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Author Topic: The French State limits what you can name your children
Pete at Home
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OK -- I told you guys this, because of what happened to my family with my sister (not letting us name her "Lara," without a u), and you thought I was pulling your leg. Here's a source, a legal journal:

James Q. Whitman, The Two Western Cultures of Privacy: Dignity Versus Liberty.

113 Yale L.J. 1151, 1217.

quote:
Continental governments reserve to themselves the right to refuse to register certain given names that parents have chosen for their infants. This is done differently in different countries. In Germany, the local registry office, the Standesamt, maintains a list of permissible names. After reforms in 1993, the state has more limited powers in France. Today, local French officials can issue a complaint if parents choose a name that those officials deem to be not in the best interests of the newborn child. A court will then be seized of the matter, and will decide if the name is an acceptable one. If it rejects the parents' choice, the court itself is to choose a name for the infant in question, if necessary.

These are practices that seem strange indeed to Americans - how can a judge name your baby? - but they are widely defended by Europeans. Most commonly, Europeans say that the state simply must intervene to protect children against the stupidities of their parents. Indeed, to judge from my own conversations, the popular mind is vividly conscious of the problem of parental stupidity. It is a problem that is exemplified in particular, for ordinary Europeans, by the case of a French child named by her parents "Megane Renaud." "Megane" is the French version of the American name "Megan," one of a number of American names that became popular in France in the 1980s and 1990s. "Megane" is however also the name of a popular car model marketed by the French manufacturer Renault (pronounced in the same way as "Renaud"). Thus two bits of French popular culture came together in an unfortunate way when parents with the surname "Renaud" chose to call their newborn daughter "Megane." Local officials made a highly publicized (though ultimately unsuccessful) intervention, apparently believing that it was too much to saddle a child with a name something like the equivalent of "Camry Toyota." There are other recent cases, too, in which parents have been prevented from giving their children names that are "ridiculous, pejorative, or in bad taste." One Belgian woman, for example, was recently forbidden to name her newborn "Anakin," after the character in the Star Wars movie series. Despite her threat to go on a hunger strike, officials decreed that her child was to be called "Dorian." There is even European human rights law on the issue. The case in question involved a French couple that chose to name their child "Fleur de Marie" ("Mary's Flower"), a name rejected by local officials on the ground that it was not a proper saint's name. That decision was litigated all the way to the European Court of Human Rights, which held, in 1996, with a Canadian judge dissenting, that the law of names did not represent a cognizable violation of the right of privacy.

All very strange to Americans. To be sure, the law of names has been loosening up, both in France and Germany. French law has eased up noticeably since the early 1990s. In the last few years, cases have been few in France - though the standard commentary to the Civil Code speculates that this may be because prelitigation interventions by officials are sufficient to discourage unacceptable names. 329 As for Germany: There, the most important challenges to the law of names came from the many resident non-Germans wishing to give their children ethnic names. The German government responded essentially by extending its list to include acceptable names for all recognized ethnic groups. These days, Germans can theoretically pick any name that comes from some culture, as long as it appears in the official "International Handbook of Given Names," is "according to its essence a given name" (family names cannot be used as first names), and conforms to the sex of the child. This is certainly looser than the regulation of the past - though in my experience, few Germans realize how much latitude they have. At any rate, the European law of names is certainly not normally applied in a doctrinaire or draconian way. It is a complex body of law, in a state of some flux, which deserves a longer treatment than I can give it here.

Nevertheless, however complex it may be, its very existence is simply weird to Americans. Indeed, if you tried to introduce a law of names into a state like Texas, you might face an armed rebellion. But does that mean that it is wrong or evil, by some universal standard, to have such a law of names? Europeans can see benefits in it - just as Americans can see benefits in extensive credit reporting. But the issue, here as in credit reporting, is not whether there are or are not identifiable benefits. The issue is whether a given privacy violation seems to fly in the face of fundamentally important social values. For Americans, the answer is very likely to be that the continental law of names does exactly that - flies in the face of important values of liberty. They may note that African Americans in particular, a historically oppressed population, express their independence partly through inventing unusual names for their children. 332 But in any case, here as elsewhere, Americans will see an unacceptable violation of privacy where the state introduces itself into any "private" decision. Indeed, if drawn to defend themselves philosophically, Americans may use exactly the same imposing language of "personhood" that Europeans use in defending their conceptions of privacy. Is not the name fundamental to the making of the person?


