Irene and Irène and Аня and 安娜

Recently, as part of my investigation into naming, I came across a curious entry in the Northern Ireland General Register Office FAQ:

  • Question: Can I register my childs name in another language?
  • Answer: You can register your childs name in any language you wish providing you use English characters.

I had already discovered that England and Scotland had no such restriction, so I was curious what the basis for it was in NI. Was it some sort of sectarian hold-over from a system that tried to discourage all those Irish names with their fadas and lenition? I could vaguely understand Chinese immigrants being forced to Anglicise their babies’ names, but would all the new Polish immigrants have to avoid all those ł’s and ś’s, or convert them to l and s, so that in generations to come there would be all sorts of pronunciation traps like with Menȝies?

Presumably some punctuation characters would be allowable, apostrophes and hyphens being fairly common, but what about others? Could someone have an ! or even an @ in their name?

So I emailed GRONI to find out.

At first they were mildly unhelpful, stating only: “The General Register Office will accomodate ‘accented’ character as long as the name registered is in english text. For example you asked if Irène would be acceptable. The General Register Office does accept such characters.”

So I asked about for a proper formal definition of what was acceptable or not, giving as a further example letters that might appear to be accented, but actually aren’t, like å, Ø, and š. Again the broader question was ignored and I was merely told that my examples “would all be ‘characters’ that the GRO could accommodate.”

Fearing a protracted game of Zendo, where I gave more and more elaborate examples and was left to puzzle out the rules, I gave up on the probing and asked whether it was a legal restriction (in which case, under what legislation), or purely a technical one in some system they use (in which case, an answer about what character set(s) or even Unicode code points would suffice).

After three further emails, all of which were completely ignored, I made a formal complaint. That was initially brushed aside, but eventually I got a response that said that, actually, names can be registered with “any Unicode character”, and although there is currently “a technical restriction on the signature field regarding Unicode characters”, this is “currently being investigated”.

So it seems things are better than I thought, and even 吳安娜 is allowable.

They still haven’t changed their FAQ though.

2 thoughts on “Irene and Irène and Аня and 安娜

  1. Aha! I now understand “Menzies”. It hadn’t occurred to me that it was supposed to be a yogh…

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