You Want To Name Your Baby What?

Megan Kauffman, Associate Member, University of Cincinnati Law Review

            In early December 2018, an expecting mother’s Facebook post went viral when she canceled her baby shower because her family and friends mocked the chosen name of her upcoming baby, “Squire Sebastian Senator.”[1]  The woman wants the three-part name to be the given name of the baby boy with a middle name and last name to follow.  While the internet has had a field day over the social media post, the question surfaces: Can she legally give her child the first name of Squire Sebastian Senator?  As birth records and statistics are maintained at the state level, each state has different legal requirements with regards to the names given to babies.  While some states have no particular laws regarding the naming of children, some states have enacted legislation that could prevent a parent from registering a chosen name with the government.

If the mother from the Facebook post was interested in spelling Sebastian in a French or Spanish manner, she could run into issues in California, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.  “Sébastien” and “Sebastián” are not permitted under these states’ legislation, as accents, umlauts, and tildes are prohibited on birth certificates, marriage licenses, and death certificates.  In California, state law changed in 1986 that made English the official language of the state and outlawed the use of symbols on the above official documents.[2]  The above states, as well as New Jersey, has also banned the use of any pictographs or ideograms in names.[3]

If Squire Sebastian Senator is born in Massachusetts, his mother might have to shorten his middle and last names as the state limits the full name of a child to forty letters.  As his first name is twenty-two letters long, his middle and last names could not be longer than eighteen letters combined.  The state of Massachusetts enacted this limitation because of software limitations and ease of administrative processes.[4]

Many states have lists of banned baby names, which include religious figures, obscenities, derogatory figures, or infamous historical figures, such as Adolf Hitler.  Michigan, Nevada, and Connecticut do not require a child to have a name at birth or to have a name listed on the birth certificate.[5]  Other interesting laws involving baby names include those found in Florida, Kentucky, and District of Columbia.  Both parents must be in agreement on a child’s name in Florida or else the state allows the court to decide the name.  The law states that a given name cannot be recorded on the birth certificate until both parents are in agreement on the given name, which is then notarized to show agreement, or until a name is selected by the court.[6]  In District of Columbia, a child can be given any surname as long as it belongs to some past or present familial relation.[7]  Kentucky has taken this one step further, allowing a parent to give a child any surname that they choose, regardless of whether it is a family name or not.  The parents may choose whatever surname they desire, and if the parents are separated or divorced at the time of the birth, the parent who has legal custody can choose the name.  In fact, Kentucky is one of only a few states that has absolutely no restrictions on what a child is named.[8]

Although “Squire Sebastian Senator” is quite an unusual first name, his mother will likely be able to name him such.  Luckily, many states allow for an individual to change his name at the age of eighteen.  When Squire Sebastian Senator realizes the hassle of filling out a scantron during college exams, he will have the option to apply for a name change.


[1] Maura Hohman, Mom-to-Be Cancels Baby Shower After Family Ridicules Her Name Choice: ‘This Name Conveys Power’, People (Dec. 10, 2018) at https://people.com/human-interest/mom-cancels-baby-shower-after-family-ridicules-baby-name-choice-viral-reddit-post/.

[2] Cal. Const., Art. III § 6.

[3] Carlton F.W. Larson, Naming Baby: The Constitutional Dimensions of Parental Naming Rights, in The George Washington Law Review Vol. 80 No. 1, 159, 168 (Nov. 2011).

[4] Id. at 169.

[5] Id. at 170.

[6] Fla. Stat. Ann. § 382.013 (LexisNexis, Lexis Advance through the 2018 Second Regular Session of the 25th Legislature).

[7] D.C. Code § 7-231.08 (Lexis Advance through December 31, 2018 [D.C. Law 22-197]).

[8] Ky. Rev. Stat. § 213.046 (LexisNexis, Lexis Advance through the 2018 legislative session).