Naming: From Fly-fornication (ok) to ChristIsKing (not ok)
February 27, 2013 3:03 PM   Subscribe

Historically the United States (on a state by state basis) has given almost complete freedom to parents to name their children, both first name and surname, with results like "Fly-fornication," "Mahershalalhashbaz," "Encyclopedia Britannia," "States Rights" (who was killed in battle as an officer for the confederacy), "Trailing Arbutus Vines" and many more. (Naming Baby: The Constitutional Dimensions of Parental Naming Rights, Carlton F.W. Larson, 2011 [SSRN/PDF]). In October 2012, however, New York courts made two interesting rulings that reflect limitations on renaming, if not naming, rights, for both adults and children.

Matter of Kobra: Three years after changing their eldest daughter's name to include the father's surname, "Hossain," the parents returned to court to remove Hussain from the last name of both of their daughters' names "because the neighborhood children laughed at them and made fun of them because their surname is commonly referred used by Muslims." The names they wanted to give would include the surname of neither parent. The judge found the mother's testimony about her reasons for the name change not credible and noted:

"Notwithstanding the applicant's assertions that in Bangladesh, India, it customary for everyone in "a typical household" to have completely different names, both of these children are American-born citizens and have adapted, embraced and are a part of our American culture. It is certainly not common on the shores of this nation that the "typical household" members have completely different names... This court can only imagine the confusion and hardship that these children would have as they grow older and interact with other children and others if this petition were granted."

Matter of Nawadiuko: A father, mother, and their two children ages 15 and 18, filed to change their last name to "ChristIsKing" (having previously sought to change their then minor son's first name to "JesusIsLord." The court refused.

It ruled that it would be inappropriate to others who might then have to 'proclaim' a faith statement which they do not believe:

"For instance, a calendar call in the courthouse would require the clerk to shout out "JesusIsLord ChristIsKing" or "Rejoice ChristIsKing." Other litigants would not necessarily know whether the clerk was reading the calendar or making some religious statement in violation of the separation of church and state. "

The court also attempted to distinguish the name "JesusIsLord" from very common names like "Daniel," (meaning 'God is my Judge') or "Michael" ('Who is like God?"):

"Just about every culture throughout history has had some concept of "God" or "gods." What petitioners are advocating is a name that is a statement that a particular person is "Lord" or is the "King." This is a position which is not only offensive to persons who are not Christians but also to those who look to God a being gender neutral and not a male figure."

The court concluded that the petitioners "have a common law right to use whatever names they choose and are free to do so." It is unclear how one could assert that common law right in support of a name change at the DMV, passport office, or credit bureau.

Via Divorce: New York blog
posted by Salamandrous (54 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Obligatory whenever odd names are mentioned.
posted by GuyZero at 3:09 PM on February 27, 2013 [11 favorites]


Naming: Not just a problem for programmers anymore.
posted by b1tr0t at 3:10 PM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Now I wish I'd named my son Steamboat Willy just so I could meet some Supreme Court justices.
posted by shakespeherian at 3:11 PM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


How many name change petitions get denied routinely? Based on that second ruling I wonder if they would prohibit someone from changing their name to "ShootThePresident" as it would require people to make illegal threats every time they read the name aloud.
posted by GuyZero at 3:13 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]



"Just about every culture throughout history has had some concept of "God" or "gods." What petitioners are advocating is a name that is a statement that a particular person is "Lord" or is the "King." This is a position which is not only offensive to persons who are not Christians but also to those who look to God a being gender neutral and not a male figure."


I appreciate the sentiment but a name is just a random but agreed-upon identifier. No one who says "John Goodman" feels they're making a value judgement about his character just by saying his name.
posted by bleep at 3:16 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


"States Rights" (who was killed in battle as an officer for the confederacy

BAM!
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:19 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


The historian Robert Wright named his son Alexander Hamilton Was Wright. Would the ruling against ChristIsKing apply to him too?
posted by roll truck roll at 3:20 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Blær Bjarkardottir, a fifteen year old girl, recently sued the Icelandic government for the right to use her own name. Apparently Blaer is not on the Icelandic government's Personal Names Register, a list of names from which parents are expected to choose when naming their children, apparently as a way of preventing parents from giving their kids embarrassing names.

Up until that point, Blaer's passport stated that her name was "Girl Bjarkardottir." (Stúlka Bjarkardottir)

Government should not be involved in regulating the names of human beings.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:26 PM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


In the first Matter, Chief Justice Rock T. Steady rules that all petitioners involved shall change their last name to Kobra, because that is a fucking kickass name. So sayeth the Court. Oyez oyez.
posted by Rock Steady at 3:28 PM on February 27, 2013 [13 favorites]


It is certainly not common on the shores of this nation that the "typical household" members have completely different names...

