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Honey, let's name junior UFO!

Written by: Staff
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LISBON, Feb 22 (Reuters) If Shakespeare wrote Portuguese birth certificates today, he might pen, ''A Rosa by any other name is unacceptable.'' He might add that Magnolia smells sweet, but that Jasmine, or Jasmim in Portuguese, had best be some other name. If you're still flummoxed about what to call your baby, he might suggest a search under ''nomes'' at www.dgrn.mj.pt.

Excluding obvious options, like Joao and Maria, the Ministry of Justice Web site details 39 pages of legally acceptable first names, from Aarao to Zuleica, and 41 pages of unacceptable ones.

Lolita, Maradona and Mona Lisa are out, as are Guevara, Marx and Rosa Luxemburgo.

Portuguese registrars have played this role for nearly a century, but now some have asked the Ministry of Justice for a new law that consigns name lists to history.

Portugal is just the latest nation grappling with the increasing complexity of baby names. Globalisation, immigration, human rights and individualism have put pressure on nations with name laws to redefine the concept of ''acceptable.'' The Portuguese proposal by the Association of Registrars of the Civil Register is part of a programme to cut or simplify burdensome procedures. The Ministry of Justice plans to act in the first half of 2006 on that programme.

''We have proposed alterations in the law such that there can be freedom of choice as long as it isn't offensive to the idea of human dignity,'' said Maria de Lurdes Serrano, registrar at one of Lisbon's busiest registry offices.

To parents from places with few restrictions on names, like the United States or Britain, such laws can seem odd.

''It was so amazing to me to have to get permission to name my child,'' said Tanya O'Hara, an American who in 2004 gave birth to baby Liam in Portugal. ''It doesn't make any sense.'' O'Hara had to get an embassy letter authenticating the name Liam, and make a certified translation of the document.

WHAT'S IN A NAME? Portugal is not alone in seeking to update name laws. In 2002, Norway replaced its list with a general standard that bans swear words, sex words, negative names and sicknesses.

''I can tell you this is not easy at all,'' said Ivar Utne, a professor of modern Norwegian at the University of Bergen and the only linguist on the committee that drafted the new law.

A Danish law, that takes effect on April 1, expands approved lists to include names from the United States, Europe and other countries, and allows parents to apply for unlisted names.

The Swedish parliament has commissioned the government to overhaul its Personal Names Act of 1982.

Spain has several name lists, corresponding to regional languages like Catalan and Basque. Registry offices in Germany have an ''International Handbook of Forenames,'' updated in 2002.

Argentina has broadened its lists to accept indigenous names.

MORE REUTERS CH BS0819

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