So recently, the Icelandic naming committee has been under attack once again. The what? Non-Icelandic readers might ask. Let me clarify that a little bit while my Icelandic readers are getting on their high horse or start rolling their eyes vigorously.
The Icelandic naming committee basically has the last word on what names are allowed in Iceland. They are the people Icelanders have to go to, to seek approval for ‘new’ names. This is not unique for Iceland per se. Many countries have ‘naming rules’ in some degree.
Some countries even use approved naming lists for boys and girls, from which parents-to-be must choose. But in Iceland, this list is fairly short.
The main purpose is not only to prevent embarrassing names like X Æ A-12, but to make sure the name fits within the Icelandic history, cultural practices and grammar system. You might guess where we are going with this, because Icelandic grammar is intimidating to say the least of it. Names have to be distinctly male or female and they have to be conjugatable with all the regular grammar practices in mind.
This also means that, for example, names with the letter ‘c’ in, are not allowed, because this letter has no home in the Icelandic alphabet, the poor bastard. Cultural protection practises like this, when they are operated from a place of fear, have the tendency of creating a cage. The more progressive and liberated a country is, the more misplaced such a cage will look like, the more it will stand out.
The biggest issue the Icelandic people seem to have, is the inevitable, though unintended, discrimination the committee brings upon the very people it tries to protect. The Icelandic natives are forbidden of names that the ever-growing immigrant population is allowed to use.
The most enervating, or so it seems, is the apparent randomness by which some names get approved and some not. Throughout history this has led to a number of lawsuits.
By trying to protect the Icelandic history, culture and traditions, the nation gets smothered, unintended and counterproductive. Like an overbearing mother who hasn’t realised yet, that a child should and will find its own way.
It’s the same old story between conservation and progression. Neither one is good when they come from places of fear and blindness. However, when allowed and trusted with its own natural evolution, a society will find its own way. A way forward while keeping its cultural heritage at heart.
You might still think that they make an awful amount of fuss about a bunch of words. But this discussion is about so much more than the physical written words. It’s about identity. Names are highly personal; they are an extension of being. This discussion is a fight for free expression. Expression of human identity.
And honestly, if the Icelandic have found a way to talk about foreigners, in the Icelandic language, then I don’t see why native-born Icelanders should be treated grammatically different.
Text: Ellen Wild