59

Ethics aside, is it legal (or even possible) to include a line break (newline) in my child's name? Preferably at the end of the child's first name, directly after the last letter. So instead of (for example) the name "John Doe", the name would always be written out "John
Doe". And then when the first name only is written out the line break would have to be included, such as "My child's first name is John
and his last name is Doe". If this is legal, how would I go about making sure the line break is included on the name section of the birth certificate?

3
  • 120
    Obligatory Little Bobby Tables
    – Peter M
    Oct 13, 2022 at 16:34
  • 126
    It's interesting how technology has changed how we think about language. This question only makes sense if you start from a position where a name is a string of characters from some sort of character set. But originally (I won't say 'really') a name is a particular kind of linguistic unit; a string of characters is just a representation of that name ('Daniel', 'DANIEL', 'דניאל' etc. are all distinct representations). In all but the very recent past this question would be incoherent, like asking whether the ink colour or handwriting style you used on a form was part of the name too.
    – dbmag9
    Oct 14, 2022 at 10:31
  • 3
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – feetwet
    Oct 14, 2022 at 17:23

9 Answers 9

54

In the US, any legal restrictions on names are implemented at the state level——although broad administrative restrictions exist on the federal level. Some states may restrict use of diacritics (ubiquitous in Vietnamese) or Arabic numerals (but not Roman numerals). At the other extreme, in Washington state, there is no requirement to include a name at all in the case of live birth of known parentage. In the case of delayed report of live birth, and "An individual requesting the delayed report of live birth of an individual under twelve years of age must establish the facts concerning full name, date, and place of live birth". But no restrictions are imposed on names that can be so reported.

Theoretically, one could attempt to register a child with the name 𑠓𑠳𑠢 (in the Dogra script), which would cause technical problems for the registrar's office. It is likely that the clerk taking in the form would respond something along the lines of "Huh?" and "How do you spell that". Similarly, one might try to register a birth name Hoàng Phủ Ngọc Tường, which would not be particularly difficult to deal with but might still stress the system (it depends on the county). In the latter case the name might be quietly converted to Hoang Phu Ngoc Tuong. In the former case, it is virtually guaranteed that the clerk would have no recourse but to insist on a romanization. Then the person registering would be insistent, they would file a lawsuit, and the courts would make some decision. It is most likely that the courts would be sympathetic to the practical concerns of the registrar and would not demand a huge overhaul of computer systems to allow any arbitrary graphic representation as a legal name.

The State Department has regulations regarding names at 8 FAM 403: Personally Identifying Information. 8 FAM 403.1-3(C) addresses punctuation, special characters and symbols, diacritical marks, and non-Latin alphabets. They do not prohibit anything in names, instead they acknowledge that not everything is supported, and there is a long discussion of "discrepancies" which would explain the passport name "Nyema" for 𑠓𑠳𑠢. Passport names comply with the International Civil Aviation Organization standard. Social Security has a different set of rules where spaces, numbers, hyphens, slashes or any other special characters are not allowed for names, even including length limits where first, middle and last names can be maximally 10, 7 and 13 characters long (enter the first 10, 7 and 13 characters).

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  • 15
    I don't think they're important for the answer, but I can't see any of the emoji? you used (I'm seeing squares with numbers inside).
    – Clockwork
    Oct 14, 2022 at 11:22
  • 7
    @Clockwork Looks like they're characters from the Dogra block, which was added in 2018, so your font probably doesn't support them yet (neither does mine). Oct 14, 2022 at 13:08
  • 11
    Yeah, they are Dogra Takri letters – a case study of the hassle that gov't. computers would face.
    – user6726
    Oct 14, 2022 at 14:38
  • 3
    Bear in mind, the government systems are (usually) much, much older and less frequently updated than your web browser. Just because you can see these characters, that doesn't mean they can input them into their database.
    – Kevin
    Oct 14, 2022 at 20:18
  • 1
    I see numbered replacement glyphs. Is that supposed to be the only reason they cause problems? Because I think there are much more interesting (generally malicious) things that can be done with Unicode than "some systems don't have glyphs for this text". Oct 14, 2022 at 21:59
33

Can I legally include a line break in my child's name?

Let's rephrase that:

  1. Can I legally register my child's name in bold/italic/underlined/strike-through?
  2. Can I legally register my child's name in a specific color?
  3. Can I legally register my child's name in blinking text?
  4. Can I legally register my child's name with a spoiler cover?

