Danish names

By Laurel Sutton

October 13, 2004

“…At its heart, the Law on Personal Names is designed to protect Denmark’s innocents – the children who are undeservedly, some would say cruelly, burdened by preposterous or silly names. It is the state’s view that children should not suffer ridicule and abuse because of their parents’ lapses in judgment or their misguided attempts to be hip. Denmark, like much of Scandinavia, prizes sameness, not uniqueness, just as it values usefulness, not frivolousness…

…People expecting children can choose a pre-approved name from a government list of 7,000 mostly Western European and English names – 3,000 for boys, 4,000 for girls. A few ethnic names, like Ali and Hassan, have recently been added. But those wishing to deviate from the official list must seek permission at their local parish church, where all newborns’ names are registered. A request for an unapproved name triggers a review at Copenhagen University’s Names Investigation Department and at the Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs, which has the ultimate authority. The law only applies if one of the parents is Danish…

…In some cases, Mr. Nielsen says, he believes he is performing a vital public service. He advised the Ministry that Anus and Pluto be rejected, for example. He also vetoed Monkey. “That’s not a personal name, ” Mr. Nielsen explained. “It’s an animal. I have to protect the children from ridicule.”

Leica, however, has been approved, as has Benji, Jiminico and Fee.

“People’s names have become part of their identities now,” Mr. Nielsen [assistant professor for the Department of Name Research at Copenhagen University] said. “And people change their names the way you change your clothes or your apartment. It has become more common.” “Jens and Vita, but Molli? Danes Favor Common Names, by Lizette Alvarez, Oct. 10, 2004 in the Copenhagen Journal (here via the NY Times; login: catchword7, pwd: catchword)

Hooray from protecting children from ridicule! But can you imagine trying to do this in the US? People would be rioting in the streets. There would be a Naming Rights lobby group, and people would have bumper stickers saying things like “When names are outlawed, only outlaws will have names”.

As someone who has a slightly unusual name, I say: please don’t name your kids something trendy. They will suffer their entire lives for it. I love my name, but if I had a nickel for every time someone got it wrong…I can only imagine what life is like for all the thousands of McKennas, MyKennas, MacHennas, etc. out there.

On the other hand, I’d love to work at the Department of Name Research. That would be cool.

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