Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir is introducing a bill tomorrow that would abolish Iceland’s controversial naming committee, which controls what names can be given in Iceland. If passed, the bill would give locals “freedom to bear the name you choose, to adopt a new family name and no maximum to the number of names” would be prescribed to individuals, Áslaug wrote in a Twitter post. She encouraged Twitter users to contact her with stories about how they have been negatively impacted by Iceland’s strict naming laws.
The Icelandic Naming Committee maintains a register of approved Icelandic given names and governs the introduction of new names into Icelandic culture. Its existence has been a topic of debate in recent years. Parents who want to give a child a name that is not included on the register must apply to the committee for an exception. Given names must conform to Icelandic grammar rules and it is forbidden to take on a new family name (most Icelanders have patronymics).
Legal and language experts have argued that Iceland’s naming regulations are unconstitutional and discriminatory. Dissolving the naming committee has been proposed by various parties in Parliament on several occasions in recent years. The most significant amendment that has been made to naming legislation recently occurred last year, when they were changed in line with the Gender Autonomy Act passed by Parliament.
The topic resurfaced last year when the legislation restricted two sisters from adopting a new family name. They grew up in extreme poverty and neglect at the hands of their father and had not been in touch with him for over a decade, yet naming law meant they could not drop their patronymic and replace it with a new last name. Áslaug stated that she has often used the sisters’ example to point out the injustice of Iceland’s naming laws.
Áslaug’s bill would, however, take steps to ensure that children are not given names that could cause them harm (one of the duties of the existing Naming Committee it proposes to abolish). According to the bill’s provisions, the National Registry would be notified in such cases and would seek the expertise of the Ombudsman for Children.
“I believe that people’s right to choose their own name is richer than the state’s right to restrict. This is an important step toward increasing people’s freedom,” Áslaug told Vísir.