Elon Musk and Grimes made headlines this week after welcoming a baby boy ― and announcing a rather unusual name for him. The moniker is so strange, in fact, that many have questioned whether it’s even legal.
Their son will apparently be called X Æ A-12 Musk, the SpaceX CEO tweeted Monday. Grimes followed up the next day with an explanation of the meaning of the name ― a combination of X for “the unknown variable,” Æ to represent love and artificial intelligence, and A-12 as a nod to the “precursor to” the SR-71 aircraft (the couple’s favorite).
But is a name like X Æ A-12 allowed on a birth certificate in the baby’s home state of California? In short: Nope.
The California Department of Public Health’s vital records office issues a handbook with guidelines for permissible names. According to that handbook, only “the 26 alphabetical characters of the English language” and “appropriate punctuation” (like hyphens, apostrophes, periods and commas) can appear on vital records like birth certificates.
“No, a name like ‘X Æ A-12’ would not be allowed,” a spokesperson for CDPH told HuffPost, adding that numerals, pictographs, ideograms and diacritical marks such as accent marks do not adhere to the guidelines.
These guidelines aren’t technically laws, so you can’t necessarily call the couple’s chosen baby name illegal. But the effect is similar: X Æ A-12 will not be accepted as the child’s legal name.
“Typically when you have a baby, you fill out a form at the hospital and it’s entered into a computer system. My guess is if they tried to enter this name, the computer would just reject it,” said Carlton F.W. Larson, a professor at UC Davis School of Law who published a 2011 paper on parental naming rights.
“Likely he’d be told you can’t have this as a name on a birth certificate,” he added. “You’d have to enter something else. I think the X and A are OK, but the 12 and the Æ symbol wouldn’t be allowed.”
California’s baby naming rules have come under fire in the past, particularly because diacritical marks are common in Spanish and the state has a large Latinx population. The state legislature has explored ― and even passed ― some bills to allow diacritical marks, but those bills have failed to become law, reportedly due to the how much it would cost to update the state’s computer systems.
Musk could theoretically sue over the rejection of X Æ A-12, but Larson doesn’t believe he would have a strong case.
“Musk doesn’t present a very sympathetic case at all. If he were to bring a challenge, I think he would lose, and he probably should lose,” Larson said. “Nobody should have to go through life with a name like that. And that’s very different than if someone says, ‘I want diacritical marks, which are consistent with a name well-known in my culture.’”
Larson added that it’s hard to tell if Musk and Grimes are serious about the name, or if it’s some sort of joke or performance art. In any case, if they do feel strongly about the name, they wouldn’t have to back off it completely.
“Whatever name is on the birth certificate, they could probably use this name informally in the same way people give nicknames to their kid,” the professor said. “It wouldn’t be a name on the kid’s birth certificate or passport, but assuming it even has a pronunciation, they could use it in their house if they wanted to.”