Icelandic teen sues government for right to use her given name


in Iceland, pictured, your name must come from a list approved by the government. (Photo by Matt Riggott via Wikimedia Commons.)

Having the ability to use the name given to you at birth may seem like a right.

Player utilities

Listen to the Story.

But in Iceland if your name isn't on the government's list, it's considered illegal.

Blaer Bjarkardottir, a 15-year-old Icelander, is currently suing the Icelandic government for the right to legally use the name given to her by her mother.

Sveinn Gudmarsson, reporter for the Icelandic National Broadcast Service, says Blaer's name has become a issue because she's now at the age to apply for a bank account and get her driver's license. And though her unauthorized name had previously been a nuisance for a mother, it's finally become a problem for Blaer as well.

Her birth name of Blaer means "light breeze" and is used by friends and family, Gudmarsson said. But the government just calls her "girl."

The regulations Iceland has on names, Gudmarsson says, stems from strong, nationalistic views, specifically around immigration.

"The government and the authorities have been quite strict that Icelandic names must be in line with the Icelandic grammar and pronunciation rules," he said. "Therefore, a list has been compiled with approximately 2000 male and 2000 female names, which everybody must pick from."

New names are continuously added to the list, Gudmarsson said. But the female version of Blaer, hasn't been approved because there's a male name of Blaer. 

"The law says that you cannot give a girl a boy's name and vice-versa. Therefore this girl has not been allowed to be named Blaer," he said.

However Blaer is both a girl's and boy's name in Icelandic. Gudmarsson says the female version has a different declination. 

Iceland has always been rather strict on name creation. But Gudmarsson says the current legislation stems the early nineties, when government tried relaxing the previous law.

"Around this time, (Iceland) had quite an influx of immigrants and that presented (them) with new challenges when it came to names," he said.

Gudmarsson says the opinions are mixed on the new law. This case is a landmark because no one has tried to take it to court or challenge the decisions of the naming board.

"I think everybody, more or less thinks 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," he said.