The judge has never been to my neighborhood.
posted by tommyD at 3:39 PM on February 27, 2013 [12 favorites]


Interesting post! Thanks for linking to the decisions. When you hear about controversial and potentially groundbreaking court rulings, it's worth reading them in full. Often you'll discover they aren't so groundbreaking after all.

For instance, a few salient points from Kobra are that the parent was seeking to change the child's name for the second time in three years, and offering three different explanations for the proposed change. The court found that none of these explanations were credible and (although it doesn't explain why) that the parents was seeking this name change "to deceive or perpetuate a fraud on some third parties." In that context, it's not really surprising the petition was denied.

But occasionally, you read the full ruling and discover it really is that controversial. Nawadiuko may be. The court notes several instances where the parents appear to be either playing a bit fast and loose with legal formalities, or maybe being just outright dishonest, and probably the court could have just stopped there and denied the request. Instead, the decision leans pretty heavily on:
To permit this name change would be placing unwitting members of the public including public servants in the position of having to proclaim petitioners' religious beliefs which may or may not be in agreement with that person's own equally strongly held but different beliefs.

For instance, a calendar call in the courthouse would require the clerk to shout out "JesusIsLord ChristIsKing" or "Rejoice ChristIsKing." Other litigants would not necessarily know whether the clerk was reading the calendar or making some religious statement in violation of the separation of church and state. A similar situation would occur in the classroom setting. Not only is the speaker being forced to say something which might be repugnant to the speaker but the general public would be subjected to this unwanted intrusion of the petitioners' religious beliefs. What would be people's reaction to hear the petitioners' being paged at an airport or some other public event?
I'm not a First Amendment scholar, and I don't know the case law on name changes. In my jurisdiction, judges who hear family-law cases are overworked and don't have a lot of research help, and there are a couple things about Nawadiuko that indicate the same might be true in that court. It's clear from reading the decision that the court is being thoughtful and trying to do the right thing. But man, there's some shaky reasoning happening there (eg, analogizing a court-ordered name change to a state action erecting the Ten Commandments in a public place), and it's not ground I'd want to be standing on without having had a couple law clerks or research attorneys look it over first.
posted by cribcage at 3:41 PM on February 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


Well, finally SOMEONE put their damn foot down about a crappy name change.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:44 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think there's a middle ground between "you can use any name at all ever for a child" and "here is the list of names which you may use". I think there are good reasons for there to be some restrictions on what you can name children (but not so much on what an adult can use as a legal name). But I live somewhere that there are reasonably significant restrictions on names (first and last), compared to the US.
posted by jeather at 3:45 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


The kids are just going to be known by whatever online alias they choose in their teens anyway. JesusIsLord isn't much different than sexybonertime6969... Except perhaps slightly more embarrassing.
posted by backseatpilot at 3:50 PM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


While yeah, the required list of names is kind of much, I am in favor of people not naming their kids things that are just actively terrible, such as the latter example here.

When you work at a school, you see a large number of names where you can't help but think, "If your last name was X, why on earth did you pair that with Y?" (Usually those names are pun jokes, or something dirty, or both.) Not to mention "Dear god, how did you make up the spelling of that? Your poor child!" There are times where I just think some parents must be assholes to saddle their kid with a terrible joke name or complete gibberish that's impossible to spell.

(Sadly, I will not be sharing examples of such names online, as god knows everyone Googles themselves.)
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:50 PM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Was this a legit court, lawyer folk? I rember there was an exposé in the times a number of years ago about the batshit circuit system they had upstate where a lot of the judges were political appointees and didn't no much about no fancy lawyerin' kind of a thing. People randomly getting a year in county over a traffic ticket because the judge didn't like the cut of their jib, that sort of thing. I don't know if any reforms were ever made, and it wouldn't surprise me if some wildly unconstitutional ruling came out of a lower court system like that.
posted by Diablevert at 3:52 PM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


It is certainly not common on the shores of this nation that the "typical household" members have completely different names...
The judge has never been to my neighborhood.
I assume you're referring to situations where the child and the mother are named "Smith" but the father is "Jones", or the child and the father are "Jones" but the mother is "Smith", or the father is "Jones", the mother is "Smith", and the child is "Smith-Jones"?

