- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
A 15-year-old Icelandic girl is suing the state for the right to use her own name:
In a country comfortable with a firm state role, most people don’t question the Personal Names Register, a list of 1,712 male names and 1,853 female names that fit Icelandic grammar and pronunciation rules and that officials maintain will protect children from embarrassment. Parents can take from the list or apply to a special committee that has the power to say yea or nay.
Blaer Bjarkardottir — the girl filing the suit — is a particularly good test case since her name comes from a female character in a novel by Halldor Laxness, the nationally beloved Nobel Prize-winning Icelandic author. It’s a bit like a French girl not being allowed to be named Cosette, and the government might be more receptive to Blaer than they were to the conceptual artist who wanted to be called "Curver" are few years ago.
Iceland has one of the stricter naming regimes, but it’s not the only country where Apples, Suris, and Blue Ivys would not be tolerated.
Swedish children’s names must meet with the approval of the country’s tax authorities. Past offenders have included kids named Metallica, Ikea, and Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116 (pronounced Albin). Interestingly, they were OK with "Google."
German children "must be given names that clearly denote gender and they cannot be given family names as first names," and there are complicated restrictions on combining last names with hyphens.
Danish parents must pick a name from an approved list of "7,000 mostly West European and English names — 3,000 for boys, 4,000 for girls." Recently, a few non-European names such as Ali and Hassan have been added to accommodate immigrants.
It’s not just the Northern Europeans. China has a law against names using Arabic numerals, foreign languages, and symbols that do not belong to Chinese minority languages, which was bad news for the parents who tried to name their kid "@" in 2007.
As recently as the 1960s, French children had to be named after Catholic saints thanks to a Napoleon-era law. The regulation was eventually relaxed thanks to legal appeals from the Breton community.
The rest of these countries will presumably loosen up eventually thanks to immigration, globalization, shifting gender norms, and pop culture. But perhaps not soon enough for young Blaer, who is still referred to unceremoniously as "stulka," or "girl," on her official documents.