young people questioning


You can be Aagot, Arney or Ásfríður; Baldey, Bebba or Brá. Dögg, Dimmblá, Etna and Eybjört are fine; likewise Frigg, Glódís, Hörn and Ingunn. Jórlaug works OK, as do Obba, Sigurfljóð, Úranía and Vagna.

But you cannot, as a girl in Iceland, be called Harriet.





Every once in a while you come across a piece of news that makes you scratch your head.


This was one of those times.


Apparently Iceland has rules for what you can name your child <and receive official documentations>.


I am tempted to make some comments on how I wish we in America would have some guidelines on crazy naming … but I will hold back.



Here is the law.


Icelandic girls can’t be called Harriet, government tells family – “name is not on approved list of 3,565 … no official document will be issued to people who do not bear an approved Icelandic name.”





I admit … while the story is a little nutso … I was sure I didn’t like the tone of the article.


In my mind when I read it … after I got over the fact I thought Harriet <in the scheme of things> was a fairly normal name … I kind of translated the article as:

“If Icelandic people can call their children all these wacky names, then why in the world not be able to call your child a proper name like Harriet.”





The implication is that ‘these foreigners are weird.’


That is crap. And that is lazy thinking.



The names are not weird … just uniquely cultural <which simply translates into ‘different than us’>.



I found it interesting that Iceland <a country of barely 320,000 people> actually has a phone book which lists people by their first name <note: I cannot confirm this because I do not have an Iceland phone book>.



Sounds odd <if not quaint> but it is sensible for the reason that the vast majority of Icelandic surnames simply record the fact that you are your father’s <or mother’s> son or daughter.

iceberg antartica

Jón Einarsson’s offspring, for example, might be Ólafur Jónsson and Sigríður Jónsdóttir.






Why does this all matter?


I tend to believe smaller countries fight hard to maintain some of their distinctness & uniqueness. They do so because their geographic boundaries are often defined by cultural aspects and hardened by historical experience.


Unlike many other countries which accumulate variety … smaller countries strengthen on the core.


So this means in Iceland … they have a law that dictates the names of children born in Iceland must – unless both parents are foreign – be submitted to the National Registry within six months of birth.


If it is not on a recognized list of 1,853 female and 1,712 male names, the parents must seek the approval of a body called the Icelandic Naming Committee.


For the 5,000 or so children born in Iceland each year, the committee reportedly receives about 100 applications and rejects about half under a 1996 act aimed mainly at preserving the language of the sagas.



Beyond the ‘preserving culture’ aspect … pragmatically … among its requirements are that given names must be “capable of having Icelandic grammatical endings”, may not “conflict with the linguistic structure of Iceland”, and should be are “written in accordance with the ordinary rules of Icelandic orthography”.


What this means in practice, according to the Reykjavik Grapevine is that names containing letters that do not officially exist in Iceland’s 32-letter alphabet, such as “c”, are out.



I have to tell you. All that sounds pretty reasonable to me.


world is madI share this because … well … I was enlightened.



While the story seemed absolutely crazy at first blush … it took on a tone of practicality and some common sense as I learned more.





Just as food for thought.


I believe France has an approved list of first names.


I believe Argentina only accepts the traditional Spanish form of the names of Roman Catholic saints and approved Old Testament characters.


I believe several other countries have some ‘name guidelines’ as well.



I would also note another thing about this Iceland naming issue.


If they gave the child an Icelandic middle name they are good to go. So it is not some completely obstructive law.





The naming laws have always been there.


It may seem absurd to have these types of laws at first glance but the Icelandic system, which essentially requires that a person’s name look like a person’s name when using Icelandic letters, rather than … well … a toilet cleaner … is probably not that bad an idea.


Here is what I know.

A relatively small population of a Scandinavian country has developed a system to honor their heritage & culture & time honored traditions <not giving away to ‘global’>.

learning still


Once I stood back and gathered up what little bit of cultural sensitivity I have … this story didn’t seem as crazy as it did when I began.



In the end.


Here is what I say.



Good for Iceland.

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Written by Bruce