In Europe, Governments Have To Approve Baby Names

On the heels of finding out that Europe still has blasphemy laws, the Associated Press has an article about an Icelandic girl whose mother is suing the government because it will not approve her name, “Blaer”. In Iceland, parents can choose from about 1800 names for each gender, from the country’s Personal Names Register. Through a clerical error, “Blaer”, which means “light breeze” in Icelandic and is on the list of boys’ names, was initially approved — but then the priest who baptized her noticed it wasn’t on the list of approved names for girls. She’s now 15, and on official documents she’s referred to as “girl” because of this error.

Volcanic eruption at Einhyrningur, Iceland


And Iceland is by no means alone in having a naming law: Denmark has a similar one, though their naming registry is about twice as big. Germany has a similar list, while Iceland and Sweden ban names that are offensive, shameful, too long, or otherwise unsuited to being a first name. No word on why a government bureaucrat is better suited than parents to decide what a proper name should be. But in many European countries, which have a long history of living with monarchy’s absolute power and heavy state involvement in citizens’ personal lives, such laws are not necessarily seen as invasive. Ditto goes for China and Japan, which have restrictions on the characters that can be used in names; in China, the only requirement is that they can be machine-readable.

One more interesting fact about Iceland: people’s last names are their father’s name, followed by “son” or “daughter”. So if your name were Madison and your father’s name were Arnold, you’d be Madison Arnoldsson. Or Madison Arnoldsdaughter. This is called a patronymic name, which reflects an immediate male ancestor, rather than the family lineage. Because of this practice, people are known primarily by their first names, to the point where even phone books are ordered by first name.

Update, 31 Jan 2013: Blaer won her court case, and can keep her name.

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From AP

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