Naming Baby: The Constitutional Dimensions of Parental Naming Rights
Carlton F. W. Larson
University of California, Davis - School of Law
January 25, 2011
George Washington Law Review, Vol. 80, p. 159, 2011
UC Davis Legal Studies Research Paper No. 241
This Article provides the first comprehensive legal analysis of parents’ rights to name their own children. Currently, state laws restrict parental naming rights in a number of ways, from restrictions on particular surnames to restrictions on diacritical marks to prohibitions on obscenities, numerals, and pictograms. Yet state laws do not prohibit seemingly horrific names like “Adolf Hitler,” the name recently given to a New Jersey boy.
This Article argues that state laws restricting parental naming rights are subject to strict scrutiny under both the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. This Article concludes that although many restrictions are constitutional, prohibitions on diacritical marks, such as that employed by the state of California, are unconstitutional. If parents wish to name their child Lucía or José, they have a constitutional right to do so. Similarly, current laws restricting parental choice of surnames fail strict scrutiny. This Article also considers the constitutionality and desirability of statutory reforms that would address certain harmful names not prohibited by current law.
Along the way, readers will encounter heavy metal bands with unusual umlauts, boys named Sue, the history of birth certificates, false implications of paternity, and dozens of truly awful, but very real, names given by parents to their children.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 44
Date posted: January 26, 2011 ; Last revised: December 7, 2011