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The naming law in the United States

In the United States, giving first names is governed by very few laws. This allows a great deal of latitude, which led to a variety of names and naming trends. However, there are a few laws and rules regarding naming that vary from state to state.

Usually naming laws exists to protect children from offensive or embarrassing names. Accordingly, naming laws restrict the names that parents can give their children legally. Most countries in the world have a naming law, but most regulate the meaning of the name, while a few dictate the spelling.

What about the naming law in the United States?

Can I name my baby however I want or are there any rules? Can I name my child after a number? Are there any names that are prohibited? Parents-to-be often have questions like these. In this country, restrictions vary from state to state. Basically, they are imposed for practical reasons rather than for the meaning of the name. Some states have official registration software that limits the number of characters in a name. Other states do not allow the use of numerals or pictograms.


A few prohibit the use of obscenities or banned names like Jesus Christ, Adolf Hitler or Nutella. In contrast, there are also states that have no rules and laws on naming at all. This is because the United States defend the right to give a name of your choice to your child or even to yourself. This has been upheld by several court decisions and is enshrined in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.

State by State

Despite the great freedom in the naming law, controversies arise again and again. In 2013, for example, a boy named Messiah was asked to change his name to Martin because, according to the judge, this name belonged purely to Jesus Christ. However, the Court of Chancery overturned that soon later and the child was allowed to keep his birth name. The judge was dismissed because she had violated one of the most important principles: judges are obliged to perform their duties without regard to religious bias.

California’s naming law is a special case as well. The California system was found to be restrictive because its software was not capable of including diacritics as in the name José. It was even to the point of having no right to use diacritical marks at all but only the 26 English alphabetic characters, plus hyphens and apostrophes. In 2017, they passed a bill in California that should counteract this and allow the use of diacritical marks. Though, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed it because in his opinion it would be a significant hassle and could lead to inconsistencies. Below we list some examples of the regulations and restrictions on naming in different states. For more information, contact your respective government agency.

Excerpts from naming laws of the states

Arkansas: Apostrophes, hyphens and spaces are allowed, as long as they do not follow each other.

California: Derogatory or obscene names, pictographs and non-English characters are prohibited.

Georgia:  Any symbols, including accents, are banned.

Illinois: No restrictions.

Kentucky: No restrictions.

Michigan: Only English characters allowed.

New Jersey: Obscene names, numbers, and symbols are forbidden.

New York: First names can only be a maximum of 30 characters long. Symbols and numbers are not allowed.

North Carolina: Accent marks, hyphens, and tildes (ñ) are allowed.

Ohio: Hyphens, apostrophes, and spaces are allowed. Numbers are prohibited.

Virginia: Numbers, symbols and other special characters such as umlauts and tildes are banned.

Do other countries have naming laws?

There are tens of different naming laws around the world, which vary from one another and are, on average, stricter than those of the United States. There are, for example, the German laws. Here, the registrar decides primarily about how to interpret the law. Basically, the first name should be clearly recognizable as such. Meanwhile, it is no longer necessary to give an unmistakable feminine or masculine middle name if the first name is unisex. However, the law still prohibits place names, names that expose the child to ridicule or tangentially affect religious sentiments. In France, names that might embarrass children or for which they might even receive ridicule are prohibited as well. In Denmark, there is a list of approved names from which parents can choose a name. If they wish to use a name that is not on the list, they must obtain special permission.

If you are planning or expecting a baby, be sure to inform yourself about your state’s naming laws and restrictions. But even if the name you have chosen is in accordance with the rules and laws, you should keep in mind that your child will have to live with the name for the rest of their life. So, try to look at it through the eyes of your child: Some children, with a name like Hashtag or Little Sweetmeat might wish there were stricter laws for names.