Should courts intervene with children’s names?
The Nutella controversy surrounds a French couple who wanted to name their child after the popular chocolate hazelnut spread but it was overruled by a French court. The court ruled that Nutella is a brand name owned by Italian company Ferrero and is therefore an infringement. The judge also said that it was in the child’s interest not to have the name as this could (well, it would) result in the child being teased. This case is the latest in a line of cases where parents have been barred from naming their child a certain name for various reasons.
Judges ruling against the names parents have chosen for their children is nothing new, there have been many similar cases where a judge has denied the name chosen for a child in the past. A family were denied the name Fraise (Strawberry) for similar reason to the Nutella case. Although strawberry is not a brand name and not copyright owned by anyone, the judge ruled that it was in the interest of the child not to be name strawberry because the name would cause the child to be teased and it would have a negative impact throughout their life. The child had to be re-named Fraisine, a name that was very popular in 19th century France.
Some countries have official rules and restrictions on names, for example, a Turkish couple tried to name their child Osama Bin Laden but were disallowed after it was deemed offensive. Certain countries also have specific rules for what parents can and cannot name their children. In Germany, a child cannot have the forename that is another person’s surname, so a child couldn’t have the forename ‘Merkel’ because that is the surname of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. Names with numbers in them are banned in many countries. The UK, US, France and New Zealand have much more relaxed rules on child names, many American parents believe that parents being free to choose whatever name they please for their child is a part of having free speech and that the child could change their name when legally allowed to do so if he or she wishes.
Court intervention in the naming of children does still occur and it is one of the only ways a court will intervene with a child’s life, except if they have sufficient evidence of the child being in danger or not having a sufficient quality of life. Many people believe that this is wrong and that parents should have total control over the naming rights of their children. There is a lot to be said for this argument, the naming of children is very much a domestic issue and it can be argued that in the Strawberry case the court didn’t need to get involved, that it was the parent’s decision to give their child the name.
Naming rights become more complex when parents attempt to use copyright names or names that could be deemed offensive. A brand name that has been put under a copyright (e.g. Nutella) cannot be used by a rival company without paying the original copyright owners of the name. The French court ruled that the product Nutella was commonplace in many French homes and the child couldn’t share its name.
In the UK however, there are many children named after car brand names, such as Porsche, Mercedes or Bentley. There has rarely been an issue with these names, a court hasn’t intervened with children being given any of these names. This suggests that the use of a copyright name isn’t as much of an issue as it could potentially be – Ferrero never protested against the child being called Nutella, it was solely an issue with the court. Courts may always step in and prevent certain names from being used but if names are only prevented from being used in extreme cases, courts may have to prevent certain names being used, in the best interest of the child and their future.
Image: (c) Janine (geishabot/flickr).