Fri, Jan 04, 2013 - Page 7 News List

Icelandic girl fights for right to her own name

AP, REYKJAVIK

A 15-year-old is suing the Icelandic state for the right to legally use the name given to her by her mother. The problem? Blaer, which means “light breeze” in Icelandic, is not on a list approved by the government.

Like a handful of other countries, Iceland has official rules about what a baby can be named. In a country comfortable with a firm state role, most people do not question the Personal Names Register, a list of 1,712 male names and 1,853 female names that fit Icelandic grammar and pronunciation rules and that officials maintain will protect children from embarrassment. Parents can take from the list or apply to a special committee that has the power to say yea or nay.

In Blaer’s case, her mother said she learned the name was not on the register only after the priest who baptized the child later informed her he had mistakenly allowed it.

“I had no idea that the name wasn’t on the list, the famous list of names that you can choose from,” Bjork Eidsdottir said.

The panel turned it down on the grounds that the word Blaer takes a masculine article, although it was used for a female character in a novel by Iceland’s revered Nobel Prize-winning author Halldor Laxness.

Given names are even more significant in tiny Iceland than in many other countries: Everyone is listed in the phone book by their first names. Surnames are based on a parent’s given name. Even Icelandic President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson is addressed simply as Olafur.

Blaer is identified as “Stulka” — or “girl” — on all her official documents, which has led to years of frustration as she has had to explain the whole story at the bank, renewing her passport and dealing with the country’s bureaucracy.

Her mother is hoping that will change with her suit, the first time someone has challenged a names committee decision in court.

Though the law has become more relaxed in recent years, choices like Cara, Carolina, Cesil and Christa have been rejected outright because the letter “c” is not part of Iceland’s 32-letter alphabet.

“The law is pretty straightforward so in many cases it’s clearly going to be a yes or a no,” the committee’s head Agusta Thorbergsdottir said.

Other cases are more subjective.

“What one person finds beautiful, another person may find ugly,” she said.

She pointed to “Satania” as one unacceptable case because it was deemed too close to “Satan.”

Eidsdottir says she is prepared to take her case all the way to the country’s Supreme Court if a court does not overturn the commission decision on Jan. 25.

“So many strange names have been allowed, which makes this even more frustrating because Blaer is a perfectly Icelandic name,” Eidsdottir said. “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.”

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