The annual NRS publication on the most popular baby names in Scotland is always popular. But did you know that the policy and process behind the registration of those names is quite complicated, and different to that used by other countries?

The graph shows the popularity of the name Kayleigh increased massively after the Marillion single was released.
The release of the Marillion single “Kayleigh” greatly increased the popularity of the name – image produced with our data visualisation tool.

In France, for instance, until 1993 parents had to choose from a list of officially sanctioned baby names (and only those names). Since then parents have had a greater degree of choice, but a name can still be banned if a French court decides it is not in the best interest of the child. Recent cases have seen the names ‘Strawberry’ and ‘Nutella’ disallowed for baby girls, as the court considered they might be bullied because of them!

In Scotland, parents have more freedom to choose and register the name of their new baby. We don’t have a formalised list of names, or enshrine acceptable names in law, but it isn’t quite a free-for-all. Names are discouraged which refer to a ‘title of dignity or status’ (such as sir or lord); which are objectionable, or otherwise offensive; which are fanciful; which are spelled in an unusual manner; or which contain initials not standing for any other name.

Registrars will always go the extra mile to work with parents who have suggested a name which might create problems for their child. For instance, calling a child ‘AJ’ but not having those initials stand for any underlying names seems at first glance to be fine. There are after all lots of people known just by their initials. But eighteen years on, that child may need to obtain their first passport, and the Home Office is likely to reject any passport application with initials only as being not properly completed. Registrars have huge experience in helping parents see these potential difficulties, and with their advice, most of the time parents will reconsider. (We can also offer a short postponement of the registration for them to think it over.)

However, if there is nothing offensive about the proposed name, it’s not just initials and isn’t any kind of title – and the parents have fully considered what the registrar has to say – then unlike many other countries, we will go ahead and register the baby with that name. This is perhaps the best of both worlds: a system which has in place proper safeguards and supports for families to make what is a very significant long-term decision, but also allows their creativity to flow, and contribute to the new and fascinating Scotland of the future!

If you want to find out more about the popularity of Baby Names in Scotland, you can explore trends over the years on our new data visualisation tool here.

Rod Burns, Head of Registration

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