You don't have free rein over choice of name

How much discretion should regulatory authorities  have when deciding on a name?

Melbourne Cup fever is here again, and in the spirit of horse racing excitement, my colleague Phil last week discussed the law surrounding the naming of horses. Is all of this really necessary? Shouldn’t an owner be able to name a horse whatever they want? Surely the risk of political or personal offence goes hand in hand with the very nature of the right to freedom of speech?  Or is there regulation for good reason?

Horse racing isn’t the only place naming is regulated – the Births, Deaths and Marriages Act states the name of a child shall not cause offence to the reasonable person. Names that have been prohibited include “V8”, “Queen Victoria”, “Mafia No Fear”, and famously, “Talulah does the Hula from Hawaii”.  

Restricting names for children is, of course, very necessary. From the violent and offensive to just plain ridiculous, I wouldn’t like to think how the names “Corporal” or “09” might affect a child in our world of Max and Sophie.

The importance of regulating children’s names has far more obvious implications than that in horse racing. It is highly doubtful that one horse is at risk of being ostracised by the other horses in the stable on account of its name.

However, there might remain good reasons for regulating horse names.  Last week’s article spoke of the case Stirling Bloodstock Limited v New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing Incorporated, where the Court upheld the NZTR’s decision to prohibit the registration of “Lip Up Fatty” and “Rotten Culture” as racing horse names because they might be offensive. The NZTR is able to do this under the International Agreement on Breeding, Racing and Wagering. The Stirling Bloodstock case concluded the NZTR had “complete discretion” in determining names that could be acceptable.  

It has been argued the NZTR has been given too much discretion in this area, over and above the objective criteria as stated in the International Agreement on Breeding, Racing and Wagering.   But it would be extremely undesirable for horse racing to be seen to be condoning names in the public eye which may be offensive, or promulgating ideas we would rather not put into the spotlight. Allowing names with potentially offensive meanings is unnecessary. Horse racing is for anyone who wishes to enjoy it, and there should be no reason for them to be offended in the process.

One man’s humour might be another’s offence, and it’s important the NZTR is able to uphold the professional standard of horse racing and allow it to be a sport inclusive to all people. After all, would a horse by any other name run as fast?

The content of this document is necessarily general and readers should seek specific advice on particular matters and not rely solely on this document. 

If you would like more information on any of the topics in this document, please contact your usual Auld Brewer Mazengarb & McEwen adviser. 

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