Before you officially decide on the perfect name for your little bundle of joy, make sure it complies with all of the baby naming laws.
We became particularly fascinated by so-called banned baby names after Elon Musk’s latest baby naming controversy.
Are there truly any illegal baby names in the United States? What are all of the baby naming laws by state across the country? What about restrictions in the rest of the world?
Much to our dismay, there wasn’t a good reliable and comprehensive article out there that gave us all of the info we were looking for. So we spent weeks researching and fact-checking to write our own.
However, it’s important to note that this is up to date as of March 2022. Laws are constantly being challenged and changed, so be sure to contact your individual state for legal questions. This article should be used for informational purposes only.
Curious about the current baby naming laws? Let’s dive in.
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US Baby Naming Laws
There are actually very few federal restrictions on baby names. However, the majority of states have their own set of baby naming laws.
By far the most common law across the country restricts the use of numerals in the name.
So you’ll just have to call your Stranger-Things-Inspired baby “Eleven” rather than “11”.
There are no federal restrictions on the number of middle names, symbols in the name, or character length. That being said, many of the states have baby naming laws that mention these factors.
Baby Naming Laws By State
Most of the baby naming laws are determined by individual states, as they are the ones issuing the child’s birth certificate.
Many of the rules and regulations exist primarily for practical reasons. For example, limiting character size and or requiring letters to make data entry easier.
Other rules prevent parents from giving their child names that would be widely unaccepted or inappropriate, like derogatory or curse words.
Here’s a quick summary of baby naming laws by state:
Only English Alphabet (so no umlauts and tildes)
A common rule in many states is that names can only use the 26 characters of the English alphabet. Many site administrative and software reasons for this requirement. Diacritical marks like accents, umlauts, and tildes aren’t accepted in these states.
- West Virginia
Foreign Symbols Allowed
A few states accept at least certain foreign symbols and non-English letters in baby names.
No Numbers or Symbols (but Apostrophes and Hyphens are Permitted)
“No numbers or symbols” is one of the most popular baby naming laws across the United States. In most cases, apostrophes and hyphens are allowed. Some states do restrict, however, the number of hyphens/apostrophes or specify that they cannot be next to eachother.
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- North Dakota
- New Mexico
- New York
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
For clerical reasons, some states restrict the number of characters
- Arizona (max 141 total characters in full name)
- Massachusetts (restricts 40 max characters per name, ie. first/middle/last)
- Minnesota (max 150 total characters in full name)
- New Hampshire (max100 total characters in full name)
- New York (max 100 total characters in full name)
- Texas (max 100 total characters in full name)
- Washington (max 130 total characters in full name)
Obscene Names Banned
Some states specify that widely unacceptable or derogatory words are banned from being a baby name. However, since they don’t list out the restricted names, sometimes these cases end up court when parents are very persistent.
- New Jersey
States with No Baby Name Restrictions
There are also a handful of states that have no baby naming laws restricting given first names:
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
Fun Fact: Michigan and Connecticut do not legally require a first name on the birth certificate.
*Technically you can name your child with any symbol in Hawaii, the only restriction is that each symbol has to be accompanied by at least one letter, so no “@$h”.
**While Montana claims to have no baby naming restrictions, their data entry system doesn’t allow for special symbols. However, if parents want to include any of these in a child’s name they can write to the state’s vital records for approval.
“Banned” Baby Names in the US
The United States actually has fairly liberal naming laws since some parts of the Constitution (the first and fourteenth amendments) have been interpreted to support parent’s freedom to choose their baby’s name.
I found a few common lists of “banned” baby names in the US, but after digging a little further I thought they seemed pretty misleading. No states in the US appear to have a list of banned names. Instead the banned names often come from court cases where an adult was trying to change their name. Though some of the names I couldn’t find any reason they were listed as banned at all.
So here are some names that have been challenged in courts:
- III – California refused to allow a man to change his name to III. He had apparently been called “three” in reference to his III suffix and wanted to make the name official, but the court would not have it. (Read the opinion here)
- Santa Claus – This name is apparently not allowed in Ohio, but it’s fine in Utah. A man tried in Ohio in 1999 to change his legal name to Santa Robert Claus and the court said nope. (Read all the details here). To highlight the differences between states, two years later a different guy was able to legally take on this moniker in Utah, though his petition was initially denied, the state Supreme Court overruled it and allowed the name change. (Read their opinion here)
- 1069 – In 1970, a man tried in both North Dakota and Minnesota to change his name to 1069. This was rejected by both states, which shouldn’t come as a huge surprise since neither allows numerals in names. (Read more about it here)
- Messiah – This name shows up on lots of banned name lists, but it is NOT banned. The confusion stems from a Tennessee child support hearing where the parents were ordered by the judge to change his first name, Messiah, at least in part for religious reasons. This did not fly and was overturned. The judge also lost her job this and was formally censured for it (read more about it here and here). Messiah is actually in the top 1000 boys names in the US.
