Will Icelandic Naming Committee Be Abolished?

Vala Hafstað

Iceland has long been known for its Naming Committee – a committee of three people and three substitutes whose role it is to determine which personal names are to be approved and which ones rejected in the country.

Current law requires that every name be able to have an Icelandic genitive ending, or that it have earned a tradition in the Icelandic language. Every name must be adaptable to the structure of the Icelandic language. It must be spelled according to Icelandic spelling rules, unless there is a tradition for writing it differently. Finally, a person’s name must not be such that it could cause its bearer embarrassment.

On Monday, Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir presented a bill in Alþingi, the Icelandic parliament, where she proposed drastic changes to laws regarding personal names, including the abolishment of the Naming Committee.

If approved, Áslaug states, the bill would give people the liberty to carry any name they choose, adopt a new family name, and have as many names as they wish. Current law limits the number of given names to three.

Áslaug admits that opinions on the bill vary within her parliamentary group and among the other parties in government, but she describes the bill as a middle-of-the-road approach.

To give you examples of verdicts reached by the Naming Committee, the name Lucifer was rejected by its members in November of last year.The opposition was justified as follows:

“Since the name Lucifer is one of the devil’s names, the Naming Committee believes it could cause the bearer embarrassment. Besides, the spelling of the name Lucifer cannot be considered in accordance with the general spelling rules of the Icelandic language, since the letter c is not part of the Icelandic alphabet.”

In addition, the woman’s name Kona, meaning woman, was rejected by the committee in May of last year

This drew attention, since critiques pointed out that there is a long tradition of men’s names in the Icelandic language such as Karl, Sveinn, and even Drengur, meaning man, young man, and boy, respectively.

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