French court bans parents from naming their daughter Liam; cites ‘gender confusion’

Several countries impose restrictions on names that can be given to children. Getty Images

A couple who welcomed a baby girl in November in Brittany, France, are fighting for their right to name her Liam after local prosecutors have argued that the name “would be likely to create a risk of gender confusion.”

The prosecutor is pushing for the judge to stop the parents, who wish to remain anonymous, from naming their daughter Liam, and order that parents give the child “another name chosen by the parents and, failing that, by the judge.”

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Apparently, the mother says, she was asked by authorities to give her daughter a “more feminine middle name” the day after the baby was born.

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Under French law, a court can ban parents from giving their child a name that they deem to be against the child’s interest. In recent years, courts in France have intervened to prevent children from being named Nutella, Fraise (French for strawberry), Joyeux (French for happy), MJ (after Michael Jackson), Manhattan and Deamon, among others.

Ironically, this is actually representative of more lax regulations in France. Prior to 1993, parents had to choose a name from a government-mandated list of approved monikers, but that was scrapped under President Francois Mitterand’s administration.

France is not the only country to impose such restrictions on new parents, however. Saudi Arabia, New Zealand, Germany, Portugal, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Morocco, Japan, Malaysia and Iceland all have specific laws regarding the naming of children or lists of banned names. In fact, although anything goes in most of Canada, both Quebec and British Columbia reserve the governmental right to prevent parents from naming their children anything that could be deemed a “serious inconvenience for the child,” or a cause of embarrassment or confusion.

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“It’s a self-perpetuating issue,” says Pamela Redmond Satran, co-creator of baby name website Nameberry. “The problem [these laws] seek to remedy, which is to prevent a kid from being ridiculed, kind of perpetuates it. As the rest of the English-speaking world becomes more adventurous and inclusive in terms of kids’ names, there’s greater acceptance as to what’s OK. So, keeping a narrow hold on what’s OK, I think, keeps the country behind the rest of the world.”
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Not to mention that there are some clear benefits to giving your child an unconventional name.

“It’s promoting individuality and I love that for any kid in any way,” says Julie Romanowski, a parenting coach and early childhood consultant. “The parent who gives their child an unusual name obviously wants that child to be its own person. And it sets the tone for the kind of parents you’re going to be.”

She says that shows that you’re a confident parent who wants to raise your child in a way that’s self-promoting and individualistic. She points to Kim Kardashian, who has given her children the unusual names North, Saint and Chicago, as an example of a confident parent who’s eager for her children to stand out from the crowd. Their names, Romanowski says, imply that Kardashian is putting forth the message that she’ll support them, no matter whom or what they choose to become.

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Of course, there’s the obvious pitfall that giving your child a very unconventional name could cause them to be bullied at school. (The French might be on to something with the whole Nutella ban.)

“If you’re going to give your child a different name, like Rainbow, you’d better make sure you’re backing it up by helping them build [the characteristics needed to deflect any ridicule]. You want to teach them about self-worth, self-value, self-esteem and self-security. Then you’ll raise confident children who can stand up for themselves.”
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Some parents, she notes, give their children wildly unusual names because they love the attention it garners, for both themselves and the children.

“That’s a disgrace,” she says. “You always want to ensure that the name you choose is based on a true and positive intention, because this will set the tone for how your child will grow up and what kind of parent you’re going to be.”

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