If so, I believe the judge was referring to a different situation: The mother is "Smith", the father is "Jones", the child is "Miller". Is this sort of thing common in your neighborhood?
posted by Flunkie at 3:55 PM on February 27, 2013


In the first Matter, Chief Justice Rock T. Steady rules that all petitioners involved shall change their last name to Kobra, because that is a fucking kickass name. So sayeth the Court. Oyez oyez.

Overruled in appeal by Judge Hank "The Hangman" BMW
posted by entropicamericana at 3:58 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh yes, true story: Thirty years ago when my father was still teaching he had a girl come through his college non-calculus physics class whose surname was Hooker. Her parents had named her Ima.
posted by localroger at 4:00 PM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


There was a thing a few years back where a supermarket refused to inscribe a birthday cake for a toddler with his name, which was "Adolf Hitler Campbell". DYFS took the kids away but said it wasn't because of the name. This post reminded me of it, so I just googled to see if there have been any updates. And boy, was DYFS right.
posted by Flunkie at 4:01 PM on February 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


For instance, a few salient points from Kobra are that the parent was seeking to change the child's name for the second time in three years, and offering three different explanations for the proposed change. The court found that none of these explanations were credible and (although it doesn't explain why) that the parents was seeking this name change "to deceive or perpetuate a fraud on some third parties." In that context, it's not really surprising the petition was denied.

I think I agree with you about the final outcome - it's reasonable to say that there has to be some limit to playing with your kids' names, and of course, only the court knew how credible the mother came off. Still, this bit gets me:

"the Applicant stated that she wanted to change the children's name for passport purposes. Subsequently, in a teary eyed and uncontrolled emotional appeal to the undersigned, the Applicant exclaimed that she was desperate to change the names of her children because the neighborhood children laughed at them and made fun of them because their surname is commonly referred used by Muslims."

There is enough anti-Muslim bigotry here that I can definitely see how 'passport purposes' (could mean not getting frisked every time they try to travel), and kids' teasing them could actually be part of the same reason. And I dislike the implication that her crying 'uncontrolled' emotional 'appeal' is a bad thing.

I was also not impressed by the judge's commentary about what American naming is like and why these kids should have to conform to that.
posted by Salamandrous at 4:03 PM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Notwithstanding the applicant's assertions that in Bangladesh, India, it customary for everyone in "a typical household" to have completely different names, both of these children are American-born citizens and have adapted, embraced and are a part of our American culture. It is certainly not common on the shores of this nation that the "typical household" members have completely different names... This court can only imagine the confusion and hardship that these children would have as they grow older and interact with other children and others if this petition were granted."

Because that's not in the least offensive. I guess I know what happens to those kids who kept telling me "This is America, you have to do X" in school--they grow up to become judges.
posted by hoyland at 4:05 PM on February 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


If so, I believe the judge was referring to a different situation: The mother is "Smith", the father is "Jones", the child is "Miller". Is this sort of thing common in your neighborhood?

I have two stepsons and a daughter from a previous marriage. The five people in my household have four different last names. It's not that weird.
posted by Etrigan at 4:05 PM on February 27, 2013 [12 favorites]


Oh my god, this is the kind of thing that brings out the spittle-frothing anarchist libertarian in me. Really?, the US courts are so underburdened with rapists and stalkers and child abusers and corrupt bankers and other actual business that they have the leisure time to stick their prissy noses into what I choose to call myself or my (fortunately hypothetical) offspring?

Btw, if you name your child Chris Smith, other children will still likely find some reason to torture the living shit out of the little gopher.

Sincerely,
Fellini HailSatanBlank
posted by FelliniBlank at 4:06 PM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


If so, I believe the judge was referring to a different situation: The mother is "Smith", the father is "Jones", the child is "Miller". Is this sort of thing common in your neighborhood?

My mom kept her maiden name when she married my father. She got custody of me when they divorced. She remarried a few years later, still kept her maiden name. I kept my father's surname. Mom and my step-dad eventually had two kids of their own, who used my step-father's surname.

Hello.
posted by Spatch at 4:06 PM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


If so, I believe the judge was referring to a different situation: The mother is "Smith", the father is "Jones", the child is "Miller". Is this sort of thing common in your neighborhood?

It's uncommon, but hardly 'un-American'. A couple with different surnames adopt a child, particularly an older child, and don't change the kid's name?
posted by hoyland at 4:08 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have two stepsons and a daughter from a previous marriage. The five people in my household have four different last names. It's not that weird.
I'm not saying it's "weird", and I'm not even agreeing with the judge that it's a factor that should be taken into account in the decision (and for the record, I think it shouldn't be). I'm asking if it's common. Because the judge's reasoning was based on it supposedly not being common, and the person to whom I responded indicated that in his neighborhood, it is.
posted by Flunkie at 4:09 PM on February 27, 2013


Btw, if you name your child Chris Smith, other children will still likely find some reason to torture the living shit out of the little gopher.

