Last update on July 29, 2019

One of the biggest discussions a multicultural couple can have revolves around what to name their children. How can couples from different cultures choose baby names that respect the backgrounds of both parents?

Some countries will allow any name. In the United States you may call your child ‘Long-Legged Dancer From Halua’, ‘Moxi Crimefighter’, or, like former government official Lawrence Eagleburger did, you can give all your children the same name: all three Eagleburger’s sons were called Lawrence as well. You can even decide to give your child a surname different from your own.

Brazil, also, is known for its liberal attitude regarding given names. Names like Um Dois Três Da Silva Quatro (One-Two-Three-Da Silva-Four) raise no eyebrows in Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo.

Traditional names

Other countries are more strict. In Italy for instance, one is not allowed to christen a child after its father or mother – if they are still alive at the time of birth. Germany has severe rules regarding the spelling of names, Spain has restrictions as to the number of names given to a child: no more than two are allowed.

In Turkey, foreign names are not approved of, and it is not allowed to name a child after Atatürk. In many Far Eastern countries the choice of names is very much determined by traditions, deviation from these customs is ‘not done’.

Early this year Morocco has caused some unrest among the Diaspora, by circulating a list among its consulates, defining which names are allowed and which are not if the child is to carry a Moroccan passport. It turned out that only Arabic names were on the approved list, denying Moroccans of Berber or other minority origins the right to name their offspring according to their own traditions.

This caused considerable upheaval among both Moroccans in the Netherlands and the Dutch themselves, official questions were asked in parliament and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Maxime Verhagen was urged to raise the matter with the Moroccan authorities.

Unusual name choices

In most Western European countries the issue of how a child may or may not be called is dealt with in a moderately liberal way.

In some countries, for example the Netherlands or Spain, there once was a list of permitted first names. This was abolished long ago in the Netherlands, when many immigrants arrived and many lawyers and civil servants had to spend lots of time granting exceptions to the rule. Spain, likewise, is moving away from traditional names.

Since then, basically any name is allowed, as long as it is not ridiculous, absurd or obscene. The registrar at the city council can sometimes be the judge of this.

Minor accidents slip through the net, though. Recently in the Netherlands, a young baby girl was christened Usnavy [pronounced Us-na-vee].

The official at the registry – maybe still half asleep from a severe weekend or otherwise slightly drowsy – did not realize what he was writing down.

When later the parents were asked about this unusual choice of name, they declared that during a holiday in Miami, Florida, they had seen a ship passing by that had such a beautiful name written on it.

They wished to call their baby daughter after that ship. On the ship’s side it read: US Navy.