15-Year-Old Icelandic Teenager Is Suing the Country For the Right to Be Called By Her Name

Illustration for article titled 15-Year-Old Icelandic Teenager Is Suing the Country For the Right to Be Called By Her Name

Here in the U.S., we give our kids ridiculous names like "Hashtag," because this is AMERICA. But some countries, such as Iceland, have very stringent and arbitrary rules regarding monikers.


According to the AP, most Icelanders don't question the Personal Names Register, a list of 1,712 male names and 1,853 female names "that fit Icelandic grammar and pronunciation rules and that officials maintain will protect children from embarrassment." Examples of banned names include Cara, Carolina, Cesil, and Christa, because the letter "c'' is not part of Iceland's 32-letter alphabet (what about other names that start with C?), and Satania because it sounds like "Satan." They've also rejected middle names that people have wanted to add later in life, like Zeppelin and X.

"What one person finds beautiful, another person may find ugly," acknowledged Agusta Thorbergsdottir, the head of the names committee.

Does anyone else feel like they're reading a Roald Dahl tale? Also, can you imagine how Americans would respond to a similar law? All Tea Partiers would name their children "Honey Boo Boo" in solidarity and protest.

But now, a 15-year-old is suing Iceland to use the name legally given to her by her mother: Blaer, which means "light breeze" in Icelandic. Pretty! But also masculine, which means it's not allowed.

"I had no idea that the name wasn't on the list, the famous list of names that you can choose from," said her mother, Bjork Eidsdottir, who says she knew a Blaer whose name was OKed in 1973. There's also a female character named Blaer in a novel by Nobel Prize-winning Icelandic author Halldor Laxness. What the fuck? Is the names committee not a fan of Gossip Girl?

First names are particularly significant in Iceland, where everyone is listed in the phone book by their first names and even the president is called by his first name, Olafur. Blaer has been called "stulka," which means girl, on all of her documents for years.


"So many strange names have been allowed, which makes this even more frustrating because Blaer is a perfectly Icelandic name," Eidsdottir said. "It seems like a basic human right to be able to name your child what you want, especially if it doesn't harm your child in any way." They're willing to take the case to the country's Supreme Court.

Free Blaer!




The girl in this article is my husband's cousin (small country). The reason why Blær's name was rejected by the naming committee in Iceland is because it's considered a 'male' word. Like French, Icelandic nouns are gendered as male, female, or neutral, so Björk is a female name, for instance, because it is a female noun (meaning birch tree); and yes, it is very common. Any name that is submitted to the committee (because it's not on the approved list) has to inflect correctly according to the language.

I think the naming committee is usually pretty reasonable. Our daughter, Ruby/Rúbý was approved because there are other Icelandic female names that end in 'ý' (like Dagný and Signý), so it inflects the same way and makes sense with the language. Icelandic words are inflected based on context, so words get a different ending according to how you are using it. However, Guðmundur Andri, an Icelandic writer, gave an example today of how you can inflect Blær for both versions of the name, male and female, and it feels and sounds just fine. "Hér er hún Blær um Blævi frá Blævi til Blævar. Og hér er hann Blær um Blæ frá Blæ til Blæs. Og hvert er þá vandamálið?" That is the question.

I think the main reason for the committee has to do with how the Icelandic language is very protected — there are only roughly 320,000 people in the world who speak it — so much so, that when new things come into being, like mp3 players, Icelanders will often opt to create a new Icelandic word for it, rather than use its commonly adapted trade name. They vote on what the new Icelandic word should be, choosing among a suggested list of words that are published and circulated on milk cartons. I've heard people compare Icelandic to other classical languages in the way that it's been preserved throughout history, though I'm not sure how accurate that is.

Anyhow, here is the official list of approved Icelandic names, if you're interested: http://www.island.is/islensk-nofn