By Madeline Schiesser
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe
REYKJAVIK, Iceland – On all official documents, 15-year-old Blær Bjarkadóttir is identified only as stúlka, literally girl, because her name is not approved by Iceland’s Human Name Committee. However, Blær has become the first person to challenge in court the Human Name Committee’s adverse decision in order to obtain the right to legally use her name.
Iceland, like Germany and Denmark, has an official “Personal Names Register,” which contains 1,853 approved names for women, and 1,712 approved names for men that confirm to grammar and pronunciation rules and are believed to protect children from embarrassment. Parents may apply to the Human Name Committee for a special exception.
Blær’s name however, which means “light breeze,” was rejected by the Committee because it takes a masculine article, although it is an approved name for a man.
Björk Eiðsdóttir, Blær’s mother, had not realized Blær was not on the approved name list when she had her daughter christened, and it was only later that the priest informed her he had made a mistake by allowing the name.
Blær’s lack of a legal name has given her years of frustration, as she must explain the story of why she is officially called Stúlka when filling out forms or dealing with the country’s bureaucratic system.
“I had no idea that the name wasn’t on the list, the famous list of names that you can choose from,” said Björk.
Björk added that she knew a woman named Blær. Accordingly, this Blær Guðmundsdóttir, born in 1973 is the only legal Blær in Iceland, named after a character in Nobel Prize in literature winning author Halldór Laxness’s 1957 novel, Brekkukotsannáll (The Fish Can Sing). The author was friends with Blær Guðmundsdóttir’s parents, and may have influenced the Committee’s decision to approve the name.
Björk’s petition to have her daughter’s name recognized was rejected after she named Blær. However, now Björk and Blær and have brought suit against the Ministry of the Interior for Blær’s right to legally use her name. Their case is currently before a District Court, and a verdict is expected within the month, possibly on January 25. Björk and Blær are prepared to take their case all the way to Iceland’s Supreme Court.
“The law is pretty straightforward so in many cases it’s clearly going to be a yes or a no,” said Agusta Thorbergsdottir, the head of the government committee of three people which hears naming cases.
The Human Name Committee has, however, allowed other masculine words to become girl’s names, among them “auður” (wealth) and “ilmur” (scent).
Blær’s situation is not unique. In the country of 320 thousand, about 200 people over the age of one year have no name, and are instead listed in the National Registry as merely stúlka (girl) or drengur (boy). In some cases this is because the parents have not yet submitted information to the Registry or the children are living abroad. However, as is the case with Blær, the Human Name Committee may not have approved the person’s name.
First names hold particular importance in Iceland, where people are referred to by their given names and surnames are usually patronymics, derived from a father’s first name. The phone book is indexed by first name, and even the president is called Ólafur Ragnar instead of Mr. Grímsson.
In recent years, the Human Naming Committee, which also has the power to veto adult name changes, has shown greater leniency, but still adhered to certain Icelandic language rules. The name Elvis has been allowed, while names starting with the letter “c,” such as Cara, Carolina, Cesil, and Christa have been altogether rejected because the letter “c” is not part of Iceland’s 32-letter alphabet.
For example, Icelandic artist Birgir Orn Thoroddsen applied to the Committee to have his name changed to Curver and was rejected. He said, “I can understand a clause to protect children from being named something like ’Dog poo,’ but it is strange that an adult cannot change his name to what he truly wants.”
Blær and Björk will continue to press forward with their first of its kind case. In an interview, Björk commented, “So many strange names have been allowed, which makes this even more frustrating because Blær is a perfectly Icelandic name. 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…and my daughter loves her name.”
For further information, please see:
Iceland Review – Many Icelanders Nameless in National Registry – 5 January 2013
Reykjavik Grapevine – Nobel-Winning Author Connected To Name Dispute – 4 January 2013
Iceland Review – Girl Named ‘Girl’ Sues State to Have Name Approved – 3 January 2013
Independent – 15-Year-Old Girl with Missing Moniker Set to Sue Icelandic Government in Fight to Legally Use Her Name – 3 January 2013
National Post – State-Approved Names Only, Please: Icelandic Girl Suing Government over Right to Use Her Name – 3 January 2013
RT – What’s in a Name? Quite a Lot, if You Live in Iceland – 3 January 2013