From Iceland — Naming Committee Rejects "Hel"

Naming Committee Rejects “Hel”

Published January 26, 2017

Andie Sophia Fontaine
Photo by
Nanna Árnadóttir

Although the name hails back to ancient Norse mythology, Iceland’s Naming Committee believes Hel would only cause problems for a child so named.

RÚV reports that a couple who are registered in the Ásatŕu Society, a pagan religious organisation that honours the ancient Norse gods, put in a request with the Naming Committee to name their daughter Hel. Hel is, in Norse mythology, the ruler of the underworld of the same name, the daughter of Loki and receives a portion of the dead.

While the Naming Committee agreed that the name is in harmony with Icelandic grammar and does not conflict with the language, they ruled that the name could cause social difficulties for the child. It is also for this reason that Icelanders cannot name their children Skessa (a female troll) or Þrjótur (villain), despite also being grammatically declinable.

As reported, Iceland has an official Naming Committee, which oversees which new names may be added to the Icelandic lexicon. There are a number of qualifications that prospective names need to fulfill, such as being able to decline the name in accordance with Icelandic grammar, or that there is historical precedent for the name in Iceland.

While the Committee has its share of supporters and detractors, it is now just one round of voting away from becoming a thing of the past.

A new bill 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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