Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Name change

It's very strange that French courts can order parents to change their child's name if they think it could cause social embarr-assment - or as the law puts it "mockery or disobliging remarks".

Surely it's up to parents (or the child) to decide if a name might be a liability and drop it in favour of something less open to teasing. Why do the courts need to be involved in what's really just a matter of common sense?

French courts recently rejected the name Nutella, foreseeing silly references to the chocolate spread of the same name. They also rejected the name Fraise (Strawberry) as there are rude expressions that use the word - like "ramène ta fraise", meaning "get over here" or "butt in".

It seems that although the courts are able to ban a name, they only get involved if someone asks them to. Apparently the registrar who recorded Nutella's birth alerted the local prosecutor who called in a family court judge.

If the courts made a habit of judging people's names, they'd be at it all day every day. I'm not familiar with dodgy French names, but I can think of plenty of English names that could in theory be problems (though oddly enough in reality they may be no problem at all). And last names can be just as awkward as first names.

But names aren't set in stone. If a child gets ribbed over an unfortunate name, then all they need do is change it. If their parents won't let them, they can at least change it when they're older. My father's first name was Edward, but he hated it and always used his second name, Colin.

Who are the courts to decide what name is acceptable and what isn't? You and I might think that the names given to Bob Geldof's kids - Peaches, Pixie and Fifi Trixibelle - would invite endless ridicule, but as far I know they never tried to change them.

Likewise all the Smellies and Ramsbottoms of the world who don't feel the need to be something more prosaic but soldier on regardless.

I'm sure those judges have better things to do than to ban names that reflect popular sandwich fillings. Like dealing with criminals.

26 comments:

Bijoux said...

You can name your baby anything here. That's why we have names like Lemonjello (pronounced as though spoken in French).

Nick said...

Bijoux: You can name your baby anything in the UK too. We have no equivalent of the French law on naming. As you can see from Fifi Trixibelle etc.

Cheerful Monk said...

It strikes me as strange, too. The topic reminds me of a fellow I knew in school once: Herschel Snodgrass III. He was old enough (grad school) not to mind it any more. It had been a bit of a problem earlier.

Nick said...

Jean: If I had been given a name like that, I would have been pestering my parents to change it. I would have been desperate to become John Smith.

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Nick,

We can imagine situations where children might well benefit from the intervention of the courts with regard to names chosen by their parents. Sad to say that we have encountered many silly parents in our time, their offspring far more sensible than they. So, although later in life they may well feel able to change their names, throughout their formative years they may well be subject to unnecessary ridicule or bullying.

Here in Hungary there is an approved list of names which, in nearly every case, people stick to. Hence, may people have the same first name. These names are attached to name days which are celebrated with presents etc. so the pressure is on parents to keep with the names on list otherwise their child will not have a name day!
But, silly names are not just a recent phenomenon. We knew a man significantly older than us who had been named Cliff........difficult when the family name is Edge!

Young at Heart said...

It would be a much duller world if we couldn't chose our children's names.......and surely we parents should be allowed some fun for all the years of hoo-ha we have to go through later!!

Nick said...

Jane and Lance: Wow, Hungary is pretty prescriptive! Not only an official list of names, but if you're not on it, no celebrations! It certainly wipes out the problem of embarrassing names, but it's a bit strict. Brits would be horrified if they couldn't just pick any old name.

Nick said...

Young at Heart: Not much fun for the child though if they get endlessly teased for some thoughtless name!

susie said...

Here, parents named their kids Adolf Hitler and Aryan Nation.

Nick said...

Susie: I don't know how they get away with it. You'd think either the kids or the parents would have been lynched by now.

Grannymar said...

Nutella would not be a good choice for a child in the South of Ireland. Going through school would be hell on earth, constantly be call Nut Eile = Another nut!

I knew a child who was call William Pius, in school he was always known as willie pee!

Nick said...

Grannymar: I'm not sure which name would be more embarrassing, Pius or Pee.

John Gray said...

Just out of interest
I once knew a woman called
Beatrice Desdamona Iball

B D IBALL ( beady Eyeball)

Nick said...

John, you must have made that up, it's too bizarre!

Liz Hinds said...

It was a strange decision. Two really. First to report the name and then to judge against it.

I think Nutella is quite a nice name ...

Nick said...

Liz: I agree, I don't see why it's a problem. It seems that the Nutella company had no objection to their name being used. And it refers to a tasty chocolate spread. What's not to like?

Nick said...

So how many of you remember Suzy Creamcheese?

Helen Devries said...

French courts used to strike down names given to children in the Breton language at one time...so it's not just ridicule that comes into play.

I intensely dislike my first name so have always used my second...this was not acceptable to French bureaucracy..

Secret Agent Woman said...

I can imagine cases where it might be a good thing for the courts to step in, but Nutella seems pretty mild.

Nick said...

Helen: I gather the French government are very antagonistic to foreign words generally. Every so often they have campaigns against English words like weekend and sandwich. I don't think the campaigns are very successful though.

Agent: I agree, what on earth is wrong with Nutella? It's a pleasing sound, unlike (for example) Doris or Hattie.

Keith said...

My step-daughter moved to France many years again and married a Frenchman. I have three grandchildren now, all French citizens.

My daughter wanted to give them English names, but was told no, they must be French names but the middle names could be English. So now I have. Yannick, Cloé and Manon.

Nick said...

Keith: Ah, so that confirms what I said about the French hostility to English words. I was curious about Yannick, a name I've never encountered before. I see it's Breton for Little John or Petit Jean.

Rummuser said...

Jean and Nick, just imagine what a relief it would have been to the brothers Balls if they had been born in France! Or for that matter fellows with names like Lightbody who are obese or Sidebottom who have neither a side nor a significant bottom,

Nick said...

Ramana: But if their name was the French equivalent (Couilles), they'd still be in for a rough ride....

Jenny Woolf said...

Really does seem pretty fascist, doesn't it. Perhaps the French are rude and nasty to people who have odd names - I wonder if that is the case. Otherwise it's hard to see the point of this decision.

Nick said...

Jenny: It's absurd that a court can tell you what names are acceptable for your child. A good example of the nanny state! It should be entirely a matter for the parents and the child.