We Will Name Her Coco

Despite legal restrictions, more Czech parents are giving their babies nontraditional names

It will be a girl, the doctor said as she carried out a routine check-up on the six-month-pregnant woman. Having a good nose for perfumes, the father-to-be exclaimed spontaneously, "Oh yes, Coco." The doctor was wearing Coco Chanel perfume. The name Coco stuck with the parents and, when the baby girl was born, she was named Olivie Coco.

But we don't live in an Anglo-Saxon country where the authorities don't interfere in the naming of babies. If you want to give your baby a name that isn't in the Czech register of official names, there is only one person that can allow it -- a strict linguist and legal expert called Miloslava Knappová who presides over the names of Czech babies.

"She told me that it would not be possible and tried very hard to discourage me," says Bára Vaculíková, holding two-year-old Olivie Coco in her arms. "She said people and kids would call her 'kokokodák' [a Czech onomatopoeia for the noise a chicken makes]. Three days before giving birth, I received a check for 980 crowns and a positive verdict."

"I wanted something unique for my unique baby," she adds. That's exactly how an increasing number of Czech parents feel -- they want to stay away from the old-fashioned names listed on the name calendar and give their babies original names.

I don't know this one
"If you really want an unusual name, you can always find a way to legalize it," says Robert Blanda, his son Merlin sitting on his lap. Next to him, his daughter Nerys is drinking lemonade. When he and his wife were discussing a name during her pregnancy, he, as a lover of science fiction, knew exactly what he wanted. He had always liked the character Kira Nerys from the American television series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. When trying to convince the Czech authorities, they discovered that Nerys is a common name in Wales, which is a condition for allowing the name to be used in the Czech Republic -- its existence in another country.

The good thing is that children with unusual names are hard to mistake for anyone else, and the kids themselves are proud of their names. "They fight for my attention," says Merlin, who is named after the wizard of Arthurian legend. Merlin is in use not only in Britain but also in Brittany and Switzerland.

The Blanda family doesn't celebrate name days like most Czech families do; they would hardly be able to find names like Merlin or Nerys on the name calendar anyway. The current calendar dates back to the 18th century and the list of the names hasn't been updated since then. But people have started to complain, asking for new names to be added. According to the law, it is solely the publisher's decision which names they assign to a day. The Presco Group publishing house has decided to include four names with each day -- Tobiáš, Matyáš, Vanessa and Margarita, for example -- but they had to consult Knappová and the Academy of Science's Czech Language Institute (Ústav pro jazyk český AV ČR) first. So if Merlin wants to celebrate his name day, he can do it along with Gabriela, Mervin and Zoltán.

The Czech Statistical Office (Český statistický úřad) annually issues a list of the most common names. But they follow only the names of babies born in January. In the past 20 years, Tereza has been the most popular name, followed by Anna, Eliška and Karolína. In recent years, Natálie, Adéla, Kateřina, Nikola and Kristýna have also been among the most popular names. The trends with boys' names are quite stable and don't change as often as girls' names -- the favorites are Jan, Jakub, Tomáš and Lukáš.

"Our kids have their own original names and therefore people remember them easily," says Karolína Klinecká, whose three children are called Bertin, Kryšpín and Mia. "In their classes there are many Matějs, Martins and Matyášes and Lucinkas, so their classmates give them nicknames to remember them." But at first the linguistic experts refused to allow Bertin, although there was a monk by that name in eighth-century Spain and it is quite a common name in Germany these days. Luckily, they agreed and now Bertin is registered in the December issue of the book "What Name to Give Your Child", the author of which is none other than Miloslava Knappová.

The statistics on which names have been popular over the past few years indicate that Czechs are quite conservative. Nonetheless, the trends in the past few years show we aren't all afraid to stand out. Parents who follow Eastern religions have named their kids Kumar, Nirmal, Sávitrí and Anahita.

"People with higher education have lately been trying to break stereotypes and rediscover old names, such as Háta, Matylda, Odolen or Kašpar," says Knappová, who also points out three other waves over the past few years: names from the Old Testament (Sára, Ester, Joshua, Samuel), names from mythology (Orfeus, Phoenix, Niobé, Pandora) and names inspired by personalities (Mia, Gwyneth, Damon) or television series (Manuela, Megan).

Is it in the Bible?
When studying for tourist guide exams in Prague, Pavlína Řeháková came across the name Mikeš. She liked it so much that when she became pregnant, she named her baby boy Mikeš. But then she received a letter from the registry office stating the name doesn't officially exist, so her boy cannot be called Mikeš. "They told me I would ruin his life," Řeháková said. "I wanted to renew an old Czech tradition and also it has a positive ring."

The problem for the authorities was that the name looked like a shortened version of an existing name, which isn't permissible under Czech law. Paradoxically, it's easier to name a child Jesus or Charles than it is Káťa (short for Kateřina) or Míša (Michal).

Last year 250 parents asked for approval for baby names. Kayra (the Czech Language Institute recommended Kairy or Khayra), Wift, Nyna or Míkol were not approved. (Interestingly, Míkol can be found in the earliest Czech translation of the Bible, the Bible of Kralice (Bible kralická).) On the other hand, these names were approved: Arjuna, Marli, Jeona, Jaffar, Samia, Nenet, Zackary, Hamed, Emili, Téo, Cory, Mariam and Bartol. So it is the registry office that has the final say. But the only names the registry deals with have to be approved by Knappová. Otherwise they stand little chance of ever being given to a child.

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