Interesting New York Times article about the Danish name registry. Turns out there are only 7000 officially approved names for babies in Denmark; if you want to name a baby anything else, you must apply for official permission. This system is to protect the children:
"The government, from a historical point of view, feels a responsibility towards its weak citizens," said Rasmus Larsen, chief adviser at the Ministry for Ecclesiastical Affairs, discussing the law. "It doesn't want to see people put in a situation where they can't defend themselves. We do the same in traffic; we have people wear seat belts."
At first glance, this would appear to be just another case of government getting too intrusive into the lives of citizens. But the article goes on to provide some interesting background:
The century-old law was initially designed to bring order to surnames. Before the law, surnames changed with every generation: Peter Hansen would name his son Hans Petersen. Then Hans Petersen would name his son Peter Hansen. And on it went, wreaking bureaucratic havoc. The law ended that. It also made it difficult for people to change their last names, a move that was designed to appease the noble class, which feared widespread name-poaching by arrivistes, Mr. Nielsen said.
Then in the 1960's, a furor erupted over the first name Tessa, which resembled tisse, which means to urinate in Danish. Distressed over the lack of direction in the law, the Danish government expanded the statute to grapple with first names.
I thought that was interesting, because I've had several conversations lately with various people about the difficult issues surrounding American surnames and whether to change them (and to what) when getting married. One of the things I've been pointing out to people is that the American system of surname inheritance is far from universal; there are Islamic systems, and South Asian approaches, and Mexican and Spanish approaches, and others; and the old-style Scandinavian approach indicated above (with surnames changing every generation based on father's given name) only ended relatively recently (and may still exist some places, I'm not sure). It's always hard to get enough perspective on a common cultural approach to see that it's not the only way things have ever been done, nor even the only way things are currently done.
Also thought it was interesting 'cause I often hear people shaking their heads in despair over the awful names that some people give their kids, and sometimes I even agree; and yet, I like some of the names that the Danes have outlawed, like gender-neutral names and names based on place names. So one person's great name is apparently another person's awful name. But the Danish registry makes more sense when you consider the article's statement that "Denmark, like much of Scandinavia, prizes sameness, not uniqueness, just as it values usefulness, not frivolousness."