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Haggis
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Wow. It's a good thing Ford Prefect decided to hitchhike to England rather than France.
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Delirium Tremens
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quote:
One Belgian woman, for example, was recently forbidden to name her newborn "Anakin," after the character in the Star Wars movie series.
Pete, do you have any sources to this case? I didn't hear of it here in the local press.

In Belgium, the law that a name cannot be ridicoulous or pejorative is still valid and it is the local town who decides if a name is authorized or not. They used to work with a list of authorized names, but this list was abandoned from the early 90's. But, yes, the law is still there and a name like "Bastard" will surely be unauthorized. However, I can hardly imagine the case of "Anakin" (maybe the town official was a Star-Wars fan and knew what's going to happen in Episode III).

If a name is not authorized, the town official will propose another name, but of course it is up to the parents to accept this proposal or not.

Don't know the laws in France and Germany, so I won't comment on that.

quote:
For Americans, the answer is very likely to be that the continental law of names does exactly that - flies in the face of important values of liberty.
Hmm. It's the parent that gives the name, but the child has to live with it. In the case of abortion, we agree that an unborn child has certain rights. Has a newborn child the right to live with a name that is not ridicoulous or pejorative? (Again, the example here is "Bastard")

I'm thinking of starting a thread on what really liberty/freedom means, because I'm starting to think that your own freedom almost always comes at the expense of somebody else's freedom (except maybe the freedom of opinion).

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vulture
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I think it's a crazy law, although to be fair, there are no doubt quite a lot of people who wish their parents hadn't been allowed to chose the name they did ("Heavenly Hirani Tiger Lily Hutchens" (or is it Yates) for example, or even England rugby player Austin Healey (note for those who don't know, the Austin Healey is a classic sports car, as well as a rugby player).

While there should be freedom to chose kids names, there is also a certain responsibility (something that gets talked about less often than rights, in my experience) to chose a name that isn't going to get the kid beaten up every day at school for the next 12 years.

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Delirium Tremens
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Pete,

The "Anakin" story is probably not true.

Sources:
Announcement of a Belgian Anakin

On the website of "Kind en gezin" (offical Flemish institution to support the health of children), you can do queries on frequency of names ( here - in Dutch). It turns out there were 10 Anakins in Flanders in the the period 1996 - 2004.

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Gaoics79
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We had a similar instance in Quebec where the government stopped someone from naming their child "Ivory". I believe Shania (as in the singer Shania Twaine) was also put on the black list. It seems like a stupid law, except in extreme circumstances. Any parent that names their child "Gaylord" or "Gretchen" or "Helga", for example, should be sacked.
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Harmony
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Hi all (the frenchy's back again [Cool] )

Here in France,you are completely free to choose your child's name.
However, if the first name is likely to damage the child'interest (ridiculous first name), the officer of registry office(family affairs) can warn the public prosecutor.
The public prosecutor may refer to the judge specialized in the family cases, who may decide that a change would be the best solution. The parents will have to find another name.
That makes sense, doesn't it ?
Harmony

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nemes_ie
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I seem to remember hearing about a case in South America, i think Argentina, where parents were not allowed to call their child Saddam Hussein Fernandez or something similar (it may have been whoever was the hate figure at the time; it was some time ago ).

There's also a story, possibly apocryphal, about a british person who was named something along the lines of Frederick Ulick Calvin-Klein, or something equally improbable; his parents didn't notice the initials until tagging garments for sports or associated school purposes (ouch!)

Personally, my given name caused me some hassle growing up; due to innocence on my mother's part, I was named George, which is considered to be a quintessential English name here in Ireland. As I grew up in a border town in the 70's and 80's, when there was a large amount of anti-british feeling, I was subjected to some bullying and harrasment at school. The fact that my father had lived for most of his childhood in the UK didn't improve this, either.

Basically, so, I have some sympathy with the law; I don't really like the idea of courts telling parents what to do, but I think that it's very hard to draw the line as to where state jurisdiction stops and family jurisdiction starts. May be the town council/local council/whatever could advise parents, without being too intrusive/big-brothery?

