In Sao Paulo, a baby boy is chortling away, unaware that a court is deciding his fate. If it finds in his father's favour, he is in all kinds of trouble. There may be a law in Brazil against giving your child a name that might cause him to be mocked, but daddy wants to call his son Osama bin Laden. The same father, Osvaldo Oliveira Soares, has form for trying to use babies as political statements. Nine years ago, he was banned from naming a previous son Saddam Hussein.
Unlike Brazil, there is no law in Britain that restricts a parent's right to name their child. "It's not for the registrar to say if someone has picked a name they don't think is suitable," says Alison Cathcart, superintendent registrar at Westminster register office. "But if someone is from a different culture and wants to register a name that sounds like a swear word in English then we do advise them of that."
"Naming does matter," says Helen Petrie, a professor at the City University of London and a researchersintosthe psychology of naming. "We have stereotypes of what sort of people are behind certain names. There are studies of teachers in primary schools in the US that show they rate children with certain names as less able.
"The name is the first thing we find out when we meet someone. If you call your child an unusual fluffy name like Fifi Trixibelle, as did Bob Geldof and Paula Yates, it can make life hard for you - especially if you want to be prime ministerial and are not in the least bit fluffy-headed."
There's also the class factor. "Fifty years ago there was no cross-over of names between classes. Now everyone can buy Tatler and see the name Tarquin," says Petrie. "Until the 60s, Tracey was a posh Chelsea name. Now it has a terrible stereotype. I've interviewed some Traceys who find their name a huge burden. However high up they may be in their profession, people hear their name and think they're the cleaner."
But no name is entirely safe. Your parents may not mean to mess you up but they can't know what the next mass murderer will be called. They can't necessarily protect you from other children who have a gift for making fun of any name. Sophies will tell you they were called Sofa in school; Theodores get nicknamed Odour. But, if your surname is Graves or Banks, you might reasonably expect your parents to have noticed that Robin had problems.