Ahz-wipeh!
posted by The Bellman at 4:10 PM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


I have a relative called Ida Tester. No, I don't know what her parents were thinking and I don't want to.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:10 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's uncommon, but hardly 'un-American'. A couple with different surnames adopt a child, particularly an older child, and don't change the kid's name?

On preview, people have reminded me that my own family is an example. When I left home, my mom and brother were a household of parent and child with different surnames. I guess I was part of the household the summer after college and my mother, her partner and I were three different surnames.
posted by hoyland at 4:10 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


If so, I believe the judge was referring to a different situation: The mother is "Smith", the father is "Jones", the child is "Miller". Is this sort of thing common in your neighborhood?

It might not be super common, but I wouldn't think it's something that most people would even remark upon. My sister and I both have the same father. When we were younger, my mother remarried and wanted us to take my step-dads last name. My sister did, I didn't. So then she and I had different last names. Then my mother and that man got divorced and she remarried. And so her last name is now different than either of ours (and was when we were all still living under the same roof). My ex and his two brothers all have different fathers. His mother went by the same last name he has, I assume because he's the oldest and that was her first marriage, but that's still four people with three different last names in one household. I could go on, but I see that other people have also pointed this out. I really do find it pretty common these days, and I think it's definitely old-fashioned thinking on that judge's part.
posted by primalux at 4:14 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


How many name change petitions get denied routinely?

As a young student I was once an observer as a bunch of these cases were held in front of a judge. I'd guess at least 80% or so of the name changes were approved. Almost all of the requests that were rejected would have been approved, but for their failure to comply with one or more of the prerequisites (things like publishing the intended name change in a paper of record for certain number of days, etc.). Only a couple were rejected for really substantive reasons -- I recall one was a shifty guy who wanted to be named "Southern California Edison" (probably thought he'd be able to cash checks written out to them, or something).
posted by RichardP at 4:15 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also obligatory whenever odd names are mentioned.
posted by marxchivist at 4:16 PM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Also obligatory whenever odd names are mentioned.
I was expecting Nicholas Unless-Jesus-Christ-Had-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned Barebon, who was mentioned in another Metafilter post earlier today. But yours reminds me of George Foreman, who named all five of his sons "George".
posted by Flunkie at 4:22 PM on February 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Also, also obligatory, with favorites selected by the site's authors.
posted by mosk at 4:26 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's also the Name of the Year. Unfortunately it seems that nobody had a good enough name for 2012, so Taco B. M. Monster gets to keep the trophy.
posted by zsazsa at 4:31 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Great post!
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:36 PM on February 27, 2013


Also obligatory whenever odd names are mentioned:

. . . Another one Marvin O’Gravel Balloon Face. . .

Hellooooo, sock puppet.
posted by The Bellman at 4:42 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


It ruled that it would be inappropriate to others who might then have to 'proclaim' a faith statement which they do not believe:

"For instance, a calendar call in the courthouse would require the clerk to shout out "JesusIsLord ChristIsKing" or "Rejoice ChristIsKing." Other litigants would not necessarily know whether the clerk was reading the calendar or making some religious statement in violation of the separation of church and state. "
I'm all for a separation of church and state, but that reasoning seems completely ridiculous. There are already people who have names like "praisegod" and stuff like that. I think it might be a bad idea to saddle an infant with a name like that, but if the kids are 15 and 18 they are old enough to make the decision.

Also the different last names things seems pretty ridiculous as well.
posted by delmoi at 4:46 PM on February 27, 2013


The whole point of the separation of Church and State is that the state employees are officially being paid not to have an opinion about religion, at least during working hours.

In this case, the judge is most emphatically expressing an opinion that because not everyone agrees that Christ Is King, that therefore this family is not allowed to use ChristIsKing as their last name. He's restricting otherwise-legal behavior on a religious basis.

As far as I'm concerned, that's an agent of the government having an opinion about religion during working hours. He actively imposes that opinion on others, restricting the speech of other citizens based on the religious content of that speech.

