Two Icelandic Sisters Fight To Determine Their Own Surnames - The Reykjavik Grapevine

Two Icelandic Sisters Fight To Determine Their Own Surnames

Published October 14, 2019

Andie Fontaine
Photo by
Vísir/Vilhelm

Two Icelandic sisters who are completely estranged from both of their parents are hoping to create their own surname, Vísir reports, but their greatest obstacle is Iceland’s strict naming laws.

Sisters Ingibjörg Sædís and Eydís Rán grew up in poverty. Their mother died by her own hand when they were nine and ten years old, and their father left them with their paternal grandmother shortly thereafter. From there, their lives were marked by hunger, neglect and social withdrawal. They were twice placed in foster care, and their father cut all contact with them by the time they had begun their teens.

Now that they are both in a much better place in life, Ingibjörg Sædís and Eydís Rán hope to make a fresh start. Part of this includes eschewing their patronym—in Icelandic, most surnames are comprised of a person’s father’s name, followed by -son or -dóttir. Ingibjörg summed up their sentiments best: “I cannot bear the name of this man who is just some other stranger on the street to me.”

Not wanting to bear his name, nor the name of their mother as she was barely present in their lives, they have sought to change their surname to something else entirely. As it is, their surnames are registered as Bergsteinsdóttir, referring directly to their father. They have considered keeping the Berg portion of his name, for aesthetic reasons, and use it to create a new surname, such as Bláberg, Bergvík, Bergvon and other possibilities.

However, the National Registry has not yet allowed for the change. This is because Iceland’s notoriously strict naming laws do not allow someone to change their surname. They could, theoretically, go the route which former Reykjavík Mayor Jón Gnarr chose: to change one’s legal name overseas and then use this as a basis for changing one’s registered name in Iceland.

Be that as it may, trips abroad are expensive, and most states require having legal residence there in order to change one’s name. As such, they have decided to keep the fight going in Iceland.

“We will soon have a meeting and go over our recommendations,” Eydís says. “We want to have the same surname, anyways, that much is certain. Because this is our story.”

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