More generally:

  • Is text formatting a feature of a person name?

I'm sure it is not, and you probably will conclude too it's not.

Simple reason: how to format the text name of a person when speaking? Could I file a lawsuit if my teacher doesn't speak my name in italic when checking student presence?

P.S.: stick to letters present in your language's alphabet. If it's not there, it's just a typograhical or other technological convention, not a valid letter.

19
  • 36
    So says "BsAxUbx5KoQDEpCAqSffwGy554PSah"
    – CGCampbell
    Oct 14, 2022 at 14:19
  • 5
    A line break is a character like any other, not formatting.
    – tralph3
    Oct 15, 2022 at 6:00
  • 26
    No a line break is not a character like any other. It might be implemented as an 7 bit code in a computerized document. But it is not a character.
    – James K
    Oct 15, 2022 at 6:21
  • 18
    Lots of things are "characters" in computers that are not characters in language. This is arising because people are mixing two similar but unrelated concepts. How would you write an ASCII BEL on a piece of paper? There are lots of characters in computer character sets that are explicitly for formatting and arranging text. If your name is too long to fit on one line and it wraps to another line, does that mean your name is legally changed? No, of course not. THAT is a line break.
    – barbecue
    Oct 15, 2022 at 20:18
  • 6
    I like the idea of registering my child's name with a spoiler cover -- it would give him something to look forward to on his 18th birthday. Oct 16, 2022 at 6:52
32

Not in

In general, you can name your kid how you want, but there are limits in practice, due to technical and legal constraints.

Germany has a list of allowed characters in names because the Bundesdruckerei does not support every character. Format characters are not on the list, as are many other non letter characters, such as brackets. Neither is þ (thorn), which is still in use as a typical character in Icelandic and would be transliterated into th. Even typical Danish alphabet extensions are not available.

Atop that, German officials can deny names to be put on the birth certificate if they are made up, can't be properly expressed, or in other way or form would negatively impact the child. An example would be a clear negative connotation. How strict they are? Well, depends on the name and clear ideology: You can not ever name your kid Satan, Stalin, or Lenin and you might trigger the block with Adolf, but you won't get scrutiny if name your kid Adolphus. Oh, and you are limited to 5 first names, of which at most pairs can be combined with a hyphen.

However, even old names can get this treatment. Among the people I know, the father of an Oke had to prove that it was a typical Friesian name, and the parents of a Merlin were urged to add a second name.

Not in

The 戸籍法 (Family Register Act) contains this paragraph:

第五十条子の名には、常用平易な文字を用いなければならない。
Article 50(1)For the given name of a child, characters that are simple and in common use shall be used.

2常用平易な文字の範囲は、法務省令でこれを定める。
(2)The scope of characters that are simple and in common use shall be defined by Ordinance of the Ministry of Justice.

The list of characters on the Ordinance is Hiragana, Katakana, common Kanji, and a list of uncommon ones. None of them is a linebreak, or a Latin character (Romanji), or an Indian number.

Consolation price: Numerals in Japanese script are available for naming, and are actually somewhat common. For example, Ichigo with the "ichi" written as is literally "first ..." and some of those are rather common names, especially the combinations meaning "first child".

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  • 8
    "if they are made up"? Every name was made up at some point.
    – phoog
    Oct 14, 2022 at 0:52
  • 30
    @phoog Every other thing about language was made up at some point, too. And yet, "Alice" is clearly a woman's name. And "Xylopharm Forte", although I just made that up on the spot, is clearly an excellent medication for Xylophon phobia. But certainly not your neighbors kid's name. So, "must be a name" is a perfectly valid point, even though we made up all of these words.
    – nvoigt
    Oct 14, 2022 at 6:02
  • 9
    @phoog The formulation is can deny, they don't have do. It happens only very rarely, if it sounds like it could be a name you will be fine.
    – quarague
    Oct 14, 2022 at 6:12
  • 9
    @BЈовић Germany is the one country that feels very, very guilty about its past. The names associated with this guilty period are socially unacceptable in Germany, meaning that any child with such a name would be very likely to suffer bullying. Names that make a child likely to be bullied are not allowed.
    – UTF-8
    Oct 14, 2022 at 7:43
  • 5
    I met a person whose father immigrated to Germany. After they had arrived, they applied for a new passport. The clerk could not properly decipher the last name on the damaged document. So they entered "Blake or Bloke" into the system, indicating that someone down the line should take a look at it. But no-one did. So they ended up with a passport identifying them as "John Blake or Bloke". Based on this anecdote, I would say: The only thing stopping this from happening is that entering a newline into a system is hard. With any other exotic, but keyboard-accessible character, you might get lucky.
    – Hermann
    Oct 14, 2022 at 10:30
28

