WEST PALM BEACH, Florida, January 4, 2012 – As the world sits on the edge of its seat waiting for daily doses of pregnancy updates from Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, a teenage girl in Iceland is trying to get a name.
More precisely, she is trying to convince the government to let her use the name her mother gave her.
The problem is that the name the 15-year-old’s mother gave her, Blaer, is not on the list of 1,853 government-approved female names. (There are 1,712 approved male names.)
That’s right, in Iceland (and Germany and Denmark), the government must approve your choice of baby names. The government says the list is important because it ensures Icelandic grammar, pronunciation and cultural rules. It helps keep Icelandic pure and retains the language.
Under Icelandic law, parents must name a child within six months of birth. Parents must select from the approved list of names or make special requests from a committee to use names not on the list.
The committee strictly applies “language, gender and cultural conventions” and ensures that the name will not embarrass the child.
For example, any name that starts with the letter C is not allowed because “c” is not in Iceland’s alphabet. The committee did approve the name “Elvis,” because it fits with Icelandic grammar and pronunciation guidelines and would not cause cultural problems.
The committee also refuses names that are potentially embarrassing to children or that have a negative connotation. It rejected Satania, for example, because it too closely resembled “Satan.”
Ironically, the committee does allow the name Ljótur, which means “ugly” in Icelandic.
Naming laws have relaxed in Iceland recently, but the goal of maintaining the language and pronunciation remains. Until 1995, Icelandic law required all foreigners who obtain Icelandic citizenship to add an Icelandic name to their legal names, and required all children under 15 to give up their foreign name for an Icelandic one.
Blaer’s mother said she did not know the name was forbidden until after she had her daughter baptized. She knew of another family that had named a child Blaer in 1973, and assumed the name, therefore, was allowed. When she applied for approval, the name committee turned her down because it uses a masculine article, contradicting gender rules.
As a result, official documents, including her passport and bank accounts, list her simply as “Stulka,” which means “girl.” Blaer is suing the government to be able to use her name, which means “light breeze” in Icelandic.
This is the first time a citizen has ever sued to overturn a ruling by the names committee.
Although there is no government body that can overturn a ruling by the naming committee, Blaer’s mother Bjork Eidsdottir says they will take their case all the way to the Supreme Court if a lower court does not overturn the committee’s decision by January 25.
In the meantime, American celebrities including Kim Kardashian and Kanye West should seriously avoid applying for Icelandic citizenship. Neither Kanye nor Kanyetta is on the approved list, and probably won’t be added anytime soon.
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