Forbidden names

The problem of Arab governments restricting the choice of namesthat can be given to children is an issue that I've discussed here before. It arises particularly among ethnic groups such as the Berbers in Morocco and the Kurds in Syria.

Human Rights Watch, which has been working on this issue in Morocco, now reports some progress. The law requires names to be "Moroccan in nature" and last April the interior ministry finally agreed that Amazigh (Berber) names could be included in the definition of "Moroccan".

"In the eight months since, there have been fewer complaints from citizens that local bureaus of the Civil Registry have refused to register Amazigh given names," HRW says.

However, it adds that the general requirement to choose names (from an officially-approved list) that are deemed "Moroccan in nature" continues to limit parents' choices and create administrative obstacles.

The historical roots of this policy lie in Arab nationalism and a desire to promote Arab-Islamic names as part of a wider process of diminishing the influence of the indigenous Berber culture. Since Mohammed VI came to the throne, though, there has been increasing recognition for Morocco's Berber heritage.

Despite this relaxation in the rules for choosing names, the Moroccan authorites still do not accept the fundamental principle that it's the parents' prerogative. 

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at HRW, said: "Morocco should reform its law to limit strictly the government's role in the name-regulating business. Unless a first name is patently offensive or objectionable or harmful to the interests of the child, authorities have no business curbing the right of parents to make this very personal choice."

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 16 Dec 2010.