Should Certain Baby Names Be Illegal?

Controversial names by celebrities and a white supremacist reignite a debate about naming restrictions.

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She continued, “Is it the best interest of the child to be named ‘Hitler’? I personally think to shackle a child with a name like that is poor parenting, and it causes one, including a judge or lawyer, to question the judgment of the parent.” Although she said that a name alone is rarely enough to affect custody, she did say that a name could put a particular family on the radar of those government agencies tasked with protecting the health and welfare of children.

“A name can rise to the form of verbal abuse,” she explained, agreeing that a name like “Stupid” would qualify. Such a name “could result in lost custody or some other kind of remediation or [judicial] sanctions.” There have, however, been instances in which children have received, and kept, comparable names, including a high-profile case in which a family named one son “Winner” and the other “Loser.” Middleton-Lewis stressed that she would have concerns about a sweeping law intended to control what parents name their kids.

When asked if parents should contemplate a baby’s future career when selecting a name, Roy Cohen, a career coach and author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide, said that he sees clients at the executive level who face career challenges because of their names. He referenced one client in particular who was stuck in his career search until Cohen counseled him to shorten his formal name to a nickname.

The client, whose name is not being printed to protect his privacy, had an ethnic name in which the pronunciation sounded like a swear word. After the client adopted the nickname, Cohen said, his career prospects immediately improved. Cohen explained that he has given this advice to various candidates whose names have a strong ethnic identification, a topic previously covered on The Root.

“In an ideal world, we could be called anything we want, but that’s not the case,” Cohen said. “Even good people have biases that they are not even aware of. So why should we allow them to make decisions subconsciously before they get to know us?” He added, “Once you start working with someone, then you can say, ‘That’s my nickname; this is my real name.’ “

Cohen explained that the topic is personal to him. He grew up in a liberal community at a time when “Roy Cohn” was a household name, and not a good one. Cohn was one of the leaders of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunts of the 1950s, which destroyed countless lives and made him a permanent figure of resentment among the left.

When asked why his parents named him after such a notorious figure, Cohen explained that he was named after a deceased family friend. “My mother had a crush on him.”

Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.