EDITED to fix dodgy UBB tag;used <> instead of []

[ December 07, 2004, 07:49 PM: Message edited by: nemes_ie ]

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The Drake
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I don't think there would be a problem with the nurse or clerk taking the registration to ask if the mother was _really_ sure she wanted that name. That would eliminate cases where the parent stumbles into a mistake. But I imagine that already happens in egregious cases. It needn't become a statute, extra paperwork, and a cushy government post:

Chief Inspector of Infant and Adoptive Naming

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Adam Lassek
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quote:
Hmm. It's the parent that gives the name, but the child has to live with it. In the case of abortion, we agree that an unborn child has certain rights. Has a newborn child the right to live with a name that is not ridicoulous or pejorative? (Again, the example here is "Bastard")
Children are the property of their parents until they come of age. If you don't like your name, legally change it when you turn eighteen.
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Everard
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"Children are the property of their parents until they come of age."

So if I kill my child, its not a problem, since I'm only destroying my own property?

Alternatively, if you don't like that example, it would be acceptable for a parent to sell his child into slavery?

In fact, whats the difference between your statement, and a statement that a child is the slave of his parents until 18?

You might want to rephrase.

[ December 07, 2004, 11:00 PM: Message edited by: Everard ]

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Adam Lassek
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Children have limited rights, such as the right to life--but for all intents and purposes, they are treated as property.
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Everard
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I would strongly disagree with that statement. The law provides for a significant number of rights, and parents do not have anything like unlimited rights over their children.
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Adam Lassek
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I was wrong. Children are the property of the State.

An explanation of how this came about

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Snowden
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Lessek gets a point for admitting he was wrong, and a bonus for providing an explanation.

[ December 07, 2004, 11:48 PM: Message edited by: Snowden ]

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Pete at Home
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In France, in the 1970s, we had to go to court to get permission to name my sister "Lara" instead of "Laura." Back then, had to go to court to get any name that wasn't a Catholic saint.

What I gave you was not a case, but part of a law review article. Unfortunately I forgot to post the date. Could be things have changed since the first Anakin case.

Incidentally, Yale is the most competitive and respected law school in the country (even beats Harvard now.) These articles go through a lot of checking before they are published at any school, and I cant imagine Yale is especially sloppy.

It wasn't a euro-bashing article -- he also talks about the horror that Europeans have for the way Americans disclose salaries and have open credit reports, etc.

Personally, I'd trust parents to not name their kids "bastard", before I trust the government not to. Did you hear that story ? The state gave the kid the name "Dorian."

I'll check the article again when I get back to school.

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Delirium Tremens
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"In France, in the 1970s, we had to go to court to get permission to name my sister "Lara" instead of "Laura." Back then, had to go to court to get any name that wasn't a Catholic saint."

I know of similar cases at that time - even in my own family. Luckily, things changed since 30 years.

"Unfortunately I forgot to post the date. Could be things have changed since the first Anakin case."

Strange...According to google, the article is from April 2004. The article mentions 'a recent case' and "kind en gezin" (child & family, btw) reports the 1st Anakin in December 1996 (their stats don't go before 1996), which is already 8 years ago....


"Incidentally, Yale is the most competitive and respected law school in the country (even beats Harvard now.) These articles go through a lot of checking before they are published at any school, and I cant imagine Yale is especially sloppy."

I know that. Still, in this specific case (Anakin -> Dorian) I think the author made a mistake: it was either not in Belgium, or it was not recent.

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RickyB
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Any clerk that tried to tell me what to name my son would soon be adorned with a boot-shaped hole in the head.
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Everard
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" Under compulsory-attendance laws, the state requires parents to deliver their children to a state institution to receive a state-approved education from a state-approved schoolteacher using state-approved textbooks and following a state-approved curriculum."

Unfortunately, unless you live in texas or california, the only part of this that is correct is the state approved schoolteacher.

Education is required, but it doesn't have to be a state institution. Private schools and home schooling are common. Explicit Curriculums are designed at the local level, with input from both federal and state offices, textbooks are purchased at the local level, often by the approval of the teacher and not some government body, and teachers have a huge degree of flexibility in what actually gets taught in a classroom.

Of course, arguing that because children receive a state education they are property of the state, is ludicrous. I mean, I suppose you could argue that we're ALL property of the state because we have legal obligations to do (or not do, really) certain things. But this doesn't give the state the right to sell us into slavery, or use us for forced labor, or kill us. The state can't deprive us of our life or liberty without due process... and since property can be moved around without its consent, and people can't, I think the argument is still ridiculous.

I understand what you're trying to say, Adam, but property is the wrong word.

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