Icelandic Man Continues Fight for “Scary” Name

“This is my identity, this is my character,” said Rúnar Hroði Geirmundsson, whose middle name has been rejected by the Icelandic naming committee. “This is what I’ve been called for seventeen years.

The committee recently decreed that the name Hroði, which evokes the meaning “scary” or “awful” among other things, is not eligible to be used by Icelandic people. The controversial committee maintains the official register of Icelandic names and decides whether new names should be introduced to it.

Powerlifting name

Rúnar Hroði told Bylgjan radio that he had recently began powerlifting when the name got stuck to him. “When I first started competing, I wasn’t very strong,” he explained. “My friend, who has since passed, told me that my performance was “hroðaleg” [awful]. “You’re a real Hroði,” he said.”

He went on build a career in powerlifting, winning numerous domestic and international competitions. “It was I, Hroði, who finished that task like everything I set out to do,” he said.

Rúnar Hroði decided to submit the name to the naming committee in honour of his friend’s passing. He looked into the criteria for new names and came to the conclusion that Hroði met them. “I was sure it would be accepted,” he said. “But then I was told that it was too “hroðalegt”.”

He objects to the conclusion and has hired an attorney to look into the case. “What other place in the world are you not allowed to be named what you want to be called?” he asked.

Discussion in parliament

Rúnar Hroði’s case was discussed in Alþingi, Iceland’s Parliament, last Thursday. Gísli Rafn Ólafsson, member of parliament for the Pirate Party, argued that the name had met all criteria, except that it could be considered troubling for the person who has it. “And who’s to say what is troubling and what not?” he said. “Well the naming committee decides that because it can mean phlegm, garbage, waste, and such, it’s a bad name.”

He added that the committee had accepted the name Klaki in the same meeting, a word that means “ice”. “When you look in the dictionary, the word “hroði” is also defined as slushy ice on ocean or water. And what’s the difference between that and klaki?”

Iceland’s Naming Committee Approves Hendrix, Rejects Universe

baby swimming

Iceland’s Naming Committee has approved 25 new names and rejected five name requests, RÚV reports. Hendrix is among the approved first names and Universe among those rejected. The Naming Committee rejected five names on the basis that they do not conform to Icelandic grammatical structure or because they could potentially cause the bearer harm.

The committee rejected the names Universe, Byte, Íja, and Bjarkarr, asserting that these names do not conform to Icelandic spelling norms and also have no previous history in the language. It rejected the name Aftur (e. Again) on the basis that it could cause the person bearing the name harm (presumably in the form of bullying).

The Icelandic Naming Committee maintains an official register of approved Icelandic names and governs the introduction of new names into the register. Its value is widely debated in Iceland. Naming laws have been relaxed somewhat in recent years, both in the case of foreign names and in assigning approved names to a specific gender. The Icelandic Parliament has debated bills on dissolving the committee entirely, but such a bill has yet to be made law.

Read More: The Most Popular Baby Names in Iceland

The new first and middle names approved by the committee in this round of decisions include Luka, Náttrún, Terra, Eymir, Fríðhólm, Þruma, Laki, and Mánarós.

Birnir Most Popular Baby Name in Iceland

baby swimming

Birnir was the most popular name given to newborns in Iceland in 2023. Emilía was the most popular name given to girls. The data on the most popular baby names of 2023 was published by Registers Iceland today.

Thirty newborns were given the name Birnir last year in Iceland, more individuals than any other name. Emil and Elmar were the next most popular boys’ names, followed by Jón and Óliver. Emilía was the most popular girl’s name given to newborns last year and sixth most popular name overall. Sara, Sóley, Embla, and Aþena (Athena) were the next most popular girls’ names given to babies last year.

Nameless newborns

Naming culture in Iceland differs from that of many other countries. Newborns are not typically named at birth, but at their baptism or a non-religious naming ceremony around two months later. It is quite common for Icelandic children to be named after their grandparents, although, as the data from Registers Iceland shows, naming trends do change over time.

