From Iceland — What’s In A Name? Nonbinary People In Iceland Finding Their Voice

What’s In A Name? Nonbinary People In Iceland Finding Their Voice

Published May 17, 2021

Photo by
Art Bicnick

Real Icelanders have real Icelandic names – they’re called Einar, Ingibjörg or Ólafur, but by no means Alex, Theo or Sheila.

That’s the rule here in Iceland! And so that everyone adheres to this regulation, there is the Icelandic naming committee. This is an official body that decides which names are officially approved for Icelanders and which are not. There is even an official name register of Icelandic first names of which you can choose from female and male names.

But what if you’re nonbinary? For those who don’t know what nonbinary means: some people feel neither solely masculine nor clearly feminine. They might, for some example, be gender fluid, they might feel they are a mix of male and female, they might feel they have no gender at all—the one thing they all have in common is they don’t fit neatly into either “male” or “female”.

“I feel very fluid, I don’t like having a box that I need to fit in”, says Hrafnsunna Ross. Hrafnsunna lives in Reykjavík and is nonbinary.

Finding your name

Nonbinary people in Iceland encounter problems when it comes to finding a name, because many do not want to have a purely female or purely male name.

Hrafnsunna had another name when they were born.

“My parents gave me the name Sunna, that’s a traditionally female name but I needed a little ’more’. I heard of the male name Hrafn and that suits me, so i just added it. I didn’t want to let go of my feminine side, so I just added a masculine name. Hrafnsunna balanced things out a little bit for me and I am really happy with it. ”

Hrafnsunna was recognized as a new name by the Naming Committee and is now officially in their passport.

“What I had to do is, I had to propose if Hrafnsunna can be legal and you have to pay for that. Then you pay again to change your legal name and then if you want to be registered as a nonbinary person you have a to pay for that as well. So even though in Iceland they say that people should have unhindered access to identify as they please, having that much money is hindering that.” adds Hrafnsunna.

The Naming Committee

If you are not satisfied with the selection of names in the name register, you have to apply to the Naming Committee for your desired name and hope that they will agree. The following rules apply to adding a new name to the name register:

– A proper name must not be such that it can be a nuisance to the nominee.

– The name must not be in conflict with the Icelandic language system.

– A given name must be able to take an Icelandic transfer of ownership or have acquired a tradition in the Icelandic language.

Since 2019, all Icelanders, whether male or female, can choose any name from the list of names. Nonetheless, nonbinary people still have a problem with this, because they don’t want to fall completely into either the female or the male category.

Most other European countries have unisex names such as Sasha, Nikita or Alex.

“We also have unisex or gender neutral names in Iceland but they are very rare. They are both male and female – there is Blær. A few of my friends like Regn (rain). But nonbinary people are trying to get some new names accepted by the committee, because for now it’s only very few actual gender-neutral names”, says Hrafnsunna Ross.

But how does the last name work for non-binary people?


The Gender Autonomy Act of 2019 also allowed individuals who register their gender as ‘X’ to take gender neutral family names instead of patronymics or matronymics. Before, children had to be given a name that specifies them as being either male or female using the suffixes -son or -dóttir. But now, there is a gender neutral option in the name ending -bur, which doesn’t carry any gendered connotation.

“There are 3 options right now – apart from just dealing with it and not changing your name. First you can be lucky that there is an actual normal surname in your family, that doesn’t say your a daughter or a son. Like for me, I am Ross … so that was easy. But you can’t just pick a surname, it has to be in your family already. Second, there are some people who just use – bur or barn, which means offspring or child. And third, there are some who just take away the son and daughter – for example rather than Steinarsson they’d say Steinars. ”

It’s important to note, however, that this gender neutral option will only be available to Icelanders who are officially registered as neither male nor female.

The Icelandic Naming Committee has been criticized for a long time, because it represents a great bureaucratic effort and restricts the freedom of choice for many Icelandic citizens.

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