15 February 2018


'The Ethics and Politics of Child Naming' by Eldar Sarajlic in (2016) 35 Journal of Applied Philosophy examines
 the issue of justification of government's intervention in the parental acts of child naming, a neglected topic in the recent philosophical literature. It questions the ability of some of the current theories in family ethics to respond to this problem, and argues that both permissive and restrictive theories fail to provide a plausible argument about the proper limits of government regulation of child naming practices. The article outlines an alternative solution that focuses on the child's right to authenticity and suggests that only those names that infringe upon this right invite justified state intervention. 
Sarajlic  comments
 Article 7 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child posits that every child has a right to a legally registered name. Article 8 states that governments must respect a child's legally given name. However, the Convention neither specifies what kind of name can be given to a child nor what does government's respect of a name amounts to. Does this right imply that any kind of name can be given to a child, regardless of its meaning, aesthetics and other symbolic implications? Should governments respect all parental decisions about names for their children? 
The issue of naming a child is far from trivial. It is not only a problem of aesthetics, tradition or culture, but also a matter of distinct ethical, and even political concern. It belongs to the domains of moral and political philosophy, where questions about the permissible or desirable forms of child rearing, as well as about the limits of government's intervention in family issues are addressed. 
However, there has been surprisingly little philosophical interest in this question. Despite substantial expansion of philosophical literature about the ethics of family, parenthood and the role of government in child upbringing in recent years, there is a conspicuous lack of normative analyses that would elaborate on the ethics of child naming. 
One of the reasons this is so may be the fact that most philosophers concerned with ethics of parenthood subscribe to a form of what David Archard called the liberal standard. According to this view, provided that parents do not harm their children the content of the principles of child rearing is primarily an internal matter of family life, a domain that is to be isolated from the external, societal or governmental, concern. Therefore, the question about names parents give to their children is a private discretionary matter and governments have no rights to pry. 
But claiming that there should be absolutely no legal limits to parental child naming may be somewhat odd. Think of the little boy from New Jersey whose parents named him ‘Adolf Hitler’, in honour of the notorious Nazi leader. Does it sound right to say that governments should be neutral to these kinds of practices? 
This article has a twofold aim. First, it aims to fill in this gap by addressing the issue of moral and political significance of child naming. I will suggest that this question is not only interesting, but also deeply troubling for the liberal political philosophy. As I intend to show, the existing normative frameworks give us little guidance about how to address it. While it is difficult to say if any alternative framework could do any better, I will offer a tentative proposal. 
Second, the article will challenge the initial assumption that the content and meaning of the name parents choose for their child is a private matter outside of legitimate purview of the state. I will argue that the liberal state has a direct interest in ensuring that child naming practices correspond to a particular ethical standard. 
The article will first establish the theoretical and practical relevance of this issue, and then proceed to discuss the normative approaches that could help us address it. I will draw on the literature concerned with issues of parental autonomy and children rights. In terms of practice, I will primarily draw from American cases and examples. However, this being a normative analysis, it will have a broader appeal.