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Naming Laws in Australia

By 7 August 2013Youth Law

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Child Naming Laws in Australia (In Light of the birth of Prince George)

When the royal couple Duke William and Duchess Catherine of Cambridge were expecting their baby, the people all over the world were just as excited as the royal family. Everybody wanted to know whether the baby would be a boy or girl, when it was to be born, and what the baby’s name would be.

When the baby’s name was finally announced, it turned out to be a combination of three names just like his father, Prince William Arthur Philip. The baby, born on 22 July 2013, is the third-in-line to the throne.  He was named “His Royal Highness Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge” or simply Prince George. The name carries the emblem of royalty which is reserved only for the British Royal Family.

But, What is in a Name?

Normally, the parents singly or jointly provide for the baby’s name and see to it that it is registered. Obviously, babies have no means to say  when parents choose their names. Therefore, parents must be responsible and give their babies a good name that they can be proud of when they grow up. Parents must realise the importance of baby names and the impact it can have on a child throughout their life.

The problem lies mostly with the choice of first names, where parents choose fanciful names for their babies like Lucifer, Majesty, 4Real, Christ, H-Q, and many others without realizing the impact it will have on the child in later years. Justice Robert Murfitt of New Zealand explained it well when he said, “an unusual name makes a fool of the child and sets (them) up with a social disability and handicap.”

This problem was also addressed by New South Wales Attorney General John Hatzistergos, who urged parents to use common sense in choosing a name for a child. He reminds parents that a child’s name is their identity, and that “A person’s reputation will forever be linked to it and I would remind parents of this special significance when choosing a name for their child.” In one of his media releases, he further said, Naming a child is a special event for parents and the name they choose will be with them for life. Naming and registering your child’s birth also legally establishes your child’s identity, helps in providing access to health and social services, and lays the foundation for future needs such as drivers licences and passports.

Australia’s Child Naming Regulations

In Australia, the rules in relation to names are set out in the Births, Deaths and Marriage Registration Act. The law gives authority to the Birth Registrars to refuse to register baby names that are obscene, offensive or that sound ridiculous, and to assign a name to the child if no agreement can be reached.

Like a lot of countries, Australia has adopted the three name concept of registering names, which consists of a first or given name, a middle name and a surname. The surname, by law has to take the surname of the parents, while the given name and middle name are at the parents discretion. Some parents adopt the maiden name of the mother to be the child’s middle name. Interestingly, this convention is not practiced in China and Japan, which require the use of a given name and a surname only.

Restrictions on Baby Names

To protect children against careless and harmful names, the government had set out rules in registering baby names in Australia. The rules state that a child’s name must:

  • not be obscene or offensive or contrary to public interest;
    (no racial slurs or infringements on the rights of another;
  • be short and easy to write (In NSW, under 50 characters);
  • not include symbols without phonetic significance such as N@talie, Da!sy, J#ke) or use numerals;
  • not include or resemble an official title or military rank recognised in Australia such as King, Lady, Father, Prince, Sir or Admiral.  This was after a law was passed sometime in 1995 prohibiting the use of titles as part of the baby’s given name.
  • use English letters only;
  • not be similar to a recognised body, organisation or trademark; and
  • In Queensland, the name can’t include a statement, like Save Mother Earth or Down with Capitalism.

Registration of birth within 60 days from the child’s birth date. Normally, the hospital will provide you with the Birth Registration Statement (BRS). Parents must complete the form and submit to the State Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages and apply for a birth certificate.

The use of mother’s surname. A child born to unmarried parents will be registered using the mother’s surname, unless both parents agree to use the father’s surname.

The use of hyphenated names.  A hyphenated surname contains both the surname of the mother and father (e.g. Michelle Brown-Fox). The naming combination is becoming quite common, however it can be impractical when the family names are long.

Changing name. A child’s name may be changed through filing an Application for Change of Name before the Family Court.  Complications can arise if one party disagrees and lodges their disagreement with the court. In such an instance, the court will consider changing the name of the child only if it will be in the  childs best interest.  In some Australian jurisdictions, the changing of names is only allowed twice.

Why Some Baby Names Are Considered Illegal

According to one child psychologist, Andrew Greenfield of Australia, a name can affect a you from childhood right through to adulthood. An undesirable name can even sometimes lead to depression. “One in five parents live to regret the name they gave their kids,” Greenfield said.

Just recently, The New Zealand Government has released a list of 77 names parents can no longer give to their children.  The list was released after the court ordered that Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii’ have her named changed. The names barred include Number 16 bus shelter, and Midnight Chardonnay’.  Laws were also passed prohibiting the use of royal monikers since 2001 like the “King” and “Princess” and the use of numeric characters, such as “III” and “89.”

Some countries strictly monitor child naming conventions, for example:

  • Sweden has rejected the registration of “Superman,” “Metallica,” and “Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116 (pronounced Albin).” First names should not be offensive or cause discomfort to the person using it;
  • In Germany, the first name must be descriptive of the child’s gender. The name chosen must not negatively affect the well being of the child. They also prohibit the use of last names or the names of objects or products as first names.  Moreover, registration of names is not free;
  • Denmark, their naming laws are very strict and protect children from having odd names. Parents can only choose from a list of 7,000 pre-approved names (for girls and boys). If parents want a new name not included in the list, they must get a special permission from the local church and have it reviewed by governmental officials.
  • Iceland also provides a National Register of Persons where parents apply and pay a fee for the registration of a child’s name. The name must not be embarrassing for the child in the future and must be aligned with Icelandic traditions.
  • The Dominican Republic has banned the use of names derived from cars or fruits.
  • China requires names to be readable by computer scanners and available on national identification cards. The government now encourages the use of simplified characters over traditional Chinese characters.