Iceland's Name War: Girl Sues to Use Her Given Name

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: One of the great pleasures, and challenges, of becoming a parent is choosing a name. Do you could honor family members, mimic celebrities, or somehow reflect your personality, or perhaps try to reflect the spirit of the times? Well, there are a few countries out there where many of those choices are, in fact, illegal. Take the case of a 15-year-old girl in Iceland. She is currently suing the government for the right to legally use the name given to her by her mother. Her name is Blaer, which means "light breeze" in Icelandic. But itââ?¬â?¢s not on the list approved by the government. Sveinn Gudmarsson is a reporter for the Icelandic National Broadcast Service. Sveinn, may I just say first of all, that any name that means light breeze ought to be on the list. Tell me, though, why it's taken so long for her name to become an issue.

Sveinn Gudmarsson: I think it has something to do with the fact that she is now becoming 15 years old, meaning that she is now applying for a bank account and soon getting her driving license and so on. So I think this has been a mild nuisance to her mother, but now this is becoming a real problem for her.

Werman: Right, and she wants a name, presumably. What name has Blaer been using instead of Blaer, for all her 15 years?

Gudmarsson: Unofficially, she is just called Blaer. Her friends call her Blaer, her family calls her Blaer.

Werman: I see. What does the Icelandic government call her?

Gudmarsson: She is simply just called "Girl," Girl Bjorksdottir.

Werman: Really? Oh my gosh. "Girl" and then her last name.

Gudmarsson: Yes.

Werman: Why is Iceland so strict about the names it allows?

Gudmarsson: I think it has partly something to do with some kind of like nationalist view that the government and the authorities have been quite strict that Icelandic names must be in line with Icelandic grammar and pronunciation rules. So therefore a list has been compiled with approximately 2,000 male and 2,000 female names which everybody must pick from. New names are continuously being added to the list, but Blaer, the female version, that is, has not been approved, simply because there is a male name also which is incidentally Blaer. So therefore, the law says that you cannot give a girl a boy's name, and vice versa. So therefore, this girl has not been allowed to be named Blaer.

Werman: Because it's a boy's name?

Gudmarsson: It is a boy's name, but it is also a girl's name, which is quite, which is a curious fact that that has a different declanation than the boy's version of Blaer.

Werman: How old is this law? When did Iceland close the door on name creation?

Gudmarsson: Well, this has always been rather strict. But I think the current legislation is from the early 90s.

Werman: The early 90s? I thought this is something that went back like, I don't know, centuries.

Gudmarsson: Yeah, at the time the legislators said that this is actually being to, they were actually relaxing the law a little bit because around this time we had quite a lot of, like an influx of immigrants, and that presented us with new challenges when it came to names.

Werman: Do people in Iceland generally support the law?

Gudmarsson: Yes and no. I think everybody more or less think that you shouldn't be allowed to give your child any name, but in this case, for instance, I think most people are very sympathetic to the girl who wants to be named Blaer.

Werman: And Blaer is 15. Has anyone else in Iceland ever successfully challenged this law before?

Gudmarsson: Nobody has tried to take this to court to challenge the decision of the naming board, so this is a landmark case. But it is interesting that there have been other women called Blaer, so there is certainly precedence.

Werman: Sveinn Gudmarsson, with the Icelandic National Broadcast Service. Thank you.

Gudmarsson: You're welcome.