When I became pregnant with my son I realised that when it comes to names, people are really opinionated. I mean, fiercely, “that’s DISGUSTING”, opinionated. I get it. I’m a teacher who has to know the names of up to 150 students every year, and you very quickly learn there are certain names that, for whatever reason, you would NEVER name your offspring. Whether it be historical associations, pop culture references, aversion to particular aural qualities (“that’s more a breathy sigh than a name…”) people just really give a damn. And so it seems, do governments.
The Victorian Government has released a list of 46 names that are banned in that state, as in YOU MAY NOT LEGALLY GIVE YOUR CHILD THIS NAME. Did anyone else know this was even a thing? Their website states that you may not give your child an “offensive” name, or anything that is “contrary to public interest” – whatever that means – so official titles and ranks are out.
I understand we don’t want people walking around called Seaman or Satan, however apt those monikers may become, (rank and offensive, respectively, in case you were wondering), and Anzac isn’t cool either (although I do wonder if the parents who tried to use this name were actually trying to be reverential, rather than disrespectful). But it is troubling to know that, however unlikely this scenario may be, if I ever moved to Victoria (because face it, that’s what Perth people do), got pregnant again, AND I wanted to name my kid Commodore, I can’t. But Falcon? That’s fine! Come on, bureaucracy. That’s not the egalitarian Australia we know and love. But wait – this list clearly privileges Christianity, patriarchy and imperialism, so perhaps not so egalitarian after all. Hmmm, curious.
Now, obviously, this is all because there are common meanings associated with these titles. Historical, religious and cultural associations and very powerful; WORDS are powerful. But how do we gauge how common an understanding is, and should that determine whether a particular WORD can be used as a name, when names are just words? Who owns words? The utterly magnificent thing about language is that words can be so loaded with meaning, and yet so meaningless at the very same time, in the same way that the naming of a child can be extremely significant or completely arbitrary.
Case in point: I was very surprised to learn that several people immediately associated my daughter’s name, Esme, with a certain vampire series of books and movies, rather than the old busybody from a 1980s Australian television show, as intended. I jest, of course. We just really liked the name. We thought it was simple and sophisticated and not too common. That’s it. To some it may just be a simply unattractive name – “um where did that come from?” Oh, and it apparently means “beloved” and “emerald”. And it’s associated with a Scottish lord, a JD Salinger short story, and the other day a nurse at the hospital told me, “That’s a South African name!” Yet it’s just two vowels and two consonants… You see? One word, so many meanings.
So, I actually don’t understand why someone can’t call their kid Queen. Would the actual “The Queen” be offended? Was she even consulted on this list? She’s not actually called Queen anyway, is she? And what about other words with a similar meaning being used as a name? Is that offensive too? Ponder this, if you will. The state that produced this list is called Victoria…
Surely it is more important to “public interest” that there aren’t babies in the wider Australian community called Fart, Hipster or Donald Trump President Elect, before names like Honour and Duke. But that’s just MY perspective (see what I did there?).
Luckily, I live in WA, so I am relatively free to name my child whichever asinine or disrespectful name I choose. Because, why shouldn’t I be allowed to call my baby Saint? Kimye did.