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Q

How Are Immigrants’ Children Named?

A

I have a few questions about patronyms:
1) How are immigrants children named? My name is Lucas Peeters, I’m a Belgian. Suppose I move to Iceland, get married to an Icelandic woman and acquire the Icelandic nationality. We get a child and want to name it Eric. Will his full name be Eric Lucasson or Eric Peeters? The former sounds OK, but what if I had a first name like Jean-Claude or François-Xavier?
2) How are emigrants’ children named? Suppose Leif Ericsson moves to Belgium, gets married to a Belgian woman and acquires the Belgian nationality. They get a girl and want to name her Sigríður. According to Belgian legislation, her name would be Sigríður Ericsson. That sounds absurd. Can the parents arrange for her to be called Sigríður Ericsðóttir? And what about the ð? It will probably be converted into d, won’t it?
Thanks in advance for your answer,
Lucas Peeters

 

Hi Lucas

While Icelanders have strong naming traditions, both concerning the registry of acceptable first names and the patronyms, the legal framework surrounding both first and last names has softened considerably over the past decades. In recent years, there’s even been talk of disbanding the naming committee altogether and giving people free rein to name their children as they please. Some have raised their concerns, wanting to protect the old naming system but others have pointed out that the naming system has only been the law for a small part of the country’s history.  Their argument is that a tradition that only persists because of legal requirements is not necessarily what’s best for the people and that it might be stronger if it persists because it’s the people’s choice.

Restrictive naming laws forced new citizens to give up their name

Formerly, upon gaining Icelandic citizenship, people were required to choose a new first name from the Icelandic registry of acceptable first names and take up a patronym. Today, that is no longer the case. As for children of one Icelandic parent and one of foreign origin, They can name their child one first name or a middle name that is valid in the parent’s home country, even if it doesn’t conform to Icelandic naming regulations. It must still receive one first name according to the Icelandic regulation. In your example, that wouldn’t be a problem as Eric is in the Icelandic name registry despite the non-traditional spelling.

Name classifications

Under the current law, anyone who gains Icelandic citizenship can keep his name unchanged. They can also choose to take first names, a middle name or last names that conform to the Icelandic regulation. Those who have received Icelandic citizenship under the earlier legislation requiring them to take up an Icelandic name can apply to Registers Iceland to change their name back, either completely or in part. The same applies for their descendants.

Last names

A foreign citizen who marries an Iceland can keep their last name or take up their partner’s last name, no matter if it is a surname or a patronym. They can also choose to take up a patronym based on their partner’s parent’s name.

Example – Mary Smith marries Jón Jónsson. She can use the name Mary Smith, Mary Jónsson or Mary Jónsdóttir. A John Smith marrying María Jónsdóttir is free to use John Smith or John Jónsson.

Patronyms can be formed from the name of either parent. When a patronym is formed from a foreign name, it can be adapted to the Icelandic language although that is not a requirement. A man named Sven can give his children the patronym Sveinsson, Sveinsdóttir or Sveinsbur, but he can also use Svensson, Svensdóttir or Svensbur. People who have surnames can continue to use them and so can their descendants but no one can currently take up a new surname in Iceland.

Middle names

Furthermore, people who have surnames can also choose to use it in tandem with their patronym or use their surname as a middle name, a separate form of names sometimes used as unofficial last names to identify families. Unlike second first names, middle names are gender-neutral and much like surnames, they don’t decline according to the four cases.

An Icelandic citizen can not take their partner’s surname, but they can adopt their partner’s surname as a middle name.

First names

First names in Iceland are famously subject to the Icelandic Naming Committee’s approval. There’s a registry of acceptable names to choose from but you can also apply to have a name added to the registry if you’re feeling creative. The name needs to conform to Icelandic spelling and grammar rules and not be likely to cause its bearer harm. The naming committee has been a hot topic of discussion for several years, as some people feel its authority infringes on people’s right to name their children or be named according to their own preferences. Some recent steps taken to ensure people’s freedom when it comes to names dropping the requirement of gendered names.

In short…

As you can see, most people have the right to claim a few different last names and as such, opting for a different last name does not qualify as a name change. That means that it does not require an application, you simply send in a request for the change to registers Iceland. In exceptional cases, such as when a child is to be called a patronym form from the name of a stepparent, an application is requiring pending approval from Registers Iceland.

To answer the questions:

  • If you moved to Iceland and had a child with an Icelandic partner, you could name them Eric, as it’s on the approved names registry despite the non-traditional spelling. If you wanted to name them Francois-Xavier, you would need to give them another approved first name as well, perhaps Francois-Xavier Eiríkur. As for the last name, you have several choices. You could use your surname, as your descendants have a right to use it. You could also give them a patronym based on your name, such as Lucasson, Lucasdóttir, or Lucasbur if the child chooses a gender-neutral patronym. You could adapt your name to the Icelandic spelling, Lúkasarson, Lúkasardóttir or Lúkasarbur. You could also form the patronym from the child’s other parent, let’s say their name is Anna Jónsdóttir. The child could be Önnuson, Önnudóttir, or Önnubur. They could not, however, use Jónsdóttir as that would be creating a new surname. If you choose to form the patronym from the name of the mother, you could also give them your surname, or give the child your surname as a middle name, making their full name Francois-Xavier Eiríkur Peeters Önnuson or Francois-Xavier Eiríkur Önnuson Peeters.
  • If Leifur Eiríksson gains Belgian citizenship and has a child with a Belgian partner, their child would likely receive a name based on their adopted country’s naming laws. Many Icelanders would likely choose to give their children their spouse’s surname or find a legal way to give them a patronym based on their own name, as changing a patronym to a surname feels odd. It would likely feel more natural for the hypothetical Sigríður to be known as Sigríður Peeters or Sigríður Leifsdóttir Peeters than for her to be known as the son of her grandfather, Sigríður Eiríksson. Dóttir is spelt with a d in Icelandic, not ð so that at least would not be a problem.

 

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