Not in Iceland

Iceland has an explicit list of approved given names. If a child’s prospective name is on that list, then it’s fine. If it’s not on that list, then it needs to be approved by the Mannanafnanefnd (generally called the ‘Icelandic Naming Committee’ in English). Actually being approved has a couple of concrete requirements:

  • It can only contain letters in the Icelandic alphabet (A, Á, B, D, Ð, E, É, F, G, H, I, Í, J, K, L, M, N, O, Ó, P, R, S, T, U, Ú, V, X, Y, Ý, Þ, Æ, and Ö).
  • It has to be possible to decline it as a noun in the Icelandic language’s grammatical case system. This is a requirement because Iceland still uses patronymic and matronymic surnames instead of family names like most of the rest of the Western world does, which means that it must be possible to form a genitive form of a name (so that it can then be used as the first part of the patronymic or matronymic name of any future children).
  • In practice because of the above two constraints, it usually has to follow Icelandic phonotactics (that is, combinations of sounds that are not valid in Icelandic are typically not allowed).
  • Prior to 2019, the name’s grammatical gender had to match the physiological gender of the individual.

Additionally, the Mannanafnanefnd has to accept that the name is ‘compatible with Icelandic tradition’ (yes, it’s really that vague in the laws surrounding this), and is not likely to cause the bearer embarrassment (so, for example, something such as Rassinn would not be likely to be accepted).

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  • 11
    Can you point out what is embarrassing about "Rassinn"? Maybe it means something naughty in Iceland? Oct 14, 2022 at 2:19
  • 4
    @GregoryCurrie Google Translate suggests that it refers to the buttocks in Icelandic, so, yeah, "naughty", I suppose. I'm not sure what Bjork refers to, which Harper mentioned in his comment.
    – Cody Gray
    Oct 14, 2022 at 5:11
  • 3
    @CGCampbell Genitive means possessive. In English, that’s usually just add ’s to a name (except when it’s just alone), but in other languages, the changes to a word to form the genitive/possessive can be more elaborate. In Icelandic, there are a few different forms for names, and they have corresponding (different) forms for the genitive. Since there isn’t one “universal” (ish) form for genitives like English has with ’s, if the form of a name isn’t properly formed, there isn’t a corresponding genitive form, which causes a problem with the formation of the patronymic system.
    – KRyan
    Oct 14, 2022 at 14:23
  • 6
    @WoJ o, ó and ö are distinct letters in Icelandic, not letters with different diacritical marks, so substituting one of them for one of the others is a misspelling in the strictest sense. And given that in Iceland it is perfectly reasonable to assume that Icelandic people can type/write the correct letters when communicating in Icelandic, it is very much a misspelling in this context. Oct 14, 2022 at 16:05
  • 3
    @WoJ It's akin to the o / ö in German - ö is not a diacritical of o, it is a ligature of oe. Same for ä (ae) and ü (ue). if you can only use 26 letters, and not äöü, you replace them by ae oe ue in German text.
    – Trish
    Oct 15, 2022 at 22:46
16

Not in Canada

I assume you are asking whether it is legal or possible to include a line break character in the name used in the state administrative records referring to your child, since I am not aware of any restrictions on what you call your child or how you represent your child's name in your own writing. Here are some restrictions from around Canada.

Vital Statistics Act:

the given name and the surname must consist only of the letters "a" to "z" and accents from the English or French languages, but may include hyphens and apostrophes

Birth Registration (appears to be a practical, not legal constraint):

Names must use Latin alphabetic letters, and can contain apostrophes, hyphens, a period, and a standard set of French accents. Numbers, brackets (), slashes / or other symbols are not accepted.

Restrictions respecting personal names (it is not clear whether these are practical or legal restrictions):

All given and last names must begin with a letter and may contain non-consecutive hyphens, apostrophes and periods. The name must use the standard English alphabet of 26 letters.

Some punctuation marks are allowed, but "A legal name cannot contain just hyphens, periods or apostrophes without letters such as ('..-..')". Some accented characters can also be printed.