All names given in Iceland must be pre-approved by the country’s Naming Committee. The 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, with former Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir proposing its abolishment.

Anna and Jón most common

But what are the most common names in Iceland overall? The two most popular names in the country are Anna (6,272 individuals) and Jón (5,599 individuals). They are followed by Guðrún (4,923), Sigurður (4,445), and Guðmundur (4,208), which round up the top five spots.

Anna Overtakes Guðrún as Most Common First Name for Women

The group was ready for their swim across the English Channel

Anna is now the most common first name for women in Iceland. The most common name for men is currently Jón.

This per a new name and birthday survey published by Statistics Iceland.

There are 4,782 women with the first name Anna in Iceland; 4,472 women are named Guðrún. Kristín (3,383), Sigríður (3,192), and Margrét (also spelled Margrjet and Margret; 2,838) round out the remaining top five women’s names. This is the first time that Guðrún has not been the most common first name for women in the country.

Most Common Given Names for Women, according to the National Registry, January 1, 2023; via Statistics Iceland

The top ten men’s names in Iceland have been the same since 2018. Jón is still the most popular, with 5,052 men bearing that name, followed by Sigurður (4,073), Guðmundur (3,838), Gunnar (3,074), and Ólafur/Olav (2,743).

Most Common Given Names for Men, according to the National Registry, January 1, 2023; via Statistics Iceland

Double names have always been popular in Iceland, and Statistics Iceland has also been keeping records on the most common combinations. The most common double names for women are currently: Anna María, Anna Kristín, and Anna Margrét. These haven’t changed since 2018. The top two double names for men have been the same since 2018: Jón Þór and Gunnar Þór. This year, however, there’s been a shake-up with the third most popular double name for men, with Arnar Freyr overtaking Jón Ingi.

Anna, Jón not among most popular names for babies born in 2021

Although Jón and Anna may enjoy top ranking when it comes to the most common names overall, they don’t make the cut for babies born in 2021. The top three girls’ names that year were Emilía, Embla, and Sara; the top three boys’ names were Aron, Jökull, and Alexander. Björk and Ósk were the most popular second or middle names for girls; Freyr and Máni were the most popular ones for boys.

More common to have a summer or fall birthday than a winter one

Unsurprisingly, summer and fall birthdays are more common in Iceland than winter ones (October – March). Just over half of birthdays in Iceland—51.5%—land between April and September.

It’s then even more unusual to have a birthday on a major winter holiday in Iceland. As of this year, a total of 1,246 people living in Iceland were born on January 1, New Year’s Day; 780 people have Christmas Day birthdays and 861 were born on Christmas Eve, December 24. A February 29 birthday is uncommon everywhere, and this is true in Iceland, too. Only 234 Icelanders have Leap Year birthdays.

Reykjavík Court Rules in Favour of Lúsífer

Héraðsdómur Reykjavíkur Reykjavík District Court

The Reykjavík District Court has revoked a Naming Committee ruling preventing an Icelandic man from adopting the name Lúsífer. The man, named Ingólfur Örn Friðriksson, applied to change his second name to Lúsífer in December 2019. The Icelandic Naming Committee, which must give approval for all names that are not in the national registry, denied the application on the basis that Lúsífer is one of the names for the devil and could therefore do the name bearer harm. The Icelandic state has been ordered to pay ISK 900,000 ($7,480/€6,130) in legal costs.

Ingólfur sued the state after his name change was denied on the grounds that the decision violated his religious freedom. Ingólfur adheres to LaVeyan Satanism and has been a member of the Church of Satan since 2001. He argued that Lúsífer means “bearer of light” and the name was not the name of the devil, but rather “the name of the supreme angel of God who was later cast down to hell where he became the devil.” Ingólfur has been using the name Lúsífer for around 20 years when he applied for the official change.

