with that name would have to change it. She and her family fought them in the courts for over a decade and finally won the right to use the name in 2013.
Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii — One of the most famous illegal names, Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii was the extremely long name a New Zealand man chose for his daughter back in 1999. But the child was so unhappy with it that it caught the attention of the courts — and in February 2008, a judge ordered that she be taken from her parents’ custody so her name could be changed. The new name was not disclosed.
Messiah — A legal firestorm erupted in 2013 when a Tennessee judge ordered Jalessa Martin and Jawaan McCullough to change the name of their son from Messiah to Martin. The rationale of the ruling was that Messiah is a name that should be reserved only for Jesus Christ. Within a few months, the judge was fired, and her ruling was overturned.
Prince William — In the U.S., aristocratic and royal titles like Duke and King are hot baby names. But in France, they can lead to legal trouble. In 2015, a French couple was told they could not name their son Prince William — or their second choice, Minnie Cooper — because such names invite a “lifetime of mockery.”
Cyanide — A woman in Powys, Wales, thought she was giving her baby daughter a “lovely, pretty name” when she picked Cyanide; she said it had positive connotations because it was the poison that killed Hitler. But a UK court disagreed; even though the country is far less strict than many of its Continental neighbors when it comes to baby names, a judge thought Cyanide crossed the line. So, too, did the name of her twin brother Preacher. The twins’ older siblings were told to pick new names for the infants.
Nutella — In yet another case in the French courts, a couple in northern France was told that their pick for their daughter’s name, Nutella, was forbidden. The judge ordered the girl’s name changed to Ella, so at least there was some commonality with the wacky parents’ intentions.
Lobo (Wolf) — Wolf is one of the trendiest of all animal names for babies in the States, but it’s risky in Spain. When parents from a suburb of Madrid picked Lobo, Spanish for “wolf,” the authorities initially refused to register it as the child’s name. But the parents started a petition asking the authorities to allow it — and 25,000 signatures later, they did just that.
Allah — In March of this year, Elizabeth Handy and Bilal Walk of Georgia sued their home state after officials refused to let them name their daughter ZalyKha Graceful Lorraina Allah. The issue was Allah, the 2-year-old girl’s last name. Georgia law requires that children bear the last name of at least one of their parents. The parents quickly won the case, with the help of lawyers from the ACLU.
J — President Harry Truman famously had a middle “name” just one letter long: S. It didn’t stand for anything! But when a couple in Switzerland tried to do the same this year, and give their daughter the middle name J, the local registrar said nein. They appealed the decision to the court, but the judge found that it was not an acceptable name, not even as one of three middle names.
Lego — When a pair of Swedish parents named their son Lego — as in the toys — the courts initially told them that the name ran afoul of Swedish naming laws, just like earlier controversial names such as Ikea and Elvis. In December 2008, however, an appeals court overturned the lower court’s ruling and allowed the boy to be named Lego after all. Lucky him?
Marseille — In yet another case of an illegal third middle name, a court ruled that a baby in France could not have Marseille, the name of a city on the Mediterranean, in that position.
Jihad — At least three sets of French parents have gone to court over choosing the name Jihad for their sons. It’s an Arabic name referring to the struggle against evil but has been co-opted by terrorist groups, and thus French authorities said they didn’t think the name was appropriate. The courts of Dijon offered the name Jahid instead.
Lucifer — About 10 baby boys in America are named Lucifer every year, but the name — often associated with the devil — is apparently verboten in Germany. In October, a couple in the town of Kassel tried to call their son Lucifer, but a local clerk declined to certify the name. When it looked like a court was going to side with the clerk, the couple agreed to change the boy’s name to Lucian.
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on November 24th, 2017 at 12:20 am
I see nothing wrong with Blaer or Wolf. Both are lovely!
on January 5th, 2018 at 3:04 am
There is nothing wrong with Wolf or Friday.
on January 5th, 2018 at 4:11 am
The issue with Blaer if I remember rightly, is that in Iceland its a boys name, and they don’t allow boys names on girls, or vice versa. The appeal was on the basis of Blaer having been used historically by a woman, I think.
on January 5th, 2018 at 7:26 am
That sounds like naming rules got it wrong, ouch!
on January 5th, 2018 at 9:37 am
Some of these names are perfectly fine, but others really make you wonder.
on January 5th, 2018 at 10:43 am
It’s my opinion that the government shouldn’t set such strict naming laws. Do I think parents SHOULD name their child Lucifer or Cyanide? Absolutely not. But it isn’t really any of the court’s business. At that point, it is imposing its own opinions on someone’s family. (The nazi family seems like an exception… sounds like there was a lot of messed-up stuff going on there that went way beyond names!)
That said, Blaer, Wolf, and Friday seem like perfectly normal names to me! (The rest of the names make me cringe, with the exception of J and possibly Marseille.) Funny how different naming trends are around the world!
on January 5th, 2018 at 1:53 pm
I thought Tallula changed her name to ‘Kay’ but I’m not sure where I heard that.
All fair enough things I suppose, the ones that succeeded in their appeals, it makes sense. Though I’m not sure what was wrong with Preacher (even if Cyanide was bad) and I can’t quite work out Friday would be associated with “subservience and inferiority”?
on January 5th, 2018 at 2:28 pm
The character Friday in Robinson Crusoe was a captive slave who escaped only to become a servant to the title character, so that explains the “subservience and inferiority” connotation. The parents specifically meant to name the child after that character; otherwise that association probably wouldn’t have come to mind (for me anyway, maybe it’s different in Italy).
on January 5th, 2018 at 9:38 pm
IslandMoon is right, Blaer (traditionally spelled Blær with an Æ(æ)) wasn’t allowed for girls because it was a boy’s name. It’s now allowed for both genders and a few more name have been approved as unisex. The girl actually had no legal name and therefore was called “Girl” (Stulka in Icelandic) on legal documents until she was 15!
on January 6th, 2018 at 7:23 pm
I’m surprised at how much I’m siding with the French gov’t on this one. It should totally be illegal to name your kid something that will be so likely to cause emotional turmoil in the child! And I kind of wish Iceland had held firm, although Blaer isn’t too awful and could be officially re-categorized as unisex
on January 7th, 2018 at 12:21 am
Wow, the majority of these rulings are just silly! Marseille? That’s pretty.
on January 7th, 2018 at 1:55 pm
I wish the USA had laws about names. It’s getting ridiculous what people are naming thier children.
on January 9th, 2018 at 7:46 pm
Jihad is a normal Arabic name, and it means “struggle” in any sense, such as struggle against one’s sins or for justice. The name could make the kid’s life difficult, but it shouldn’t be forbidden by the government.
on January 10th, 2018 at 9:25 am
Why does the picture say “Wolf” when the forbidden name was Lobo? That’s misleading.
on July 8th, 2020 at 3:20 am
I can almost tell from the comments who’s American and who isn’t. These naming laws exist to protect children and yes that limits parents choice in what names they can pick. Seems perfectly reasonable to me. Place names might be acceptable names in the USA, I doubt that’s the case in France or most of Europe (unless it’s India). Americans tend the very vested in the idea they should be able to do whatever they want regardless of the cost.
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