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A single Fanny was declined as a baby name in 2023 (Image: Getty/Tina Tiller)
A single Fanny was declined as a baby name in 2023 (Image: Getty/Tina Tiller)

SocietyJanuary 25, 2024

You might not be able to name your child Fanny any more, but Dick is still fine

A single Fanny was declined as a baby name in 2023 (Image: Getty/Tina Tiller)
A single Fanny was declined as a baby name in 2023 (Image: Getty/Tina Tiller)

This year’s declined baby name list contained a surprising inclusion, which prompted an obvious question.

The Department of Internal Affairs’ annual release of rejected baby names is guaranteed clickbait heaven. Every year a new set of attempts to name children after royal titles, Roman numerals and terrorist organisations makes for easy headline fodder.

This year, one declined name low on the list caught my attention. It was also my grandmother’s name: Fanny. 

The name’s modern connotations make it easy to understand why there are fewer and fewer Fannies about. I can sympathise with why it might be trickier growing up as a Fanny in the 2020s than the 1920s. We are no longer living in Enid Blyton’s world, after all.

But unlike many of the other names on the rejected list, such as MissTaunese and Sovereign-Kash, Fanny is also a name that lots of people already have. In English, it’s often the pet form of Frances (the name on my grandmother’s birth certificate), but in many European countries Fanny is common as a name in its own right. There are dozens of famous Fannies on Wikipedia, of whom a handful are still alive and kicking, including Fanny Chmelar, the German alpine skiier whose name caused The Chase host Bradley Walsh to nearly die laughing. There are also a lot of fictional Fannies – the Famous Five’s Aunt Fanny, of course, as well as Jane Austen’s Fanny Price and the Muppets’ Granny Fanny. 

It prompted the obvious question: if Fanny is no longer allowed as a baby name, is Dick banned too?

Granny Fanny

I got in touch with the DIA to ask why they had turned down the name. The department was quick to point out that the name hadn’t actually been “banned” in New Zealand, but had been rejected in this particular instance. “Whether a name is offensive or not is a judgement call, and each name is considered in its entirety to determine whether it meets statutory criteria,” said a spokesperson.

The law provides criteria that must be considered when registering a child’s name, such as that it must not include numbers, be more than 70 characters long – or “be offensive”.

According to Russell Burnard, the registrar-general of births, deaths and marriages, each baby name is first reviewed to determine whether it may be acceptable to register. 

“Before any name is declined, the registrar-general communicates with the parent or parents and provides the opportunity for them to provide further justification as to why their child should have that name,” said Burnard. 

“The registrar-general then considers the reasons provided while balancing them against the legislative criteria. This allows parents to provide information on whether there is a familial link or other reason of significance to the name that should be considered.”

In the case of Fanny, “the name was referred to the registrar-general, but the parents decided to use a different name before the registrar-general made a decision”.

So because the parents ended up choosing another name instead of arguing the case for Fanny, the name is now on the list of 64 declined baby names in 2023.

Whether a name causes offence or not is a question of judgement and whether a name is potentially offensive changes over time,” Burnard said. “Each name is considered on its merits, and will only be declined if the registrar-general believes it does not meet the legislative criteria.” 

So if Fanny was declined, or at lest flagged, then what about Dick? According to the registrar-general, the name Dick was “unlikely to be considered offensive”.

However, he added, “it would have to be considered as part of the child’s full name”. For example – and this is very much my interpretation and not the registrar-general’s – if your last name was “Ryder” you might have a harder job naming your child Dick than if your last name was, say, Smith.

After all, Dick Smith is a very serious electronics retailer – and there’s nothing funny and/or offensive about that. Fanny Smith on the other hand? Won’t somebody please think of the children.

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