You may remember the parents who named their kids Adolf Hitler.
And no, I’m not talking about Hitler’s parents, I’m talking about parents who live in the U.S. right now. Isidore Heath Campbell and his then-wife Deborah named one of their children Adolf Hitler.
A few years ago, JTA reported that Campbell showed up to court regarding custody over his youngest son, Heinrich Hons, then 2, in full Nazi regalia. Campbell and his then-wife lost custody, largely stemming from an incident involving their local supermarket. The supermarket refused to print the full name of his oldest child, Adolf Hitler Campbell, on a cake for his third birthday.
While the incident wasn’t the sole cause of the children’s removal, it was the necessary clue into the fact that the children’s well-being was threatened–authorities looked into the situation and removed the children from their parents, because “there was violence in the home.”
Just this past May, however, the saga continued. Campbell officially changed his last name to Hitler. As JTA wrote, “his initials are now IHH, which he said stands for ‘I Hail Hitler.’” He also sports a swastika as a neck tattoo (this guy is obviously very serious about being anti-Semitic).
While Campbell is seeking full custody of his children, it seems unlikely he’ll receive it—he has refused to seek counseling, despite a court order.
But Campbell isn’t the only one obsessed with Hitler and naming his kids something controversial. The 2014 documentary, “Meet the Hitlers,” explores families who have Hitler (or Adolf) as a name, willingly or not. In a move similar to Campbell’s, after the events of 9/11, a Turkish couple living in Cologne, Germany, wanted to name their child after Osama Bin Laden, for instance.
While many of the families and people involved didn’t choose their names (their parents chose for them, like Ecuadorian immigrant Hitler Guiterrez, whose dad named him Hitler without realizing the cultural implications of this decision), the film interestingly explores the meaning of names–and issues like tolerance, racism, and anti-Semitism. Campbell was featured in the documentary, too.
And yet, in Lauren Collins’ recent piece for The New Yorker titled, “Notes from a Baby-Names Obsessive,” Collins points out how legals laws around naming are strange–and in some cases, racist and anti-Semitic. She wrote that “in California, amazingly, you can be Adolf Hitler Smith, but not José Smith, because of a ban on diacritics.”
So, what exactly does that mean? Well, diacritic is a noun that is a sign, such as an accent or cedilla. When written above or below a letter, shows a difference in pronunciation from the same letter when unmarked or marked in a different way.
Like a lot of things, baby naming laws are different depending on state (way to be confusing, U.S. government), meaning that the rules vary a lot. For instance, you can’t use Arabic numbers in Texas, but you can use Roman numerals. As Time said:
“In California, baby names cannot contain umlauts or accents. In South Dakota, if a mother is unmarried at the time of conception, her surname goes on the birth certificate (unless a man signs an affidavit saying he’s the father).
Roman numerals are allowed for suffixes in Texas, but not Arabic ones, so a boy could be Rick Perry III but not Rick Perry 3.
In Massachusetts, the total number of characters in first, middle and last names cannot exceed 40. New Hampshire, meanwhile, prohibits all punctuation marks except for apostrophes and dashes.”
Time went on to say that it’s not just the U.S., either, that has antiquated rules:
“These rules aren’t limited to the U.S. Spain bans “extravagant” names while Portugal outlaws those that “raise doubts about the sex of the registrant.” And in New Zealand, a judge in 2008 spared a girl of being called Tulula Does The Hula From Hawaii; in his ruling he cited other names nixed by registration officials, such as Fish and Chips, Keenan Got Lucy and Sex Fruit. A 1995 act states that “unreasonably long” names are “undesirable in the public interest” in New Zealand.”
All of this, of course, raises the question: Should parents get full autonomy when naming their children? And what does happen when someone names their child a seriously offensive name, like after someone who is a murderer, for instance? Free speech is free speech is free speech–until it isn’t. But where is the line and how do we draw it?
Marilyn Manson, obviously, uses a controversial stage name for a reason–which is meant as a subversive act. This is much different from naming a child Adolf Hitler of Osama Bin Laden.
It’s important to emphasize that Campbell’s children were taken away because of the violence inside their home, not because of their names. While it may not seem unlikely abuse would occur in a house where a parent names their kid after Hitler, what if nothing else was found? And while using a name like Hitler may be an obvious example of going too far, and abusing free speech, how does one create naming laws without being racist or anti-Semitic?
Who thought naming a baby would be so hard? To quote Shakespeare, from his masterpiece “Romeo & Juliet,” “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.”
So, what’s in a name? Well, a whole lot.