MADRID – In Spain, parents are not entirely free to decide what name they give their newborn child. Indeed, according to Spanish law, some names are not allowed when registering a baby at the Civil Registry.
This ban is not unique to Spain. For example, in Germany, it is strictly forbidden to name a baby Adolf Hitler and in France, a newborn cannot be called Nutella. Although you may wonder what the point of such a ban is, because who wants to name their child after the famous chocolate paste?
Spanish law does not have a specific list of banned names, but it does set certain limits:
Names with negative connotations or that could lead to ridicule, such as Engendro (Monster), Loco (Mad), Caca (Poop), Hitler, Lucifer, and Osama Bin Laden, are not allowed.
Names of cities, fruits, countries or trademarks are prohibited.
Using more than two first names in combination, such as Jose María Antón, is not allowed.
Using celebrity names in full, such as Elsa Pataky or Enrique Iglesias, is not allowed. However, if the surname matches that of a famous person, there is no problem.
Siblings cannot have the same first name; each name must be unique within the family.
It is often difficult to register an abbreviation of a name. Names like Lola (Dolores) or Pepe (José) can cause problems.
Acronyms, abbreviations pronounced as a word, are not allowed.
Although unisex names are becoming increasingly popular, the 1958 law states that names that could confuse a person’s gender, such as María for a boy or Fernando for a girl, are prohibited.
It is important to know that the final decision on the acceptance of a name and therefore the interpretation of the legislation lies with the civil registrar. When in doubt, parents must justify ensuring that the name is ultimately accepted.
Catholic names in Spain
In Spain, there are still a striking number of Catholic names, especially among older people. Think of María, Asunción, Dolores, Encarnación, Soledad for women and Josué, Francisco, Ismael or Jesús for men. Its origins can be found in the dictatorial regime of Francisco Franco (1939-1975). It was characterised by authoritarianism and a deep bond with the Catholic Church. The personal freedom of the Spanish citizens was restricted in many areas, including the naming of children.
Obligation to give traditional and Catholic names
Under Franco’s dictatorship, parents had to give their children names that were traditional and Catholic. This was part of a wider attempt by the regime to homogenise Spanish society and suppress any form of regionalism or non-traditionalism. Names in regional languages, such as Catalan, Basque or Galician, were often banned. Instead, parents were encouraged—or, in some cases, required—to give their children traditionally Spanish and Catholic names.
When registering a child with the Civil Registry, officials could refuse names they considered inappropriate. In many cases, names that were not traditionally Catholic, or that were seen as “foreign” or “non-Hispanic,” were rejected by these officials.
This practice reflected the symbiotic relationship between the Franco dictatorship and the Catholic Church. Franco saw Catholicism as an integral part of Spanish national identity and his regime was committed to the defence and promotion of traditional Catholic values.
However, after Franco died in 1975 and the subsequent transition to democracy, these and many other restrictions on personal freedoms were lifted. In modern Spain, apart from the few legal restrictions mentioned, parents have great freedom in naming their children.