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What is in a name?

Where the people of Malaysia would be without their government to do their thinking for them, I really do not know.

Malaysian authorities have published a list of undesirable titles to prevent parents giving their children names such as Hitler, smelly dog or 007.

It is a classic ‘Samizdata’ story which allows us to make fun of the silly politicians but behind it is the serious point that the Malaysian government is arrogating for itself the right to have a say in what a citizen calls him or herself. A person’s name is at the heart of their identity in many ways, and it is sad that governments think they have the right to interfere with whatever name a person chooses to call themselves.

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26 comments to What is in a name?

  • James

    Malaysian authorities have published a list of undesirable titles to prevent parents giving their children names such as Hitler, smelly dog or 007.

    Is followed by

    A person’s name is at the heart of their identity in many ways, and it is sad that governments think they have the right to interfere with whatever name a person chooses to call themselves

    Not to detract from the point you’re making about the over-bearing paternalism at the heart of this issue, but a person never has the opportunity to choose their name at birth, do they?

    At least, I didn’t have a say in the matter when I was born. I didn’t have that choice throughout my childhood (not that it was something I held for longer than a day or so, anyway).

    Could it be said that the Malaysian government is taking a lesser approach than that of disapproving parents, if a child wanted some say on choosing their own name and thus, identity?

  • Is “Osama” on the list?

    I suspect we will see a number of maylaysian individualists (perhaps a small number) ironically name their kids Hitler… or “smelly dog”.

  • Even funnier: Malay Islamics ban Botox(Link)

    Just what sort of logic is it to get botox when you live your life behind a hajab?

  • This sort of thing isn’t unique to Malaysia. In Japan their’s no list of approved names, but the government has to approve names given to children. A few years ago their was a big fuss over their when a couple wanted to name their son Akuma (“devil”), and the government wouldn’t allow it.

  • 007? Are Sean, Roger, and Pierce on the list, too?

  • RAB

    My father, god bless him was christened-
    Augustine Ignatious Saxton
    Obviously two of those must be on the Malay prohibited list, I’ve no idea where Saxton comes from.
    Plain ol Gus to his friends.
    He always said it put his education back.
    Cos by the time he’d got his name spelled right on top of the paper,
    the rest of the class were already on question 2

  • I agree that this is none of the government’s business but, really, are there a significant number of Malaysians calling their children ‘Hitler’?

  • Nick M

    Yeah there are!

  • Nick M

    What would Major Major Major have thought of this, pity the children!

    As with so much Government legisalation, I’m awestruck that Malaysia doesn’t have more pressing things to worry about.

    As far as rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic is concerned, has Dave Cameron been to Kuala Lumpur recently or something.

  • Is Ayn on the list?

  • Just what sort of logic is it to get botox when you live your life behind a hajab?

    Botox is not used only for cosmetic purposes. I know a woman who is able to lead a productive live because Botox alleviates the symptoms of a debilitating muscle tension ailment.

  • Alasdair Robinson

    It’s not just Malaysia and Japan. Norway has a list of acceptable names too.

  • mike

    What about daft, but non-political names – I wonder whether the Malay government would allow those? Like ‘sprite’, ‘noctilucent’ or ‘fork sake’..

  • guy herbert

    Botox is not used only for cosmetic purposes.

    True. But the fatwa appears only to apply to cosmetic use, the rule being you can break normal religious prohibitions to save life or alleviate suffering. The nominal basis for the ban is a bit weird: that manufacture uses porcine products. Does it really?

    Just what sort of logic is it to get botox when you live your life behind a hajab?

    A hijab doesn’t cover the face. The proportion of Muslim women who go fully veiled is tiny. It is a custom of only some places and promulgated elsewhere only by some nasty reactionary cults. Even where women are veiled habitually, that’s in public: they usually want to look good in their homes and among friends.

  • michael farris

    The question that no one is asking:

    Smelly Dog? What parents want to name their kid Smelly Dog and why?

  • The sad thing is that there are a lot of kids in Asia with ridiculous Engrish names. Especially in the Phillipines, where practically everyone has the same surname, so the challenge is to come up with a first name that nobody else has yet.

  • Joshua

    It’s not just Malaysia and Japan. Norway has a list of acceptable names too.

    France too. In France the registrar who receives the birth certificate has the option of refering the name to a court. The court has the power to order the name changed if, say, it’s likely to subject the child to mockery. In the past this was used to make sure everyone had legitimate French names; these days I think interventions are rare. I understand that it is also difficult to get a name change as an adult.

  • Rudersdorf

    I understand that the limitation of first names to a prescribed list has been a feature of French law for over a century. Any further information on this pecularity would be welcomed.

  • michael farris

    “so the challenge is to come up with a first name that nobody else has yet.”

    I guess Smelly Dog would do that as would:

    Mouldy Rice,
    Bleeding Ears,
    Vomit Faced,
    Bat Chaser,

    Perhaps I should start a consulting service ….

  • dearieme

    Didn’t the French use their system to prohibit e.g. Breton names? Only French and biblical names were allowed, I think.

  • madne0

    Portugal has a list of acceptable names too.

    “A person’s name is at the heart of their identity in many ways, and it is sad that governments think they have the right to interfere with whatever name a person chooses to call themselves.”

    Agreed, but i don’t think newborns have much say in it. After you reach maturity, sure, change your name. Don’t care. But before? There should be some sort of control, to prevent lunatic parents from naming their poor children “Hitler” or “dog” or whatever ridiculous name their drug addled mind comes up with.

  • Joshua

    There should be some sort of control, to prevent lunatic parents from naming their poor children “Hitler” or “dog” or whatever ridiculous name their drug addled mind comes up with.

    Yes, because the law, you see, will definitely and without fail have the effect of convincing “drug addled” parents to call their children what it says on the birth certificate in public rather than what they really want to call them. ‘Cause that’s what all the “drug addled” parents I know do! Great use of police resources enforcing that, by the way!

  • And from the other end of the spectrum, in the US a vast number of people of African heritage have absolutely unique names, names that nobody else on earth has. Yet the Republic stands.

    My favorite name/government issue comes from the old Soviet Union. In the flush of revolutionary fevor after Lenin’s coup, parents began to name their children such things as “Proletarian”, “Shockworker”, “Dialectical Materialism” and my own favorite, “Rural Electrification”. Eventually a bit of good taste reasserted itself, and Pravda began to editorialize against such “tasteless inventions.” Apparently at some point the word was passed to local registrars not to accept bizarre names.

  • I’ll note that the US prohibits use of titles and ranks as names in many states, and a friend of mine, running for US Senate in Maryland(Link), has the nickname “The Wig Man”, which the ballot commission unconstitutionally shortened to “Wig Man” on the ballot, claiming that the word “The” is a title (though citing no documentation of heraldry to prove the point).

    The Wig Man, of course, is suing the state of Maryland (Link)over this, using such luminary examples as Jesse “The Body” Ventura, former Governor of Minnesota, in his arguments. While the media seems to think he’s already lost (given it was kicked from federal to state court), and otherwise frivolous, the inside betting within the state attorney general’s office is that he’ll win on the merits, and is attempting to otherwise avoid a hearing on the merits.

  • I don’t recall a list, but in Estonia names are screened by officials as of last year (or the year before that, I don’t remember). The reason given was the same: to stop parents giving goofball (or even strangely spelled) names to their children.

  • P.Andrews

    As I recall Germany also parses children’s names.