Paul Jacob

There's something rotten in Denmark. And I catch a whiff of something similarly unpleasant here in a America, too.

It's this idea that everything good must be somehow promoted by government, and everything bad fought by it. It's an alarming odor, like old parchment burning. The Constitution. And any notion of limited government and individual freedom along with it.

What's in a Name?

According to a New York Times article, "Danes Favor Common Names." And their government makes sure they get them. You can't name your child anything you want. You can't even spell your child's name as you please. The government is there to protect your child . . . from your caprice or even deep-seated belief:

[T]he Law on Personal Names is designed to protect Denmark's innocents ? the children who are undeservedly, some would say cruelly, burdened by preposterous or silly names. It is the state's view that children should not suffer ridicule and abuse because of their parents' lapses in judgment or their misguided attempts to be hip. Denmark, like much of Scandinavia, prizes sameness, not uniqueness, just as it values usefulness, not frivolousness.

But what's not valued is freedom.

So, in Denmark, if you are more religious than the average Dane, and want to revive an ancient name from the Bible for your son, "Hezekiah" or "Melchizidek" likely won't do.

Or, if Shakespeare is more your bacon, and you can't imagine anything better than a son "of infinite jest," so, in both love and lark you seek a name that Shakespeare thought was Dane, that is, Yorick ? fat chance.

Actually, maybe those names would past muster. But in Denmark, you needn't ask your friends, write Dear Abby, or peruse the columns of I.N.C.H., the Institute for Naming Children Humanely (or its Danish equivalent); just petition the government. The government tells you what you may and may not do.

Now, in other contexts, my sympathies are with the children, too. I wince when I see some names. I know how cruel kids can be with other kids' names. (Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him as "Hey You.") But perfectly good names can become fodder for cruelty just as easily as suppposedly silly names can.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.