In Arkansas, the computer system reportedly does not recognize as valid the names Baby, Babyboy, Babygirl, Baby Boy, Baby Girl, Infant, Test, Unk and Void. Presumably this is to avoid entry errors, but we have yet to find any record of parents challenging this by intentionally using those names.
Illegal Baby Names from Around the World
Not every country believes in the same baby-naming freedoms as the United States. Here are a few of the countries that have their own set of baby naming laws:
New Zealand doesn’t allow names that could be offensive, are overly long, or are an actual official title/rank. Names that don’t appear to meet these rules are reviewed and the parents can argue for their name. Despite seeming a bit restrictive, they say that less than 1% of names are reviewed and presumably some of these end getting approved. The government posts the declined baby names for each year, you can see the the names rejected in 2021 here.
Some examples of declined names include Duke, King, Prince, Rogue, Royal, Saint, and Souljah.
Iceland is pretty strict about baby names. They have a list of baby names to choose from, but if parents want to get creative, they can apply for approval. Names must use the Icelandic alphabet (which notably excludes the letters C, Q, W, and Z), must work with the language grammar, and can not cause embarrassment (see the rules here). There has been pressure to change the naming laws and they did in fact loosen one rule a few years back so names are no longer restricted by gender.
For obvious reasons, many common American names don’t make the cut in Iceland just based on the alphabet requirement alone. Lots of names don’t get approval, for instance, this article from 2019 tells about the Naming Committee rejecting Lucifer and Zelda.
Denmark has fairly strict naming laws. Baby names must be selected from a list of approved names. Most of the names are restricted by gender, unique spellings are not allowed, and the name can not be offensive. Parents who want an unapproved name, must apply to the government and these requests are evaluated on a case by case basis. The approved list of names is constantly being updated and appears to have onver 20,000 names each for boys and girls and it can be found (in Danish) here. Notably, some names that have been rejected include Anus, Pluto, and Monkey.
Portugal has strict rules about baby names. There is a list of approved baby names for parents to select from. Names must be Portuguese, spelled correctly, not nicknames, and specific to each gender. Find the list of first names in Portugal here.
Many common English names are too foreign and rejected.
Swedish law says that a name can not be offensive, cause discomfort to the bearer, or unsuitable for a first name. These are fairly vague sounding rules comparatively. Perhaps the most noteworthy rejected name is Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116 which was reportedly pronounced ‘Albin’.
Celebrities with Barely-Legal Baby Names
Some celebrities love to challenge the status quo by giving their children creative names like ‘Pilot’, ‘Cosmo’, or ‘Gravity’.
Other times, the names are so far out of left field that they go against certain state or country baby naming laws!
X Æ A-12
Perhaps most notably, Elon Musk and his partner, Grimes, announced the name of the son X Æ A-12. Small problem in California where you can only use the 26 letter English alphabet, so no numbers or non-English symbols. They reportedly changed the first name to simply “X” and the middle name to “AE A-XII” to comply with these requirements.
Exa Dark Sideræl
It recently came out that Musk and Grimes had a daughter via surrogate named Exa Dark Sideræl and referred to as Y. We’ll have to see if the æ symbol will stand, as they appear to be living in Texas currently which only allows the English alphabet, though if the child was born somewhere else different rules could apply.
Kim Kardashian and Kanye West named their second child ‘Saint’ when he was born in 2015. While there aren’t any baby naming laws against this in the United States, many other countries (like New Zealand) restrict the use of names that “resemble official titles” like Lady, King, and Saint.
It’s very likely Penn Jillette and his wife, Emily, would have been out of luck giving their first child the name “Moxie CrimeFigher” if she was born in another country. France, for example, has stopped parents from some names with the reasoning that it would “lead to a childhood of mockery”.
Last Name Restrictions
But so far we’ve only covered the baby naming laws for first and middle names. Did you know that many states also have their own sets of the rules regarding a baby’s last name?
All those restrictions could be an entire article in and of itself, but we’ll give you a few of the highlights here:
One of the country’s most patriarchal last name guidelines belongs to Mississippi, which specifies that by default a child will have their biological father’s last name.
Mississippi state naming laws spell out that the baby will automatically have daddy’s last name if (1) the parents are divorced at the time of birth, (2) the mother is widowed at the time of birth, or (3) if the parents are unwed but there is an acknowledged father.
In the instance of married couples, if they mutually agree on a last name other than the mother’s husband and fill out a ‘Verification of Name of Child Form’, they can give their baby any last name they choose.
You may remember that Indiana is one of the states that doesn’t have any rules regulating a baby’s first or middle name. However, they get more strict about given surnames.
A baby born to an unmarried mother is automatically given the mom’s last name. The only exception is in cases of a confirmed paternity test or a signed affidavit establishing paternity.
While North Dakota isn’t as picky as some of the other states about surnames, they do specify that a baby’s last name simply must match one of the parents.
And then there’s Massachusets, which allows parents to pick any last name they desire for their child.
Whew, there you have. The latest baby naming laws by state and country.
Were there any you found shocking or surprising? Let us know in the comments!