According to the modern Icelandic dictionary, Lúsífer is not used as a name for the devil, but it is the Icelandic name of a deep-sea fish known as the Atlantic footballfish. The fish is a sort of “light-bearer:“ it uses a luminous bulb to attract smaller fish in the dark depths of the ocean. The name Lúsífer was also used historically to refer to the planet Venus.

Read More: Bill Introduced to Abolishing Naming Committee

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).

Minister of Justice to Present Bill on Abolishing Naming Committee

Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir minister of justice

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.

New Bill Proposes Abolishment of Naming Committee

A current parliamentary bill under consideration would abolish Iceland’s Naming Committee, a move that not only has the public support of some Icelandic linguists, but also the former chairman of the Naming Committee itself. Visír reports that former Naming Committee chairman Halldór Ármann Sigurðsson is among the bill’s supporters, stating that in its current form, the bill represents “a welcome and significant step forward.”

The bill, which was introduced to parliament just before the end of February, “is intended to significantly increase freedom in naming and to abolish as much as possible the current restrictions on the registration of names, both given and surnames, and to increase permissions for name changes. In so doing, [the bill] seeks to align with prevailing public opinion about names.” Laws on naming, the bill continues, should “first and foremost have minimal requirements for the registration of names. Thus will it safeguard the people’s right to decide on their names and their children’s names and at the same time, minimize the interference of public authorities with consideration for the sanctity of private life.”

Current law constitutes a ‘human rights violation’

The bill was open to public comment until the end of the day on Thursday, and received feedback, both for and against, from some prominent public figures. Interestingly, former committee chairman Halldór Ármann, who wrote in support of the new bill, was also among those who authored the current naming bill, which went into effect in 1996. “It’s long since time that the law be completely overhauled, as is now proposed,” he wrote in his comment. “Those of us who were on the [naming] bill committee from 1994 – 1996 were opposed to family surnames; we thought they were a threat to the Icelandic naming tradition. But this was a mistake.”

Family surnames (i.e. ‘Smith’ or ‘Jones’ or ‘Lilliendahl’ or ‘Ísberg’) have been banned in Iceland since 1925, except under rare circumstances where the individual’s family has borne the family name since before the law went into effect. Foreign nationals are also exempt from this provision.

Halldór also seconded Eiríkur Rögnvaldsson, Professor Emeritus in Icelandic Language and Linguistics, who commented that the current restrictions on the use of family names violates article 65 of the Icelandic constitution, which states that everyone should be equal before the law and enjoy the same human rights without regards to their ancestry, among other things. The proposed bill would then “abolish the discrimination in the current law,” Eiríkur wrote, “which is, in fact, a human rights violation.”

Increase in foreign names could have “unforeseen consequences” for the Icelandic language

Unsurprisingly, not everyone is in total agreement with the full scope of the bill. Professor of Icelandic and chairman of the Icelandic Language Committee Ármann Jakobsson also issued a public comment on its provisions, in which he stated that it is “an inarguable improvement over previous bills” on naming laws, for one by “allowing for more advice about names” and making provisions to maintain Icelandic spelling conventions.

“On the other hand,” Ármann wrote, “the bill reduces legal protection for Icelandic, which is the vernacular and official language of the country, in accordance with the law on the status of the Icelandic language.”

“Presumably,” Ármann continued, the new law would make it “permissible to register various foreign names as Icelandic and there is nothing that would prevent, for instance, English names from becoming commonplace here with unforeseen consequences for the [Icelandic] language itself.”

Ármann suggested therefore that the naming committee or another governmental agency be allowed to continue to provide naming “advice,” even in the event that the naming laws are changed. “Thus we’d be operating from the assumption that parents would prefer to choose good Icelandic names,” he wrote, and therefore would be able to do so with the assistance of the government and/or numerous experts who could provide linguistic guidance.

Name Changes In a Week or Less Once Law Goes Into Effect

Iceland trans intersex rights bill

Once the new Gender Autonomy Act goes into effect, individuals will have only a three to five day wait for their requested name changes to be processed, RÚV reports. Although the law has yet to be published, preparations are already underway at Registers Iceland in the hope that the name change process will be as smooth and fast as possible for all applicants.

