Naming your newborn child – or changing your own name – is an important and exciting event.
The vast majority of names chosen by parents for their child, or by people for themselves, can be registered with the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages Victoria (BDM). However, there are some names that are classed as prohibited by the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1996 (the Act). Where a name is determined to be prohibited, BDM will not register that name.
Before making a decision, BDM will take into account a number of relevant factors including cultural and family relevance and how the name would be perceived in the community.
If you are seeking to register a name that might be prohibited, BDM will work with you to ensure your child’s name – or your own – is meaningful to you, reflects community expectations and can be registered.
This policy sets out what names are prohibited and the approach BDM takes when making a decision about whether to register a name.
Why are some names prohibited?
Names are very significant. You carry your name around with you and it is used on a daily basis by you, your family and friends and the wider community. Names are therefore important both to the individual and to the community.
Names are also important for your legal identity. Your name appears on legal identity documents such as your Medicare card, passport and driver’s licence and assists you to access a range of government and non-government services.
Recognising the important role names play in people’s lives, some names are prohibited if they cannot reasonably be used by the community and/or on legal identity documents.
Which names are prohibited names?
Section 4(1) of the Act defines a prohibited name to mean a name that:
- Is obscene or offensive
- Can’t be established by repute or usage
- Is contrary to the public interest.
A name that is obscene or offensive
Obscene or offensive names are:
- Swear words
- Descriptions of lewd or sexual acts
- Racial, ethnic or cultural slurs or that imply racial, ethnic or cultural slurs
- Names that might be considered reasonably likely to insult, humiliate, offend or intimidate a person or group on the basis of race, gender, sexuality, religion, ability or other distinguishing characteristic.
A name that can't be established by repute or usage
A name that can’t be established by repute or usage means a name that is impractical for daily use in the community or for some other reason. This includes names that:
- Are too long
- Contain symbols without phonetic significance, like ? or @
- Are statements or phrases, including words that represent salutations
- Reference public institutions
- Are displayed in the form of initials or acronyms.
While Alexander Brown is a name that could be registered by BDM, variations which wouldn't be registered for reasons that the variation could not be established by repute and usage include:
- Alexander Brian Alfred Percival Wulfric James Victor Christian David Lachlan Brown
- A!3xand3er Brown
- Alexander is the Best Brown
- A.L.E.X.A.N.D.E.R Brown
A name that is contrary to the public interest
There are a number of ways a name can be contrary to the public interest, such as:
- The name might be misleading.
For example, the name might contain an official title, position or rank recognised in the community that might mislead others as to whether the person holds that title or rank officially.
- The name expresses a meaning or has significance that would cause social disharmony
- The name might represent commercial or company interests.
For example, the name is chosen to participate in a commercial marketing promotion.
- The name is chosen for a fraudulent or improper purpose.
- The name is contrary to the public interest for some other reason.
Examples of titles and terms that may not be registered as a person’s name include:
- Judicial, Military and Civil Law Enforcement titles - Colonel, Commander, Commissioner, Inspector, Judge, Justice, Marshal
- Religious titles and categories - Bishop, God/Goddess, Saint
- Royal titles - Majesty, Prince/Princess, Queen/King
- Political titles - Premier, President, Prime Minister.
Please note that this list serves as an example only. It is not exhaustive and BDM can refuse to register a name based on any of the other provisions of this policy and the Act.
How BDM makes a decision to register a name
BDM makes decisions on a case by case basis about whether a name can be registered or not. If a name might be a prohibited name, BDM will first take into account a number of relevant factors before making a decision to register the name or not.
BDM will contact you first to understand the reasons for choosing the name, in particular whether the name has specific relevance to you, your family or culture.
BDM will also take into account a number of other relevant factors, these include:
- How the name is perceived in the community (noting that community perceptions change over time)
- How the name is spelt and how it sounds when spoken
- The position of the name, e.g. first, middle or family name
- Use of the name in the community. Evidence that the name has been used in the community includes:
- Government issued identity documents
- Identity documents issued by other agencies/organisations (e.g. tertiary education institutions, employer)
- Documents on official letterhead (e.g. bank or superannuation statements, utility accounts)
- Use of the name for professional purposes
- Suitability of the name for legal identity and administrative purposes
- Consideration of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic), which includes considerations of cultural or religious reasons for choosing a name
- BDM’s legal obligations.
What happens if the name cannot be registered?
If the name chosen for the child cannot be registered, and the parents do not provide an alternative, BDM may assign a name so that the child’s birth can be legally registered.
Where a person applies to change their name, BDM will not register the change if, as a result of the change, the person’s name would become a prohibited name.
An application can be made to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) (External link) for a review of the decision made by the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. An application must be made to VCAT within 28 days of the Registrar making their decision.
Contact details for VCAT are:
55 King Street
MELBOURNE VIC 3000
Telephone (03) 9628 9755
Fax (03) 9628 9891
A name that can’t be established by repute or usage
Names that are too long
BDM applies a maximum length on names to be recorded in the Register, consistent with contemporary administrative standards. This is necessary, as a person’s name appears on their birth certificate, which is a principal identity document, and the name is used by other government agencies and companies.
BDM is guided by the following restrictions on names to be registered:
- A maximum length of 38 characters in total for the family name, which includes spaces between names
- A maximum length of 38 characters in total for the given names, which includes spaces between names.
BDM might impose the following restrictions on names to be registered:
- A maximum of 5 names in total, hyphenated names are included in this count as one name
- A maximum of 2 hyphenated names in any registered name, one a given, one as family name. A maximum of two names forms a hyphenated name. For example:
|Sarah-Marie Smith-Jones||is acceptable|
|Sarah-Marie Anna-Joy Smith-Jones||might not be acceptable|
|Sarah-Anne-Marie Jones||might not be acceptable|
|Sarah Smith-Jones-Phillips||might not be acceptable|
Names that contain symbols without phonetic significance
BDM will not register names that contain numbers or symbols without phonetic significance of any form, language or description. This restriction includes the registration of prefixes and suffixes. For example:
- 1st, 2nd, or 3rd
- Jnr and Snr
- Roman numerals.
BDM will not register names that contain punctuation in any position in the name. The only exception is the use of hyphens for hyphenated names and an apostrophe (‘), where phonetic, familial or cultural significance applies.
When registering names, BDM adopts the ICAO Doc 9303 standard for the transliteration of multinational characters to English. The ICAO Doc 9303 is used as an international standard for machine readable travel documents issued by English speaking countries.