A Light Wind

By now you have probably read, heard or seen the story that has been circulating this week about the 15 year old girl in Iceland whose name has been deemed illegal. Blaer, a 15 year-old girl whose name translates into “a light wind” in Icelandic, has been told that she will have to change her name as her name was incorrectly registered when she was born and is not on the national register of acceptable names. While the story seems absurd on the surface, there is some context that has to do with the nature of the Icelandic language and how personal information is recorded and tracked that goes into the telling of the story.

What interested me was the actual legal particulars about the story which I was able to track down because Iceland is considerate enough to provide easily accessible English translations to much of the legal content. Firstly, the law in question: The Personal Names Act which establishes that a Personal Names Register and how it shall be applied. The law in question is applied by the Ministry of the Interior, whom, I assume would also be responsible for the following information on naming a baby.

The “How To” guide for naming a baby in Iceland, includes a quick summary of the rules:

Rules for names

Rules for Icelandic personal names provide that names must:

  • be able to have a genetive ending or have been adopted through custom in the Icelandic language,
  • must be adaptable to the structure of the Icelandic language and spelling conventions and
  • does not cause the bearer embarrassment.
  • Girls should be given a female name and boys should be given male names.
  • No person can have more than three personal names.
  • The following is from the department of Registers Iceland (the national registry), which does not contain the actual approved list of names but does provide some statistical information about names in Iceland and the most popular names of the past year (for male: Jón and female: Guðrún).

    I want to be clear I am not making any commentary on this issue because, as I said above, there is some context to the story but more significantly I greatly appreciate that Iceland makes all this material easily accessible in English. However, if I had to make a bet, my money would be on the light wind continuing to blow and Blaer will be able to retain her name.


    1. Susannah Tredwell

      The list of approved names can be found here: http://www.island.is/islensk-nofn.

      For those whose Icelandic is rusty, “Öll samþykkt eiginnöfn drengja” translates to “all accepted names for boys” and “Öll samþykkt eiginnöfn stúlkna” to “all accepted names for girls”.

    2. Iceland is in some pretty good company when it comes to controlling baby names. China, Japan, Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Spain, Portugal, and Argentina have lists of approved names or rules controlling naming. (I’ve assembled the list in a hurry from a sloppy search, so there may be more; and some may have recently removed restrictions.) Even in New Zealand a couple was denied the right to name their baby 4Real — so they called him Superman instead: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/6939112.stm (Gotta love parents, right?)

      I’m half with the restrictions crowd. Slapping a stupid moniker on a kid is a bit like tattooing someone else’s body — and with bad art, at that. On the other hand . . .