Congratulations, you’re having a baby! One of the joys of having children is naming them, but with great power comes great responsibility. Despite the prevalence of celebrity offspring with names like Apple, Inspektor, and Kal-El, there are actually limits to what you can legally name a child.
Here in the U.S., the right to choose your child’s name is protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. But controversies still exist. In 2013, Tennessee Judge Lu Ann Ballew ruled that a baby boy named Messiah must change his name to Martin, stating, “it’s a title that has only been earned by one person…Jesus Christ.” But a month later, the decision was overturned in chancery court and Ballew was fired. A disciplinary hearing was scheduled on the basis that the name change order violated Tennessee’s Code of Judicial Conduct: no laws exist banning the use of religious names, and judges are required to perform their duties without regard to religious bias.
However, that’s not to say that when it comes to names, anything goes. Most states do have a few practical restrictions when you’re naming your child.
Length of the name
In Massachusetts, first names must be 40 characters or less. Several other states also limit the number of characters, usually due to the limitations of the software used for official record keeping.
In California, a name cannot contain special characters like umlauts, diacritical marks, or pictograms, but apostrophes and dashes are allowed. So you while couldn’t name your child José or Lucîa, De’wayne or Jo-Ann would be fine. Massachusetts and Kansas have similar restrictions. Texas limits the use of Arabic characters, but does allow Roman numerals.
No effing way!
It should be common sense, but in some states, you cannot use profanity as a child’s name. For example, New Jersey statutory law permits the State Registrar to reject any chosen names or surnames that contain an obscenity.
Last word on the last name
In many states, a child’s last name must be somehow connected to the parents’. Some states are more restrictive than others—for example, Tennessee and Louisiana require the baby to carry the father’s last name in every circumstance. Other states (Kentucky, Delaware, Maryland, Montana, Washington, and South Carolina) have no restrictions on the choice of the last name.
A girl has no name
Strangely, most states don’t require you to name your child at all. States like Nevada and Michigan don’t require parents to submit a name to the state—or even choose a name at all. (But just imagine trying to get your kid’s attention on the playground!)
Ultimately, naming your child is a very personal and sentimental choice, and the decision is up to you. But if you’re worried about running afoul of the law, Ask a Lawyer about that unusual superhero name before going to the registry…just to make sure little Wolverine can have a name.