US Naming Laws by State

Baby name trends change from year to year —usually influenced by famous people, popular fictional characters, cultural or religious factors. In some states, guidelines have been put in place to define whether new parents are allowed to choose a certain name for their baby or not.

These guidelines differ depending on the state where the child’s birth has taken place. They are compiled in what is known as naming rules or naming laws that ensure a child’s birth can be recorded and their birth certificate can be issued.

Future parents are advised to get familiar with naming laws and restrictions in their state in order to avoid surprises when recording their child’s birth once the moment arrives.

Naming in the United States

How many middle names can you have? Can you name your child a number? Questions such as these often cross parents’ minds when choosing baby names.

Parents in the United States have quite a lot of freedom when it comes to naming their children. The right to choose a child’s name, however, comes with a few restrictions. Most of these have been put in place either for practical reasons or to protect the child.

While there is no strict rule about how many middle names a citizen can have in the US, there are limitations to the number of characters in a name in certain states. Numerical digits are prohibited by naming laws in several states.

Naming Restrictions in the US

One example of a practical naming restriction is related to the software used to keep official birth records:

  • Several states limit the number of characters that can be used: In Massachusetts, for example, a baby’s first, last, and middle name can have a maximum of 40 characters in total.
  • Others, ban the use of numerical digits or pictograms, such as emojis, for example

Certain states have other kinds of naming restrictions in place —mainly to protect children— such as banning the use of obscenity in names.

Other naming prohibitions include forbidding names such as those of people who have committed atrocities, such as Adolf Hitler.

Common naming restrictions include:

  • Derogatory terms
  • Obscenity
  • Offensive names
  • Foreign characters
  • Numbers
  • Diacritical marks
  • Hyphens
  • Asterisks
  • Apostrophes

Banned Names in the US

Some people wonder whether they can name their child a number or a trademark, or emoji. Although there are certain states with no naming laws at all —such as Kentucky— in most states, these names would be prohibited.

Here are some examples of illegal names in the United States:

  • Jesus Christ
  • Harry 3
  • Nutella
  • Ирина
  • Nelly’s
  • Chloé
  • F!nn
  • Aña
  • @

Birth Certificate Naming Rules

Many states require at least two names on a birth certificate —a family name and a given name chosen by a parent. When the parents are married at the time of their child’s birth, certain states mandate that the child is given the father’s surname.

In other states, the child may take the maiden name of the mother so long as both parents agree on that.

Certain states forbid names that contain accents and/or non-English letters. Others, such as Alaska, Hawaii, Kansas, North Carolina, and Oregon allow accents and certain foreign letters on birth certificates and other government-issued documents.

Some citizens have their names without the accent on vital records and use it informally with a diacritical mark.

Foreign citizens with last names that contain non-English letters such as Ibáñez may have official documents with a different spelling, which sometimes causes problems.

State by State Naming Rules and Restrictions

Here are some examples of state regulations and restrictions for naming in several states. For more information, please visit your local vital records office. Addresses can be easily found by clicking on the name of your state.

State Naming regulations
Arkansas Apostrophes, hyphens, and spaces are allowed as long as they are not consecutive
California Derogatory or obscene names, pictographs and non-English characters are banned
Florida Parents need to sign an agreement to establish a child’s first name or else a court will select one
Georgia Symbols, including accents, are prohibited
Illinois No restrictions. Numbers and special characters are allowed
Michigan Only English characters allowed
Mississippi The child takes on the father’s surname automatically when parents are married. A different name can be requested if preferred
New Jersey Obscene names, numbers, and symbols are forbidden
New York First and middle names have a maximum length of 30 characters each, last names cannot exceed 40 characters. Numbers and symbols are forbidden
North Carolina Accent marks, hyphens, and tildes (ñ) are allowed
Ohio Hyphens, apostrophes, and spaces are allowed. Numbers are prohibited
Texas First, middle and last name cannot exceed 100 characters. Only English characters allowed. Numbers and diacritical marks are forbidden
Virginia Numbers, symbols and other special characters such as umlauts and tildes are banned

Related:How to legally change your name:Step by step guide