France, Spain Control Baby Names

Fascinated by comments in Peter, Paul, and Mary from people who have lived in or who currently live in France and Spain, saying that those countries’ governments maintain active lists of allowable names for babies. Naturally, these lists are Biblically derived. The thought of a similar tradition continuing on in the U.S. is almost impossible to imagine, and it amazes me that Europeans are sufficiently complicit with the tradition to not be rioting in the streets over such a fascistic and unfree practice. How can such a personal choice be considered government business in 2003?

philm writes:

Until very recently in Spain you could only use a name from the Catholic church’s list of saints, seriously. That’s why there are so many people called Jesus, Pablo, Francisco, or Maria, Magdalena, Asuncion, Inmaculada… oh and if you want Spanish citizenship you have to have your name translated into Spanish. Philip would become Felipe, I don’t know how they’d handle Scot :) What freaks me out is how accepted it is by the Spaniards. Yes it is fascism and the church has a long history of complicity in repression, and Spain has a very recent history of real fascism that, IMO, it hasn’t come to terms with yet, unlike the Germans for example. They have “liberalised” it but a local judge or public registrar can still object to a choice of name if it’s not officially approved, just like there was one who refused to take down a crucifix from his office for a couple who wanted a civil wedding exactly because they wanted no religious elements in the ceremony. A friend of my wife’s tried to register his daughter as “Mar” (Sea) and the registrar refused unless he called her “Virgin del Mare” or something similar from the church list.

Andrew writes:

As I understand it there is a ‘list’ which is published (I have a book with many of the names), in order to obtain a birth certificate the child’s name must be from the list. The list in turn consists primarily of names of a historical or religous background (lots of Catholic saints names). Yep it’s pretty wierd – but it might explain why all the French folk at [company name] had fairly ‘regular’ names 8-) Jean-Louis, Jean-Baptiste, Pierre, Sylvie, Valerie, Cyril, Sabine. I suspect if you wished to use a different name ‘in common use’ the govt. can’t change that, but your birth certificate would still say Pierre even if everyone else called you Granite (the name of a friends son).

6 Replies to “France, Spain Control Baby Names”

  1. Scott,
    I’m french and don’t have a biblic name. When a baby births you have something like three days to regisfter it with a state officer. This person is responsible in the name of the baby, not to let is parents make pun words with the name, giving the child a respectable name, and that all. Now we have had court rulings againts some officers and others against the parent. I think fair use is whaat is being done.

  2. I don’t live in France, but in The Netherlands they have the same “rules”. It’s not just Biblic, it is meant to protect the children. Imagine some extreme right-wing wants to name his son Adolf Hitler? Or Chtulu, Mengele, Judas, etc etc.. The child has no choice, but will suffer in the end. And in simpler form people thinking of stupid contorted words for the name, which could also lead to problems later on..
    I think it’s good there is some control, which is actually practically invisible, since this only rarely is acted upon.

  3. Scot-
    I am aware of similar lists and restrictions in Sweden, and I believe Germany.


  5. “… is meant to protect the children. Imagine some extreme right-wing wants to name his son Adolf Hitler?…..”

    Well I can see a safety net is sometimes needed in naming a child, ensure his/her name is not offensive to others, but there are freedom of speech implications in acting this way.

  6. Having lived many years in Spain, I like to stress that the approval of names is absolutely no longer in affect. It was put into affect during Franco’s rule and was one of the first things to go. The Spanish people who had children during this time (last people who could have been named under these rules are currently at least 25) were not all very happy with the rules. They did accept it, because they didn’t have much choice. Not only did they name have to be of a saint, bibical, or otherwise affliated with the church, it also had to be in spanish. There are, however, at least 4 other languages spoken in spain. People were also obligated to not talk in the other languages, which added to matters. More than anything, I was to stress that these naming practises are absolutely not under affect. It is also not true that in Spain names are approved or disapproved based on whether or not a government official approves. Actually, a hell of a lot changed after Franco. Even public nudity, as there are now absolutely no laws against it.

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