Alþingi passed the Gender Autonomy Act last week. Per this new law, Icelandic names will no longer be gendered. This means that anyone will be able to take any name in the registry, irrespective of gender, and marks a major change in Icelandic naming conventions. Per the previous provisions of the country’s naming laws, “Girls shall be given female names and boys shall be given male names.” Moreover, individuals will have the right to change their official gender according to their lived experience and register as neither male nor female (denoted with an “x” on documents).

Registers Iceland is preparing itself so as to be ready to process name changes as soon as the law goes into effect says Margrét Hauksdóttir, the organisation’s general director. “…[W]e’ll be ready with electronic forms where people can apply for changes, both to their surnames and given names.”

Per the new law, individuals who register their gender as ‘X’ will be able to take gender neutral surnames in lieu of patro- and matronymics that designate the bearer as being someone’s son or daughter. The status quo is for children to be given a name that specifies them as being either male or female using the suffixes -son or -dóttir. But now, there is a gender-neutral option in the name ending -bur, which doesn’t carry any gendered connotation. (People registered as female will still be required to take the patro- or matronymic -dóttir and people registered as male will still have to use -son.)

Margrét says that Registers Iceland is anticipating a high number of name change applications to be submitted once the law takes effect, as there are a number of people who have been specifically waiting for the law to allow them to do so. Processing time for name changes should be within three to five business days, she says.

“Not much more than that,” she remarked. “If it is, in fact, a name that exists in the name registry and if it doesn’t require any special consideration, it will go through quickly.”

If a lot of people have the same first name, like Jón, all their children must have the same surname when using the patronymic system, how does this work?

Ask Iceland Review

In Iceland, most people use a patronymic or matronymic name instead of a family name. Surnames are based on the given name of one of their parents, plus the suffix –son for sons and –dóttir for daughters. It’s true that many people can share the same surname because of this system. If a person has […]

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Naming Committee Approves George, Rejects Carlsberg

The Icelandic Naming Committee approved a new round of baby names at the end of January, Vísir reports, now adding the names George, Franklin, Oktavías, and Amon to its roster of approved male first names, while the Carlsberg and Lauritz were rejected as acceptable middle names.

These six names were the only ones the committee ruled on in December, and the approval ratio was far better than it was in November, when five of the seven names under petition were rejected. (Ladý, Gleymérei (‘Forget-Me-Not’), and Leonardo were among November’s unfortunate denials.) Óktavías and Amon were approved on the basis of conforming to Icelandic grammar, spelling conventions, and declension patterns, as well as being considered “appropriate” names for boys.

Based on the above guidelines, both George and Franklin may seem unexpected approvals, as clearly neither conforms with traditional Icelandic spellings or declension. Both names, however, have previous precedent in Iceland, which is another factor that the committee takes into account when making its rulings.

Foreign names that do not conform to Icelandic spelling conventions— sometimes known as “young loan-names,” as the committee noted in its approval of “George”—can be approved if they are currently borne by at least 15 Icelanders or 10 – 14 Icelanders, one of whom is at least 30 years old, or 5 – 9 Icelanders, one of whom is at least 60, or 1 – 4 Icelanders and is also found in the 1910 or 1920 census, or is not currently borne by any living Icelanders, but does appear in at least two censuses from 1703 – 1920.

As it happens, 13 living Icelanders are named George, the oldest of whom was born in 1977. The name also appears in three historical censuses. Meanwhile, there are three living Icelanders named Franklin, the oldest of whom was born in 1944, and the name also appears in three censuses.

Although subject to slightly different rules as potential middle names, Carlsberg and Lauritz were both rejected—the former because it does not contain an Icelandic root word and the latter because it only has a precedent in Iceland as a first name. So it’s only allowable to name your child Lauritz as a first name, although it is permissible to have more than one ‘first’ name.