And You Thought I Was Exaggerating: Baby Names Say Otherwise

Thought my last post about the Jante Law and cultural differences between the US and Denmark was exaggerating just a bit? Well, it wasn’t And to prove to you how essential standing out is to American culture and and fitting in is to Danish culture, I give you the perfect example: baby names.

The US is smack dab in the middle of the weirdest baby name trend in history. People are obsessed with inventing the most individual, the most unique, the most special name they possibly can. It doesn’t matter if they have to come up with a creative new spelling, combine the parents names into one mega name – Renesmee anyone? – choose some random noun or just totally make something up. They will find some way to make that child unique!

Don’t believe me? Well, the Social Security Administration just came out with its 2013 list of baby names, and thanks to this io9 article and Nameberry, we can see that among the Johns and Emmas are these gems:

83 baby girls were named Vanellope. That’s right. After that annoying little girl in Wreck it Ralph. 9 girls were named Pistol, as in gun. 6 girls were named Charlemagne, as in that king. And 6 girls were named Prezlee and 5 girls were named Temprince. (Oh my god, the horror of those last two purposeful misspellings.) And that’s not even counting the more “normal” (and more popular) names like Massyn, Londonn (yes, two n’s), and Khaleesi. (And we’re going to ignore the fact that Khaleesi is a title and not actually someone’s name for the moment.) Now, as for the boys, we have 10 Jceions (what??), 8 Tufs, 7 Psalms, 6 Forevers, 6 Powers, 6 Warriors, 5 Kaptains, 5 Subarus, and 5 Vices.

Hahaha that’s fu… Wait, you’re not joking?!

I was talking about this recently with a friend from the UK, and he was surprised that you could name someone after a company or product, as in Subaru or Mercedes. He thought that would be against copyright law. But let me tell you, you’d have to come up with a pretty crazy name for the government to actually step in and stop you from naming your child what you want. There are actual laws about what you can name your baby, but they vary from state to state and they’re pretty basic. For example, in California you can’t use accents. In Massachusetts, you can’t have a name longer than 40 characters. And it looks like naming your kids Adolf Hitler and Aryan Nation is just going too far. But apart from those small rules, the field is pretty much wide open.

In contrast, we have Denmark, which has fairly strict rules about what you can name your children. Specifically, they have the Law on Personal Names.

The century-old law was initially designed to bring order to surnames. Before the law, surnames changed with every generation: Peter Hansen would name his son Hans Petersen. Then Hans Petersen would name his son Peter Hansen. And on it went, wreaking bureaucratic havoc. The law ended that. It also made it difficult for people to change their last names, a move that was designed to appease the noble class, which feared widespread name-poaching by arrivistes, Nielsen said.

Then in the 1960s, a furor erupted over the first name Tessa, which resembled tisse, which means to urinate in Danish. Distressed over the lack of direction in the law, the Danish government expanded the statute to grapple with first names. Now the law is as long as an average size book. (via the New York Times)

This law now includes an approved list of names. It’s pretty long, but if you want to name your baby something that isn’t on that list you have to get it approved. And apparently, that can take years. According to that same article in the New York Times from 2004:

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 applies only if one of the parents is Danish.

Many parents do not realize how difficult it can be to get a name approved by the government. About 1,100 names are reviewed every year, and 15 percent to 20 percent are rejected, mostly for odd spellings.

I believe that this law has now been relaxed a tiny bit since that article was written because the current names on this list aren’t just your typical Jens and Mette. You do see some crazier ones like: Awesome, Cobra, Dreng (which means “boy” in Danish), Og (meaning “and”), Cirkel, and so on. But importantly, there’s still a pre-approved list and doing anything off of that list, doing anything different, can be really hard.

If someone tried to institute a pre-approved baby name list in the US I’m pretty sure they’d be riots in the streets. If there’s one thing Americans get feisty about it’s other people trying to tell them what they can and can’t do.

I’ll leave you now with one more baby gif because, let’s face it, they’re awesome:

Not Renesmee! Anything but Renesmee!

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19 thoughts on “And You Thought I Was Exaggerating: Baby Names Say Otherwise

  1. Great post once again 🙂

    It’s the same here in Portugal and i assume in many/most European countries.
    There’s an approved list so parents don’t name their kids stupid stuff (even the approved list already has some weird stuff in it)
    It looks funny to the parents but many of these kids will suffer from it in the future, get bullied for having a silly name etc.

    By the way Mercedes is originally a name. The guy that created it named the company after his beloved daughter 😉

    A nation famous for strange names is Brazil.
    I recall the name “Madenusa” being registered as a lady liked seeing it on a store front…on a label saying “Made in USA”…there are lists of this stuff online…can’t make it up lol

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    • That’s an awesome example of a crazy name ☺️ I think that the US is pretty unique in having such lax policies about naming children. From what I’ve heard, many other countries have at least so e kind of rule or list, or a banned name list is pretty popular. I guess we’ll ban books for children’s safety but we won’t ban some of these crazy names 😉 (Also, thanks for the heads up about Mercedes. Now that you say that, I feel like I was told that once before.)

