MELBOURNE - Reimana Pirika thought he was honouring the memory of fallen New Zealand and Australian soldiers when he chose to name his baby son Anzac.

Instead, the decision has outraged Australian returned servicemen who say it denigrates the sacredness of the word under which thousands of Australians and New Zealanders fought and died.

Pirika, 22, and his Australian partner Gaylene George, 27, say they named their son Anzac Pirika as a tribute to his shared heritage.

The pair, who live in Melbourne, added that they wanted to celebrate the traditional unity between the countries, founded when they faced battle together.

Anzac stands for Australian New Zealand Army Corps, which was formed in World War I.

But angry veterans have flooded the phone lines of the Victorian Returned and Services League (RSL) to protest.

RSL state president Major-General David McLachlan claimed the word, as emotive as any on this side of the Tasman, had been used improperly.

"I know the family probably had the best intentions in the world, but the term Anzac is very special to veterans, and is very important in what it reflects for them," he said.

"We believe it is an improper use of the acronym, and many veterans are unhappy this has occurred."

Ben Furby, president of the New Zealand sub-branch of the RSL in Sydney, agreed with his Australian comrades.

"We don't like the name being used light-heartedly. It would be better not to do it.

"Neither of the parents has been to war and seen friends killed - that's the way I see it," he said.

Laws to control how the word Anzac is used in Australia were introduced in 1921.

Under the Protection of Word "Anzac" Regulations, it is against the law to use the word for commercial purposes. The regulations restrict how it is used in naming streets, parks and roads. But there is no law against using it as a person's name.

The Federal Minister for Veterans' Affairs, Danna Vale, said this week that she supported the RSL's view.

She said that after World War I some children were named Anzac in the "spirit of the times".

"Over the passage of time views have changed, and I, too, encourage the family to consider the concerns of the ex-service community on the use of Anzac as a child's name."

Ms Vale said she would speak to the RSL about action that could be taken to stop Anzac being used as a name.

However, Major-General McLauchlan yesterday backed away from the minister's offer, after a newspaper poll showed public support for the couple.

The poll in Melbourne's Herald Sun found 65.1 per cent (505) of the 775 respondents said parents should be able to name a child Anzac.

In its editorial the newspaper asked "how better to preserve the spirit of Anzac than to entrust it to the young?"

Mr Pirika denied naming his son Anzac would denigrate the memory of the fallen. "It is not meant to offend; I would be honoured if I was named Anzac."

- NZPA