New Jersey Naming Law: Can I Name My Child Anything I Want?

by Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel LLP
Contact

Woman Writing Possible Names For Baby Girl In NurseryThe choice of what to name your child is often a process that parents take great care in selecting—conducting countless Internet searches, pouring over “baby name” books, and researching family histories to find the perfect name for their newborn. While a person’s name, especially a child’s name, is generally viewed as an important and determinative part of one’s identity, there are very few laws in the United States regulating or restricting a parents’ right to name their own children whatever they choose.  Unlike countries like France or Portugal, which have laws that outline permissible first names or prohibit parents from giving their child a name that is contrary to the child’s welfare, parents in the United States have wide latitude and creative freedom when it comes to deciding the name of their offspring, and many parents take full advantage of this. It is not uncommon for a celebrity to give their child “unique” or “unusual” names—such as Beyoncé’s recent addition, Blue Ivy Carter; Gwyneth Paltrow’s daughter Apple; Jason Lee who named his son Pilot Inspektor; or most recently Kanye West naming his daughter North.

Heath and Deborah Campbell, a non-celebrity couple from New Jersey, became infamous in 2009 when it was reported that they chose to name their three children in honor of prominent Nazi historical figures: Adolf Hitler Campbell, JoyceLynn Aryan Nation, and Honszlynne Hinler Jeanne. There was widespread public outcry over the children’s names which the masses deemed offensive; with many questioning why the New Jersey State Registrar had not rejected the proposed names. The laws regulating a parent’s right to name their child are called “Naming Laws.” Naming laws vary widely from state to state, and several states have no laws whatsoever addressing permissible names. Other states, like Connecticut, Michigan, and Nevada are so unregulated when it comes to naming a child, that they do not even require that a child’s name be included on their birth certificate. Unlike several states, New Jersey does in fact have a naming law, which is illustrative of typical regulations on baby naming seen in states throughout the county.

New Jersey’s naming law places very few limitations on baby naming; in fact, New Jersey law specifies that “the designation of a child’s name, including the surname, is the right of the child’s parents.” Such broad language begs the questions: Can I name my child anything I want in New Jersey? Despite New Jersey law explicitly giving parents the right to choose both their child’s first and last names, this right is not absolute. When it comes to conferring a name on your child in New Jersey, a parent’s rights are not completely unfettered—New Jersey permits the State Registrar to “reject a name that contains an obscenity, numerals, symbols, or a combination of letters, numerals, or symbols, or a name that is illegible.” For example, under New Jersey law parents would be permitted to name their child after Nazi historical figures, like the Campbells did, but could not name their child the number 4.

When the Campbells first gained notoriety, many commentators argued that the children’s names should have been rejected because they were obscene and offensive. However, New Jersey law only prohibits names that contain obscenities—such as those that would include racial epithets or curse words. In light of the United States Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech, it is unlikely that New Jersey could prevent a parent from naming their child after an unpopular political figure, such as Adolph Hitler, without running afoul of the First Amendment. The process of naming your child is an expressive activity which is constitutionally protected, and arguably a fundamental right.

Therefore, as a parent, you are well within your right to push the boundaries of creativity and bestow a unique name upon your child. But be mindful that in New Jersey, your creativity is not limitless. You do have the right to name your child after a line from your favorite song like Jason Lee did when he named his son Pilot Inspektor after listening to the song “He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s the Pilot” by the band Grandaddy. However, if you want to use a symbol to represent your child’s name, or if you attempt to name your child some random compilation of letters, the New Jersey State Registrar will likely reject those name choices because they contain symbols which are prohibited or because the combination of letters makes the name illegible. With so few limitations, New Jersey parents can confidently toss out those suggested baby name books and just let creativity be their guide when selecting a name for their little bundle of joy.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel LLP | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel LLP
Contact
more
less

Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel LLP on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.