Professor Of Icelandic Supports Abolishing Name Laws - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Professor Of Icelandic Supports Abolishing Name Laws

Published July 21, 2016

Photos by
Inga María Brynjarsdóttir

A professor of the Icelandic language believes abolishing the naming laws would be “beneficial to human rights”.

Eiríkur Rögnvaldsson, a professor of Icelandic at the University of Iceland, has written a detailed, point-by-point opinion that criticises Iceland’s current naming laws. As reported, a new bill from the Ministry of the Interior would abolish the current naming laws if passed.

In his opinion, there is no need to demand that a new name abide Icelandic grammar rules, i.e., that it must be possible to decline the name in accordance with Icelandic grammar. Foreign names are very much a part of Icelandic daily life, and Icelanders normally opt to simply say the foreign name without declining it. Similarly, creating a legal requirement that male children are given masculine names and female children are given feminine names has “no logical basis”.

Speaking with RÚV, Eiríkur added that the current law regarding the restricted use of family names (as opposed to patronyms, which are much more common in Iceland), “clashes with modern ideas about human rights”. That some people can have family names, while others may not, is additionally not in harmony with the constitution.

The bill in question from the Ministry of the Interior proposes a number of sweeping changes to Iceland’s naming laws. Amongst the conditions in Iceland’s current naming laws that would be struck down if the bill passes are the following:

1. The condition that the name be able to abide Icelandic grammar.
2. The condition that male children have male names and female children have female names.
3. The condition that first names not be “embarrassing”.
4. Restrictions on the use of family names (instead of patronyms).

For their part, the Committee has strong objections to many of these changes. They have cautioned, for example, that without laws about what are boys’ names and girls’ names, “it would be possible to name a boy Þorgerður [a female name] and a girl Sigmundur [a male name]”. They add that, in the event the bill passes into law, “it will be impossible to avoid disputes that arise over names and their registration”. The bill as it is now states that “if a minister, head of a religious organisation or the National Registry believes that a first or middle name violates the law, it will be referred to the [Minister of the Interior].”

Former Reykjavík mayor Jón Gnarr has long been an opponent of the Name Committee, as they have repeatedly blocked his attempts to legally change his name to the one by which he has been known for years now. Jón managed to get around this last January – by having his name legally changed in the US.

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