Our consultant, Hayley Dodson discussed the weird and wonderful names some parents have tried to register. Whilst the registration of names is not something family lawyers deal with often, we do assist clients seeking to change a child’s name or parents who are seeking to restrain the other party from referring to the child as a name other than on their birth certificate and even parties seeking to restrain one another from allowing the child to call another person “mum” or “dad”.
The Best of the Banned Baby Names & The Law on Naming Children
Yes. Some proud parents did attempt to register their baby with the first name “Lucifer”. Although one might argue the name is of ancient origin (and an OG “category one” name, given the heavy religious overtones), it is a bit tough to comprehend the parents’ thinking. Perhaps it was an especially hellish birth. Maybe the baby had impressive projectile vomiting skills. Could it levitate? Despite being super-edgy and controversial, by comparison, Lucifer is one of the more sensible names banned in Australia in recent years.
There is a good reason you have never met a child named Lucifer (or Satan for that matter), Queen Victoria, or Thong. And it’s not because people haven’t tried.
If you’re like me, you enjoy pointless lists on the internet, and baby names make up at least half of them. Naming trends hold a mirror to the collective vibe of society at a particular time, and it is interesting to see how tastes change. Cheryl, Karen, Kevin and Garry; the “top dogs” of the 1960’s, have been replaced with Bodhi, Lennox, Amelia and Theodore. One wonders whether the last Garry has already been born. It is almost too upsetting to contemplate.
In truth, however, anyone could name their child Garry at any moment, and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop them. It’s a feature of our great democracy. You are free to have as many children as you like (!) and raise them and name them as you see fit – provided you do your best to make choices that keep them safe, happy and healthy.
In Australia, given names tend to fall somewhere on a spectrum, with traditional / “biblical” names at one end (“Mary, why so contrary?”) and kooky / new / made-up names at the other (“Brexton, give that to Kale. Kale, stop pushing Britley,” etc.).
When it comes to given names, how much is too much nonsense, and who decides? Why is Khaleesi okay, but Ikea isn’t? They share the same letters (mostly), and are words derived from nonsensical languages.
Each State has legislation that governs registration of names; in WA it is the Births Deaths & Marriages Registration Act 1998 (WA). The Registrar administers the Act and makes the important decisions.
RULES OF THE NAMING GAME
- Name your child whatever you want, as long as it is not prohibited
The Act states that a child’s name is a “matter of choice” for the person(s) lodging the birth registration, and specifically states that there is not requirement for a child to have the same surname as its parents, or to have a surname at all for that matter. In other words, you could name your child Garry, like Madonna, and leave it at that. Why mess with perfection?
- Register your child’s birth (which must include their name), within 60 days
Or pay a fine of $1,000 and go back three spaces.
- Change your mind
There is also an exchange policy. For example: If after a few months, you realise your child is more Ewan than Ian, you can register the change by way of a form to the registry. However, you can only do this once, only in the first 12 months, and (if they are named on the certificate), only with the consent of the other parent.
This means if you wake bolt upright at 2am on Ewen’s 2nd birthday with the sudden realisation he has been an Owen all along, tough luck. Your remaining options are to self-reflect and move on with your life or bring an application in the Family Court of WA. Hopefully the correct approach in this example is obvious.
Where actual naming disputes are brought before the Family Court, the Court must make a decision in the child’s best interests, with references to a number of considerations set out in the legislation. Particularly relevant in this context are:
- Any views expressed by the child, subject to their age and maturity;
- The nature of the child’s relationship with each parent and other relevant persons;
- The likely impact of the proposed orders in the child; and
- The maturity, sex, lifestyle and background of the child.
The Court may consider any other relevant matters, like the reasons behind the proposed change, and any embarrassment, stress, etc. the proposed change may bring the child. The Registrar is bound by any decision of the Family Court regarding a child’s name.
- Choose a prohibited name
Whether a name is prohibited is determined on a case-by-case basis – in other words, it is only when parents attempt to register a particular name, that a ruling is made, and it makes it’s way onto the weird and wild list of Banned Baby Names.
To paraphrase the Act, a name is prohibited if, in the opinion of the Registrar, it:
- is obscene or offensive,
- could not practicably be accepted by society because it is too long, contains random, contextually meaningless symbols, or for some other reason (i.e., it is nonsense); or
- is contrary to the public interest.
What if you break the rules?
If the name on the registration statement is deemed prohibited, or if two parents cannot agree on the child’s name, the Registrar has the authority to name the child on behalf of the parents (aka, the “I’m feeling lucky!” option). Although rare, this does occasionally happen, and you may end up with a kid called Wayne. #Blessed.
THE LIST – Best of the Absolute Worst
I have mixed feelings about those responsible for attempting to bestow the below names on helpless babies. It seems that some parents were possibly making a genuine (albeit weird and over-zealous) attempt to honour a beloved thing, place or person, in which case, I salute them for their misguided enthusiasm. The others, however, seem eager to express their dislike for their baby, who presumably hasn’t yet done anything to deserve it. The silver lining is that in doing so, they make themselves known to the authorities at the earliest opportunity.
I have divided the list based on my interpretation of the likely well and ill-intentioned. Some names could fall on either side, depending on your shopping, film and breakfast-spread preferences (and your feelings on healthcare and government bureaucracy). Remember – people have actually tried to register these names:
|Pretty sure they meant well (?)||Send help|
|Brother / Sister / Father||Chow Tow|
In the vast majority of cases, common sense (and the names Oliver and Olivia), will continue to prevail as parents undertake their first major responsibility without issue. How boring. Keep your eyes peeled for any updates to the Banned List, which given the state of things is predicted to include new additions like State Daddy, MAFS and TikTok.