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).

How Are Immigrants’ Children Named?

Reykjavík swimming pool Laugardalslaug

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.

 

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.

Icelandic Names Will No Longer Be Gendered

Reykjavík pride

Icelandic given names will no longer be differentiated as being “male” or “female” in the national naming registry, RÚV reports. 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.”

The removal of gender from given names is one of the changes that will go into effect as part of the Gender Autonomy Act that parliament passed last week. It applies to both parents naming their children and to adults who want to officially change their names. The Gender Autonomy Act also gives individuals 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).

Unisex names allowed

Under the previous naming laws, no name could be given to both men and women, except in rare cases where there was an existing precedent for this. If a woman, therefore, wanted to take a name that was registered as a male name, she would have to submit a petition to the Icelandic Naming Committee for approval, and vice versa.

This very aspect of the law came under international scrutiny in 2013, when Blær Bjarkardóttir Rúnarsdóttir, then 15 years old, was informed by the state that she would have to change her name because “Blær” was only allowable as a boy’s name. Her mother, Björk Eiðsdóttir, had named her Blær as an infant, citing previous usages of the name for women, but had not received Naming Committee approval for this and as such, all of her daughter’s official documents and passport referred to her only as “Stúlka,” or literally, ‘Girl.’ Blær and Björk sued the state for Blær’s right to continue to bear her name, which she won that same year.

Just last year, the same situation came up again when the Icelandic Naming Committee rejected a petition to allow a four-year-old girl to bear the name “Alex.” Per the committee’s rationale, Alex was only recognised as a boy’s name. This decision was reversed in March 2018, as examples were furnished of the name being used for girls as well.

Gender neutral family names

The new Gender Autonomy Act will also allow individuals who register their gender as ‘X’ to take gender neutral family names 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.

Take as an example as person named Alex. Instead of having to go by the name Alex Jónsdóttir (literally, ‘Alex, daughter of Jón,’) or Alex Jónsson (‘Alex, son of Jón’), this individual could elect to take the name Alex Jónsbur: Alex, Child of Jón. It’s important to note, however, that this gender neutral option will only be available to Icelanders who are officially registered as neither male not female. 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.

Given Name “Woman” Rejected by Naming Committee

Elín Eddudóttir’s request to adopt Kona as her second name was rejected yesterday by the Icelandic Naming Committee, RÚV reports. It is not the first time the name, which simply means “woman” in Icelandic, has been rejected by the committee. Elín says the committee’s reasoning behind the decision was unclear and she has requested further explanation.

The Icelandic first name Elín is often followed by a second name or middle name. Elín Eddudóttir says she is often asked whether her name is just Elín, and has often thought about adopting a second name. In 2014, she read an interview with Kristbjörg Kristjánsdóttir, who said the Naming Committee had twice rejected her request to adopt the name “Kona.”

“I thought to myself that that would be a cool name and I wanted to be called that. So I requested it but didn’t get it,” Elín stated. “I won’t abide by that and have sent the Naming Committee a response.”

The Icelandic Naming Committee maintains an official register of approved Icelandic names and governs the introduction of new names into the register. All names given in Iceland must be approved by the committee, whose value is widely debated in Iceland. The Icelandic parliament has repeatedly discussed dissolving the committee and slackening naming laws.

Violation of naming laws

According to the ruling Elín received yesterday, the name Kona violates Article 5. Act No. 45/1996. According to that article, given names must take declension in the genitive (fourth) case in Icelandic and have precedent in Icelandic naming tradition. Names must conform to the Icelandic grammatical system and should be written according to the general rules of Icelandic spelling, unless there is a tradition for unconventional spellings. The article further states that girls shall be given women’s names and boys shall be given men’s names and that given names should not do harm to the person to whom they are given.

The word kona is a common noun used for female individuals of a certain age, the ruling states. It is not however explicitly banned in Icelandic naming laws, and several names with similar meanings exist in Icelandic naming tradition, such as Karl (man), Sveinn (young man), and Drengur (boy). The aforementioned names, however, have a long history in Icelandic naming tradition, some appearing in ancient manuscripts or other Nordic languages. Kona, according to the ruling, does not enjoy such a tradition and violates the Icelandic grammatical system.

Does Iceland have a naming committee for pets as well?

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1553856588000{margin-bottom: 0px !important;}”]Q: In Iceland, you need permission from a naming committee to name your children. Do you also have to get permission to name your pets?

A: Iceland indeed has a committee known as the Personal Names Committee which keeps track of all approved Icelandic given names and functions as a gatekeeper for the introduction of new given names into Icelandic culture. It was established in 1991 with the goal of ensuring new given names fit into Iceland’s language and culture. If a name is not on the official list of approved names, then an approval request must be submitted to the naming committee before the name can be given. The committee judges if names agree with Icelandic tradition and how likely they are to cause the bearers harm.

Now, let’s talk about pets. The answer to this is simple: you don’t need permission to name your pets. There is, however, a Horse Naming Committee. Horse owners only have to submit horse names to that committee if they want to enter their horse in official competitions. The Horse Naming Committee has only recently been formed and was deemed a necessary evil to preserve the Icelandic language. The committee checks if names are compatible with Icelandic grammar rules, but also if they are vulgar or form an acronym, so it works quite similarly to the Personal Names Committee. Marketing seems to be a motivating factor behind the Horse Naming Committee as well: it appears most people don’t like buying Icelandic horses with foreign names.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]