Swiss rules for naming babies

There are lots of rules in Switzerland. And I’m not just talking about speed limits and littering laws. The Swiss laws get personal.

Most of them exist to keep you from irritating your neighbors. Before we moved here, we read stories of people forbidden to do laundry on Sunday and of men told to pee sitting down after 10 p.m. because they made too much noise standing up. We have been shushed by our neighbors for laughing too loudly on our balcony. I have been scolded in the grocery store by another customer for touching too many peaches, and my husband has been scolded at the gym for sweating too much.

So my husband and I were prepared for there to be rules about the baby we’re having in Switzerland. But we were surprised to learn that the Swiss have rules about what we can name her.

The Swiss authorities must approve all baby names. According to Swiss Watching, an excellent book about life in Switzerland by Diccon Bewes, the rules include:

  • Forbidding any name that will “harm the child’s well-being or be offensive to a third party”, so shocking, insulting or laughable names are out. Bewes says names like “Mary Christmas” or “Richard Head” would be out.
  • No giving a boy a girl’s name or a girl a boy’s name. Some of the top 100 girls’ names in 2013 in the United States might not pass this Swiss test. Avery, Riley, Peyton and Aubrey might be too masculine.
  • Biblical “bad guys” like Cain and Judas are forbidden.
  • No naming your child a brand name. No Chanel, Porsche, Mercedes or Bentley.
  • No place names. Paris Hilton is a no-go. So are names like Brooklyn, London and Sydney – all of which were in the U.S. top 100 last year.
  • Surnames can’t be used as first names. Most of my friends from the South are appalled by this one.
  • No making up a brand new name. Condoleeza Rice would never have gotten that name if she was born in Switzerland.

At first I chalked this up to being Swiss. A country that has rules about how to pee almost certainly isn’t going to let something as important as baby names slide by unchecked. Then I realized it’s not just the Swiss — lots of European countries apparently have rules for baby naming, including:

  • Germany: It’s similar to Switzerland. No boys names for girls and vice versa; no brand names and no object names. Gwyneth Paltrow would never have been able to name her daughter Apple in Germany.
  • Sweden: No names that cause offense or discomfort.
  • Denmark: Parents must choose from a list of 7,000 approved names.
  • Portugal: Provides lists of banned and approved names for parents to consult.
  • Italy: Women can’t pass their surnames onto their children, even with a hyphenated last name.
  • Iceland: A committee rules on any unusual names.

Luckily none of our chosen names violate the Swiss rules. But if they did, I think we’d discuss it with the U.S. Embassy and try to find a workaround. Call me a loosey-goosey American, but our approach encourages creativity and I like that. It allows new names to evolve and emerge. There are some great names that don’t conform to the Swiss rules like Sydney, Austin, Reese and Jackson. These names simply wouldn’t exist if we all had rules like Switzerland’s and that’s kind of sad.

But it’s about more than creativity. If my government doesn’t trust me to use good judgment to pick out an appropriate name for my child, why does it trust me to use good judgment to raise them? I wonder if the Swiss parents whose baby names are rejected get tagged for special parental supervision. Somehow I doubt it.

All these naming rules seem more about conformity and protecting some cultural ideal rather than protecting the child. For me, that conformity isn’t valuable enough to warrant the effort. Clearly, I’m not Swiss!

About missmba

What happens when a language-loving, mathphobic liberal arts major goes jumps on the MBA train. Follow my adventures at a top 20 business school.
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