That's exactly the sort of thing that's not supposed to happen here.
posted by Malor at 5:00 PM on February 27, 2013


Won't someone please think of poor Le-a?!
posted by jph at 5:44 PM on February 27, 2013


Ugh I hate that joke. It has to be the Top Racist Joke White People Think Is Okay to Tell.
posted by jph at 5:44 PM on February 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


I found the Times series on NY's crappy courts.* These decisions seem to have come for the supposedly legit, now-manned-by-actual-lawyers! ones, though.




*But one of many horrendous examples in that article: "[S]everal people in the small town of Dannemora were intimidated by their longtime justice, Thomas R. Buckley, a phone-company repairman who cursed at defendants and jailed them without bail or a trial, state disciplinary officials found. Feuding with a neighbor over her dog’s running loose, he threatened to jail her and ordered the dog killed.

'I just follow my own common sense,' Mr. Buckley, in an interview, said of his 13 years on the bench. 'And the hell with the law.'"

posted by Diablevert at 5:50 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh for Christ's sake! Now you're doing it on purpose!

Sigh.

Have we learned nothing from the example of Nicholas Unless-Jesus-Christ-Had-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned Barebon... Whatever.
posted by Naberius at 5:52 PM on February 27, 2013


The whole point of the separation of Church and State is that the state employees are officially being paid not to have an opinion about religion, at least during working hours.

In this case, the judge is most emphatically expressing an opinion that because not everyone agrees that Christ Is King, that therefore this family is not allowed to use ChristIsKing as their last name. He's restricting otherwise-legal behavior on a religious basis.


Well, not entirely-- they're saying that in having to recite this last name, state employees will be forced themselves to make a religious proclamation. Which is also a rather stupid proposition. But slightly different reasoning, within its own odd logic.
posted by threeants at 7:17 PM on February 27, 2013


Kabotchnik v. Cabot, which led to a slight change in the famous poem about Boston:

And this is good old Boston,
The home of the bean and the cod,
Where the Lowells have no one to talk to
Since the Cabots speak Yiddish, by God.

posted by adamg at 8:02 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm naming my kid Batman (boy or girl) and no one can stop me.
posted by cmoj at 8:40 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm all for a separation of church and state, but that reasoning seems completely ridiculous.

His fundamental point is that judges have the right to say yea or nay to statutory name changes, which means that it's his decision. And I think that it's the right decision. Here's where he cites precedent:
In Cohen v California, 403 US 15, 20 (1971), the Supreme Court summarized the "few categories of instances where prior decisions have established the power of government to deal more comprehensively with certain forms of individual expression simply upon a showing that such a form was employed." The three categories set forth were "obscenity," which in the name change context was addressed above by In the Matter of the Petition of Variable; "fighting words" in a name change containing personally abusive epithets such as discussed above in Lee; and situations where "expression was thrust upon unwilling or unsuspecting viewers, and that the State might therefore legitimately act as it did in order to protect the sensitive from otherwise unavoidable exposure" to the actors form of protest.
This is the third case: expression is being thrust upon people to whom it is unwelcome. The petitioners were legally free to call themselves whatever they wanted, but they were not able to enlist the state's aid in an attempt to force people to recite their creed.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:08 PM on February 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


They should reapply and ask to change the name to Chris Tisking.
posted by biffa at 1:42 AM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Or run up a bidding war between Christ and an online casino for naming rights to the child.
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:04 AM on February 28, 2013


The historian Robert Wright named his son Alexander Hamilton Was Wright. Would the ruling against ChristIsKing apply to him too?

If you want to give out a name like that, you've gotta do it the way the LORD intended, by marrying Don Was.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 7:22 AM on February 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


roll truck roll: "The historian Robert Wright named his son Alexander Hamilton Was Wright. Would the ruling against ChristIsKing apply to him too?"

The 20th governor of Texas, Big Jim Hogg named his only daughter "Ima".
posted by namewithoutwords at 8:04 AM on February 28, 2013


If the Court is going to start banning names just because they cause some practical inconvenience, what will become of little Bobby Tables?
posted by The Bellman at 9:44 AM on February 28, 2013


No love for Johann Gambolputty de von Ausfern- schplenden- schlitter- crasscrenbon- fried- digger- dingle- dangle- dongle- dungle- burstein- von- knacker- thrasher- apple- banger- horowitz- ticolensic- grander- knotty- spelltinkle- grandlich- grumblemeyer- spelterwasser- kurstlich- himbleeisen- bahnwagen- gutenabend- bitte- ein- nürnburger- bratwustle- gerspurten- mitz- weimache- luber- hundsfut- gumberaber- shönedanker- kalbsfleisch- mittler- aucher von Hautkopft of Ulm?
posted by Chrysostom at 1:05 PM on February 28, 2013


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