PETALING JAYA: A constitutional lawyer has warned the National Registration Department (NRD) not to overstep its jurisdiction in registering new births, after the department said certain names would only be allowed when they are spelt in the “correct” way.
Nizam Bashir said NRD has no right to dictate a person’s name or surname, although it could refuse a registration if it was objectionable or undesirable.
As such, he said NRD officers could decline to register names, but not regulating names.
“Under the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1957 (BDRA 1957), the state is not allowed to stipulate what a child’s name or surname must be,” he told FMT.
He said under Section 16 of the act, the registrar-general is empowered not to register a name on the basis that it is objectionable.
A senior NRD officer recently said the department would not allow names that are more than 80 characters, while prohibiting certain Muslim names from using their common short forms.
NRD deputy director-general (Operations) Jasri Kasim said these names include “Abd” and “Mohd”, which must now be spelt in full as “Abdul” and “Muhammad”.
But Nizam said “Mohd” and “Abd” could not be categorised as “objectionable” or “undesirable”.
He said while both words may not necessarily have any meaning, any reasonable person would know what they represent.
“A reasonable person would read between the lines and understand what those words mean as evident by the fact those names have been in use for many years,” he said.
He said any move to restrict a name or surname is a violation of the parent’s right to free speech as guaranteed by Article 10 of the Federal Constitution.
Nizam also said the length of a name was subjective.
“Who decides it should be 80 characters and what is the reason for that 80 limit in Malaysia?” he asked, adding that in the United States, the limit was longer, such as 100 characters in New Hampshire and 150 characters in Minnesota.
“What is the rationale for the limit chosen?”
Child rights’ activist Sharmila Sekaran said while NRD has no right to dictate names of individuals, there can be regulations or policies for practical purposes.
“For example, names cannot be longer than certain amount of letters as they can cause problems for the name bearer.”