As new parents become more and more creative with naming their infants, some relying on familiar names while others inventing ones they like and still others borrowing famous ones, I wonder, should there be some guidelines on what is acceptable? If so, how do we reconcile freedom of choice with the specter of Big Brother?
What is to prevent a parent from naming his son Adolf Hitler Jones or Lee Harvey Oswald Smith? Is it fair to the child to be saddled with such a name? Or wacky names like Spaghetti, States Rights, and Kyrie (seen recently in the media)?
The French, always careful to preserve their heritage in language and culture, have long legislated such things, to the horror of many Americans. Apparently, the practice goes back to the French Revolution, when children where given political names (Rights of Man, etc.), leading Napoleon in 1803 to declare that French babies could only be named after the saints; this was later amended to included classical and historical names (Hercule, Diana, etc.). This remained in effect until 1966, when the laws were relaxed a bit.
But, as Lauren Collins reports in the current New Yorker, a government registrar in France today is required to accept any name (mon Dieu!) EXCEPT one that might not been in the child's best interest, in which case the naming is referring to a magistrate from the Department of Justice. Recent rulings include such statements: Fanciful, ridiculous names are likely to create difficulties and embarrassments for the child. So the government has suppressed such names as Happy, Nutella, and Prince-William, which must be replaced by names like Roger or Raymond.
Many here, in the land of individualism, where the "nanny state" is loathed, are likely to storm the equivalent of the Bastille and file suit, demanding their rights to use whatever name they conjure up from films, books, or their own imaginations for any new baby.
I do pity the child sometimes, who must, at age 21 or so, go through the legal process of changing Reality Game Johnson or Barefoot Soles to something more mainstream. But, if everyone had a Tom, Dick, or Jane kind of name, how bland the world would be. So I'm all for freedom while still admiring the standards maintained by the French, even if they seem like a relic of another age.