Naming Children: England and Wales, 2013

Today the Office of National Statistics published its statistical bulletin Baby Names in England and Wales, 2013, and although its key findings are not of particular relevance for this blog[1], the naming of children is of importance in secular and ecclesiastical law.

Secular Restrictions

Earlier posts have noted that some administrations place restrictions on permissible names. However, this is not so in the UK which operates a relatively relaxed regime.  Responding to a FoI request in 2008, the General Register Office stated:

“Registrations of births in England and Wales are made under the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953 and the Registration of Births and Deaths Regulations 1987. The legislation does not set out any guidance on what parents may name their child.

Our advice to registrars is that a name should consist of a sequence of letters and that it should not be offensive. The reason for limiting the registration of names to a sequence of letters is that a name which includes a string of numbers or symbols etc. has no intrinsic sense of being a name, however the suffix ‘II’ or ‘III’ would be allowed.

The only restriction on the length of a name is that it must be able to fit in the space provided on the registration page. There are no leaflets or booklets available giving guidance on this matter.

Where the registrar has any concerns over a name they will discuss this with the parents and point out the problems the child may face as they grow up and try to get them to reconsider their choice.”

However, should they so desire when they “are of riper years”, those using the UK Deed Poll Service will find that its requirements are more prescriptive in its requirements [but see Frank’s comments below], and indicates that it will not accept an application for a name that:

  • does not include at least one forename and one surname;
  • is impossible to pronounce;
  • includes numbers or symbols;
  • includes punctuation marks that do not have a phonetic significance, although forenames or surnames linked with a hyphen,  or an apostrophe in the case of surnames like O’Brien, are permissible;
  • is vulgar, offensive or blasphemous;
  • promotes criminal activities;
  • promotes racial or religious hatred;
  • promotes the use of controlled drugs or includes the generic or slang name for them;
  • ridicules people, groups, government departments, companies or organisations;
  • may result in others believing you have a conferred or inherited honour, title, rank or academic award, for example, a change of first name to Sir, Lord, Laird, Lady, Prince, Princess, Viscount, Baron, Baroness, General, Captain, Professor or Doctor etc.
  • exceeds the maximum number of characters allowed in a name.

Ecclesiastical provisions

The relationship between the registration of a birth and the name used during christening is explained in the Church of England’s Top 10 facts about Christenings which states:

“Your baby’s name is given when you register the birth. During the baptism, the baby’s name will be used often, and when the water is poured over the child’s head, the vicar will always use the name,”

and any concerns of the priest regarding a particular name are limited by Canon B22 Of the baptism of infants, viz.

“4. No minister shall refuse or, save for the purpose of preparing or instructing the parents or guardians or godparents, delay to baptize any infant within his cure that is brought to the church to be baptized, provided that due notice has been given and the provisions relating to godparents in these Canons are observed.”

For the public baptism of infants, the rubric in the Book of Common Prayer states

“Then the Priest shall take the Child into his hands, and shall say to the Godfathers and Godmothers, Name this Child. And then naming it after them (if they shall certify him that the Child may well endure it) he shall dip it in the Water discreetly and warily, saying,

N. I baptize thee in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”

The phrase “name this child” is shorthand for “what is the name of this child”, and is omitted from the baptism service in Common Worship.

13 interesting facts about baby names, 1996-2013

Of most interest to the media will be the ONS list of 13 interesting facts about baby names, 1996-2013. These include:

  • A baby girl born in 2013 was more likely to have a unique name than a baby boy: In 2013, there were more than 27,000 different boys names, and more than 35,000 different girls names;
  • A royal flush: William, Harry and George jostle for 1st place in the top ten names given to boys in 2013;
  • The Harry Potter effect: Draco, Sirius and Bellatrix have all appeared on the baby names lists; [but not in significant numbers]
  • Cristiano and Thierry both have peaks that correspond with Ronaldo and Henry’s times at English football clubs; [again, the number of children so named is very small, 33 and 51 respectively, but an order of magnitude higher than Draco, Sirius and Bellatrix];
  • The Beckham’s baby Harper had the biggest impact on baby names?

Readers will be aware that correlation does not imply causation, but will nevertheless find the new data interesting; but those seeking a name for an expected child may be daunted by the 62,000 children’s names currently in use.


[1] Oliver and Amelia were the most popular first names given to babies born in England and Wales in 2013. Amelia has been in the top spot since 2011 while Oliver replaced Harry, the top name in 2011 and 2012; In England, Amelia was the most popular name in all regions and Oliver was the most popular name in five out of the nine regions; In Wales, Oliver was the most popular name, replacing Jacob, while Amelia has been the most popular name since 2012; Oscar and George replaced Alfie and Riley in the top 10 most popular names, climbing from number 17 to 7 and number 12 to 10 respectively; Poppy replaced Lily in the top 10 most popular names, climbing from number 13 to 7.

10 thoughts on “Naming Children: England and Wales, 2013

  1. It should be remembered that the UK Deed Poll Service is not part of government: from its website it appears to be one of several specialist commercial agencies. That is in no way meant as any kind of criticism of its activities; indeed, the GOV.UK website itself suggests that “To change your name by deed poll you can:

    – download the appropriate form from the Ministry of Justice website
    – create your own deed poll
    – find a specialist agency or a solicitor”.

    However, the UK Deed Poll Service’s refusal to accept “an application for a name that … includes numbers or symbols” gives me a slight pause for thought. I can think of at least one exception: Professor Perri 6, currently Chair in Public Management at Queen Mary UL. Have the rules been amended since 1983, when he changed his name from David Ashworth? (I’ve scoured the MoJ website but without success.)

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  5. Also another thing to keep in mind when you are discussing name changes is the restrictions. (source:

    There are a few restrictions on the names you can choose. Here are some things to consider when selecting a new name via deed poll.

    You can’t pick an offensive or vulgar name
    You can’t pick a new name for fraudulent purposes
    Your new name can’t promote any criminal activities
    You can’t choose a racial slur as your new name, or anything that mocks certain groups or institutions
    Your name can’t have any numbers, symbols, or made-up punctuations in your name
    Your name can only contain Latin characters
    If you’re picking a title, it has to be a British accepted title (Mr, Mrs, Miss, Ms, and Mx)
    Most of these restrictions should seem pretty obvious, but there are other things to consider, as well.

    When it comes to titles, in some cases, you will need to provide evidence.

    For example, if you include a nobility title in your deed poll, such as Lord, Lady, Sir, Baron, Princess, etc. And you obviously can’t call yourself a doctor or professor, unless you really are one.

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