Capitol Alert

Should accents on names be illegal? Assemblyman doesn’t think so

Assemblywoman Catherine Baker leaves in the assembly chambers after session on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2015.
Assemblywoman Catherine Baker leaves in the assembly chambers after session on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2015.

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Ten months ago Pablo Espinoza sat in a Los Angeles hospital and filled out a birth certificate form for his newborn son, Nicolás.

But due to the interpretation of a three decades-old law, his son is officially Nicolas to the state of California. Diacritical marks on names are not allowed in the Golden State.

Espinoza and others trace the ban back to Proposition 63 in 1986, which established English as the official state language. They say the language in the law doesn’t specifically preclude diacritical marks, defined as marks, points or signs attached to a letter to give it a particular phonetic value, but was interpreted that way. As a result, accents, umlauts and other marks aren’t often recognized by the State Registrar of Vital Statistics.

Espinosa, a special projects media consultant for Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, said he was shocked to learn of the quirky rule.

Assemblyman Jose Medina, D-Riverside, in particular felt so moved that he introduced Assembly Bill 82, which expressly requires the diacritical marks be included on vital records such as birth, death and marriage licenses. The bill follows similar legislation from Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, that failed in 2014.

“I was always taught by my parents, since I was a little kid, that if you don’t like something, don’t just sit on the sidelines complaining and moaning about it,” Espinoza said. “Do something about it. Hopefully, one day I can tell little Nicolás that’s what I did.”

AB 82 goes before the Assembly Health committee at 1:30 p.m. in room 4202 of the state Capitol.

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Taryn Luna: 916-326-5545, @TarynLuna