Should we have a Name Police?

There have been times in my career as a doctor when I wished we had a Name Police.

There have been countless children I’ve met who had, well, unfortunate names. Often it was inadvertent—parents honestly didn’t realize that there might be a problem. Sometimes non-English speakers made up names that had an, um, different meaning in English (like a private body part), or would have seriously benefited from a well-placed vowel or two. Sometimes English-speaking families chose unique names—but then spelled them wrong (like Preshes instead of Precious).

Other times it was on purpose: people picked names of celebrities or objects or places (for confidentiality reasons I can’t give examples, but you can use your imagination) that might have seemed like a good idea at the time—but were clearly going to make life difficult for Junior.

By the time I met the families, there wasn’t anything I could do but cross my fingers and hope for the best. But I’d think: I wish I could call the Name Police about this one. I imagined them knocking at the family’s door, armed with name-change papers.

Now, in the Mexican state of Sonora, they have a Name Police. The civil registry has distributed a list of 61 names that parents cannot use. “The law is very clear because it prohibits giving children names that are derogatory or that don’t have any meaning and that can lead to bullying,” said the Civil Registry director Cristina Martinez.

Apparently a few years ago the staff at civil registries started to try to discourage parents from using names that might make their children targets of bullying, but discouragement didn’t work well enough—so they made a law.

The names on the list include Facebook, Twitter, Rambo, Circumcision, Panties, Scrotum, Burger King and Martian (or the Spanish equivalent of those words). I think we can all agree that no child should have to grow up being called any of those. But also on the list were James Bond, Hermione and Harry Potter—and that’s where this idea gets more problematic.

Hermione is a perfectly nice name. As are James and Harry…yes, if your last name is Bond or Potter you might want to think twice before using them (my husband’s last name is Brown, and while I like the name Jackson, I took it off the list along with Charlie), what if they are family names or you have some other compelling reason to use them?

That’s the thing: we can’t know people’s reasons. Once I asked a mother about the particularly odd and nearly unpronounceable name of her newborn—and she explained how it was a combination of parts of the names of everyone in her family. They had come up with it together; it was their way of celebrating the baby’s birth, and they were all very excited about it.

And, ultimately, making sure that everyone has an ordinary name shouldn’t be the goal. As much as I like the concept of the Name Police, it misses the point.

I don’t know that I would have wanted to be Moon Unit Zappa or Chastity Bono or Prince Michael II (Jackson—also known as Blanket). And I’ve often wondered how Gwyneth Paltrow’s daughter feels about being named Apple (or how the daughter of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian will feel about being North West). Certainly, like those registry workers, we should encourage parents to really think through all the possible consequences (and sleep on it, and run it by some friends) before that name gets on the birth certificate.

But some unusual names can actually work—and might be enjoyed. And, more importantly, it shouldn’t matter what your name is. Or how you look, or where you’re from, or your sexual orientation or whether you have disabilities. We are each as worthy as anyone else—and deserving of respect and kindness.

So while I’m hoping I don’t see any patients named Circumcision anytime soon, I say we let parents name their children what they want.