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In Taiwan, “Unflattering” Names Can Be Changed, But No More Than Three Times in a Lifetime

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I was reading my colleague Elin Hofverberg‘s interesting blog post on Icelandic names, and found we have posted several times on foreign laws banning unacceptable baby names. Not long ago, I noticed Taiwanese law also regulates“unflattering” names in its Name Act.  The Act does not ban such names, but rather recognizes that having an unflattering name is an acceptable reason to change one’s legal name.

According to article 9 of the Name Act, one can change his or her first name if the name is unflattering, is an unreasonably long transliteration of a name in another language, or “if there are other special reasons.” The Act restricts the times one may change his/her name in a lifetime based on these reasons. Prior to an amendment to the Name Act enacted on June 1, 2001, the Act allowed only one opportunity in a person’s lifetime to change an unflattering name, which was increased to twice by the 2001 amendment and further to three times by a recent amendment enacted on May 20, 2015. Also included in the 2001 amendment was the removal of the government’s authority to decide whether a name was unflattering or other special reasons before the name could be changed. (Fatiao Yange, the Legislative Yuan Law Database.)

Parents must note that they get only one chance to change their baby’s unflattering name out of the total three chances in the baby’s lifetime. This is because the Name Act requires that the second name change be done after the person comes of age. (Id. art. 9).

A page in Kangxi Dictionary.
Inner pages of a Kangxi Dictionary collected at Asian Division, Library of Congress.

Even adults are not able to change their names arbitrarily. One can only change his/her name (first, last, or full name) if conditions set forth in the Name Act are satisfied. For example, after marriage either a husband or a wife may add the spouse’s last name to his/her own last name, and those who had the spouse’s last name added may also apply to remove it and to reinstate his/her original last name. The Act limits such a reinstatement of the original name to only once in a marriage, so if one got a chance to reinstate his/her original last name and then chose to add the spouse’s name again, the name could not be changed back to the original for a second time. (Id. art. 8.) If a person has the exact same first and last names as those of a criminal at large, the person may apply to change his/her name, but only the first and not the last name. (Id. art. 9.) A criminal at large, however, cannot apply to change his/her legal name. (Id. art. 15.)

Under the Name Act, a legal name in Taiwan must be Chinese and use characters found in major Chinese dictionaries including Ci Yuan, Ci Hai, Kangxi Dictionary, and Guoyu Cidian compiled by the Ministry of Education. (Id. art. 2.)

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