I'm Sorry, Your Name Is Not Allowed

"In America, can people name their children whatever they'd like?"

This was the question asked to me by my Hungarian colleague.  I didn't think I understood the question.  Why couldn't you name your child whatever you want?

Then, she explained.  In Hungary, there is a book that consists of all possible first names.  When your son or daughter is born, you have to use one of these pre-approved labels for them.  If you want to use something else, you must write a letter to a board that will make the decision.

I was dumbfounded.

It's not that this is a horrible idea, it's just that I'd never heard of it before - anywhere.  The justification is that a child with a strange name could be picked on, and I think that's quite reasonable.  Someone named We Need More Toilet Paper Smith would probably have a difficult time in life.

On the other hand, do names really need to be regulated?  Being called something unique can make a boring person seem exciting and mysterious.  I'd like to give a better name to every Mike I meet.

This is definitely one of those cultural differences that I can experience as an American living in another country.  In the United States, people have all kinds of names because they come from all over the world.  It would be impossible to judge what are appropriate, traditional names, and who just came up with the idea while watching television.

In Hungary, however, most people are Hungarians and their ancestors have lived here throughout all of recorded history.  Names are so important to them that they have "Name Days".  Each day of the year has a name (or names) assigned to it, and those people are treated special.  If your name was Telephone Number, you'd be left out.

I would like to work for the group that makes the decision about the different names.  Those people probably have some really funny stories to tell when they get home from work.  How can I get that job?