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      • Many people seem to think that unique names and Yoonike spellings seem to hinder a child from progressing. However, once one looks into etymology of BOTH words & names, you will discover that this has been happening for thousands and thousands of years. It is nothing new and for MANY of the names/words we use and see today, that we feel are NORMAL spellings, are corrupted versions from the original or even compounds, sometimes even smooshes of more than one language. Some of these corrupted spellings, have more of an aesthetic appeal to them and seem to be more grammatically clear to pronunciation than the original spellings. While, I recognize that other countries are trying to maintain cultural identity and language, the US is a big melting pot of cultures and American’s really take to their freedoms and liberties. And Honestly, I am quite partial to “some” of the corrupted spellings. Some of my favorite older mispelled or even smooshed spellins of names are Methuselah, Dowsabel, Rosemund and Anchoret/Ankharet/Angharad.

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      • I think I agree with you in theory. I’m not really a language purist, most of the time. Like you said, you can’t really be a language purist coming from America and speaking English. As a language, it has evolved SO much over the years. (Although, I’m not totally loosey goosey, and the way people are texting and typing online sometimes does make me grit my teeth.) And doing research for this post I did come across another post that said that people have been using creative spellings for names for years, even when they were coming over to the US on boats in the 1700s. I agree that choosing one of these unique names is probably not going to scar your child for life. Though the one thing with the spellings that can be difficult is that no one knows how to pronounce it, so then the child has to go through life correcting people on how to pronounce their name. It was just the perfect example illustrating this one main difference between American and Danish cultures.

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  2. Back home (the UK), you have to register the name with the authorities, the office who does the birth certificate has the final say. I think you’d have to name your child an actual swearword to not be approved, though.
    I think to make it on to the list in Denmark, there have to be at least 20 individuals in Denmark with that name already. It does make me wonder how these 19 other babies got their names approved. (Though I suppose, they must just be adult foreigners, right?)

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    • Good point. That is a conundrum. I was wondering what this law meant for immigrants who wanted a non-Danish name or for parents who wanted a non-gendered name. But I was looking through the list and it seems like it’s been updated to include unisex and some less traditional names. Any list with Awesome on it can’t be too picky.

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  3. Love this article! Baby names are fascinating, and since the U.S. is so large, it’s interesting to look at regional variations. Different states have different top names but I don’t think there’s a way to search for regionally weird names. My personal naming peeve, is naming your child after a President’s last name. My sons think Reagan is a normal girls first name…sigh…

    Here’s another personal anecdote from the USA. My brother-in-law spent weeks trying to think up the *best* baby name he and his girlfriend could agree on. They had already used their top favorite on their first child. They went with Beren, thinking it sounded Tolkien-inspired, but not realizing that is sounds just like Baron (aka Duke), and Barren (aka childless woman). Now they call him Bear, which to me is a dog name.

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    • Lol both awesome stories. I’m also really fascinated by baby name trends. There’s just such weird ones out there! Of course, the most popular names in the US are still normal things like Emma and John, and 10 people in the whole country deciding to name their kid Vice is really nothing. But it blows my mind that those 10 people all decided to do the same weird misspelling in the same year. How did that happen?! I guess we can thank the internet for that ☺️

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      • I wouldn’t say that is comes down to “just” guns and kids, but more of maintaining their God Endowed and Unalienable rights. Which the right would “include” bearing arms to protect and ensure their God given rights for their children and their fore-bearers.

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      • Yeah, not sure I’m with you on the whole gun thing, and god endowed is a bit much. But that’s another debate for another post.

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  4. Wow! This takes “fitting-in” to a whole new level…Do you know if the rule applies to foreigners who live in Denmark, too? What if I want to give my kid a traditional name from my country? How long does the review process take? If it’s long, will your baby be nameless for that whole period? Lots of questions. I better get researching 🙂

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    • Those are all excellent questions! I’m actually not sure how it applies to foreigners. I think it might depend on what kind of foreigner you are. I’m sure if you’re a long term resident or immigrant, the rules would apply, which was one of my first concerns on this list. What if your from a country with names totally unlike anything Danish? Should you be denied naming your child something meaningful from your culture? Looking at the list, though, it looks like they’ve tried to expand it to include many of those kinds of names. Someone else in the comments said that there has to be 20 other people with that name for it to be accepted. I think the review process can take weeks to, sometimes, years, and I think the baby would officially be nameless during that period. But I’m not sure, so don’t quote me on that.

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  5. Pingback: Huge Oversight, More Baby Names | Our House in Aarhus

  6. that Jceion name I’m pretty sure is a very ethnic version of shawn (or sean) yay spelling! i love your blog, we are thinking of one day relocating to denmark

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    • I’m sure you’re right. It just seemed like it was missing a vowel in that first syllable. Thanks for reading! Let me know if you have any questions about Denmark, and I’ll do my best to answer.

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