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End of Icelandic Name System?

A parliamentary bill is being drafted that would eliminate any restrictions on the use of family names in Iceland. Also, a provision stipulating that girls be given female names and boys male names would be removed, RÚV reports. Some worry this could mean the end of the Icelandic name system.

The approach taken in the draft is quite radical and the changes it suggests substantial. The website of the Ministry of the Interior suggests that by publishing the draft online and requesting supported comments by August 1, discussion on future policy is encouraged.

The view has been gaining ground that people’s right to choose their own and their children’s names matters more than the interest gained in limiting that right.

The draft also suggests the number of given names, which currently may not exceed three, will not be limited. The only demands made regarding names are that they be nouns without an article and that Icelandic names adhere to Icelandic declination. The draft furthermore proposes that restrictions with regard to foreign names be removed, the name committee done away with, and the provision crossed out requiring that names not be used which are likely to cause nuisance to the child.

Changes to the name law have been in the making for long, including discussion on the Ministry of the Interior’s website. A poll conducted for the ministry by the Social Science Research Institute of the University of Iceland found that 60 percent of respondents favored a relaxation of the name law.

Guðrún Kvaran, head of the Icelandic Language Committee, worries that if the bill becomes law, it means the end of the Icelandic name system in a generation or two.

The provision that foreign names need no declination is of particular worry to Guðrún, who told RÚV, “If they don’t need declination, and time goes by, and the number of those names increases, then I worry that will affect Icelandic names. If one group [of words] is eliminated where people are confused about the declination, then I must ask, what happens in two, three or four generations. Will this then transfer to other areas?”

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