In France, it is now illegal to name your child Nutella. On 26th January 2014, a French court ruled that parents of an infant girl could not name their child Nutella and saw fit to rename her Ella in her parents’ absence from court. The judge reasoned that “Nutella is the trade name of a spread,” and that “it is contrary to the child’s interest to have a name that can only lead to teasing or disparaging thoughts.”
The Nutella case is not the first instance where French courts have prevented parents from selecting their child’s name. Previously, a couple was stopped from naming their daughter Fraise (Strawberry) on similar grounds: the judge asserted that such a name would result in the child being teased in the future.
Unlike in the United States of America (USA) and United Kingdom (UK), many countries have similar restrictions regarding the naming of one’s child. In Iceland, females are not permitted have traditionally male names, while in Germany names that do not clearly indicate a gender are disallowed. In Norway, surnames cannot be used as first names. In Japan, it is illegal for a child to be named Akuma (Devil). As a matter of fact, these countries actually publish official lists of permitted names with separate categories for female and male children.
The USA, however, is known for its liberalism. Naming your child is considered a form of expression and parents often manifest this belief by giving their children unusual names. This is somewhat reflected in the names American parents have chosen: ‘Post Office’, ‘Lettuce’ and ‘Mutton’ to name just a few. This is generally not a controversial affair though, as children are also free to change their own names should they wish to do so in the future.
The UK is no exception, albeit less extreme. Unlike many European countries, the UK government is fairly relaxed about the naming of children and has allowed mothers to give their children unique names such as ‘Ikea’. In countries where freedom of expression is so prized, particularly in the Western world, it is rather surprising to discover the existence of such strict regulations surrounding the simple naming of one’s own child. Perhaps this is a reflection of how individualism is valued in various societies; in a society where nine out of ten boys are named Jack, there is inevitably some loss of individuality. Names do not shape a child’s entire future, but they are a fundamental part of every human being’s identity.
As a female named Joey, a traditionally male and occasionally androgynous name, I have actually grown to like my name and cannot imagine myself being named anything else. Who is to say that a child would not want to be named Nutella? Is it really for the courts to dictate the naming of someone else’s infant child, and possibly alter the direction of its life?
Perhaps it is time for change.