Vital Statistics Act: The Registrar has discretion to refuse to register a name that in the Registrar's opinion might reasonably be expected to cause confusion.


An aside. I think we all understood this question clearly, and it's been a fun research adventure! But I would avoid the framing about whether people's "names" are legal. None of this regulates names as such. It regulates what you can have the state to record and refer to you as. It regulates one's "legal" name—one's administrative name. I think this is an important distinction because calling one's name "illegal" can minimize one's identity. And highlighting the distinction between one's name and the name recognized by the government can help push the government to expand their capacity to different forms of names.

2
  • 2
    The Nobel Prize winner 't Hooft is not legal in Alberta :'(
    – gerrit
    Oct 14, 2022 at 7:33
  • Interestingly, not much immigration from Mexico is expected if you can not use ñ. Jan 26 at 17:44
14

Not in France

The glyphs of a first name must be part of the French alphabet. The new line character/sequence is not part of it.

I did not find anything for the family name but I believe that in doubt it would follow the rules for the first name.

2
  • 4
    Also, just like Germany, the clerk can refuse the name is it may be detrimental to the child
    – user7327
    Oct 14, 2022 at 12:14
  • I was told that in the UK the clerk is not even allowed to tell you that you used a mis-spelling of a common given name.
    – gnasher729
    Oct 16, 2022 at 22:49
11

Probably not in Sweden and Israel

According to the Naming law in Sweden Wikipedia article:

The first paragraph does not give a person the right to acquire as a first name a name that can cause offence, can be assumed to lead to discomfort for the person who will bear the name, or is for some other reason unsuitable as a first name.

For example "Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116" was not approved as a name.

Israel has a similar law regarding names.

8

This FOI request outlines the relatively permissive regime that governs the registering of baby names, but your chosen name would not be allowed as it is not a "sequence of letters".

Registrations of births in England and Wales are made under the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953 and the Registration of Births and Deaths Regulations 1987. The legislation does not set out any guidance on what parents may name their child.

Our advice to registrars is that a name should consist of a sequence of letters and that it should not be offensive. The reason for limiting the registration of names to a sequence of letters is that a name which includes a string of numbers or symbols etc. has no intrinsic sense of being a name, however the suffix 'II' or 'III' would be allowed.

The only restriction on the length of a name is that it must be able to fit in the space provided on the registration page.

There are no leaflets or booklets available giving guidance on this matter. Where the registrar has any concerns over a name they will discuss this with the parents and point out the problems the child may face as they grow up and try to get them to reconsider their choice.

We have not had occasion to refuse to register a name.

In practice, the registrar would advise you that this name wouldn't be allowed and try to dissuade you from giving your offspring a stupid name, noting that none of the following characters appear in any UK registration on record;

Following a search of the data I can confirm that none of the relevant characters appear in the names published in the above releases.

enter image description here

2
  • Just as a point of order, there has been at least one occasion when a parent's choice has been refused as a name for their child by a registrar, which subsequently went to court (and the court found in favour of the registrar). AP News: British court rules woman can’t name her daughter Cyanide Oct 15, 2022 at 7:30
  • 2
    @GeoffAtkins - She wasn't refused by the registrar, she was found out by her social workers before she could formally register the names and they took out an injunction; bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-mid-wales-36045987 - "In June, a judge issued an injunction against the mother, forbidding her from formally registering the twins' forenames.". Had she been mentally well (and had a better explanation for why she chose that name), it would likely have been allowed
    – Richard
    Oct 15, 2022 at 7:37
4

TL;DR

Don't do this to your child. I feel like CPS could file an abuse report against you for the hardship you'd cause.


Setting aside both ethics and legality you are merely inquiring about the capabilities of computer systems.

Odds are sky-high that the field where the name gets entered is just a single-line text field which does not support newlines; by design.

Even if you could miraculously register the newline control character in your child's name it will simply trigger a life of hardship in every single web form which has to be filled out.

See https://jsfiddle.net/o1zthnwy/

2
  • "Odds are sky-high that the field where the name gets entered is just a single-line text field which does not support newlines; by design." It depends on what convention of newline you have in mind. <br>? \n? \r\n? Oct 17, 2022 at 13:35
  • @BsAxUbx5KoQDEpCAqSffwGy554PSah I'm not sure what you're getting at
    – MonkeyZeus
    Oct 17, 2022 at 16:41

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