Iceland News Review: Will We Whale or Won’t We?

In this episode of Iceland News Review, there’s a storm brewing around fin whale hunting, some new twists in the presidential race, one’s man fight to keep his “awful” name, and much more.

Iceland News Review brings you all of Iceland’s top stories, every week, with the context and background you need. Be sure to like, follow and subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode!

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.

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.

Son and Dóttir

My name is Benný Ísleifsdóttir and I’m Icelandic. My surname, Ísleifsdóttir, means ‘daughter of Ísleifur.’ My father’s surname, however, was Gíslason, ‘son of Gísli,’ and my grandfather’s surname was Þorsteinsson, because his father was Þorsteinn.

It’s a bit complicated but that’s because Icelandic surnames are individual, not hereditary.

The system of hereditary surnames came from the Romans in the tenth century and from there it spread throughout Europe.

The elite, i.e. the aristocrats, had a taste for surnames and realized how they could be of benefit to them in preserving and passing on their prestige.

The custom of using hereditary surnames became the standard practice through-out Europe over the next few centuries.

Somehow, inheriting a name was less of an issue to the lower classes but eventually filtered its way, gradually, from the higher ranking to those belonging to the lower classes.

In Iceland this was somewhat different. At the turn of the 20th century, hereditary surnames were relatively uncommon; they had spread most in the upper classes, which consisted primarily of those Icelanders who had traveled abroad, either for trade or education, and had therefore been introduced to this new custom.

They were also used by foreigners who had moved to the country, often officials, merchants or craftsmen, carrying along their own family names.

There were, however, the odd farmers and laborers who also welcomed the custom but they were relatively few and thus the understanding was that the new hereditary surnames matched only those who could actually inherit something more than a name from their parents.

The increase in hereditary surnames brought about heavy discussion within society, since Icelanders had for centuries got used to being the daughters and sons of their fathers.

Abandoning the naming system they had been brought up to believe was unique and distinctive caused dispute among the public, and also among intellectuals and politicians.

Should the Icelandic people welcome the new system of hereditary surnames, like most of their fellow Europeans already had? Or should they continue being daughters and sons of their fathers?

That was a tricky question, to which there wasn’t a unanimous answer.

Clinging on to the old naming system was considered old fashioned and outdated and perhaps might even give the impression that Icelanders themselves were out of touch (which they kind of were) and that was a sensitive subject.

Others were quite content with the old system and thought Icelanders should stick to it; it had worked perfectly since settlement, when Ingólfur Arnarson and Hallveig Fróðadóttir turned up, each bearing their own surname (or so the Sagas tell us)—as have all married couples from then on.

Be true to who we are, they said, let’s not throw away a perfectly workable, not to mention unique, naming system that has served us for centuries.

On the grounds of the uniqueness of the Icelandic surname system, laws were passed which banned family names and even forced foreigners moving to Iceland to take up an Icelandic last and first name.

This didn’t apply to all, however. Those Icelanders who already had family names could keep them—and pass them on from parent to child—and it seemed as if some of our new settlers were famous enough that it didn’t matter if they had a not-so-Icelandic-surname.

The matter seemed to strike the respective authorities as something of an impolite gesture, so when a world-renowned pianist was granted Icelandic citizenship, no one asked: “Mr Vladimir Ashkenazy, do you mind calling yourself Valdimar Aðalsteinsson?”

I don’t think anyone did at least, but those not-so-famous (or not-famous-at-all) had to change their names to good solid Icelandic ones.

Later we came to our senses regarding new Icelandic citizens and since 1996 they no longer have to change their names (not even if they are complete nobodies) because it goes against their human rights.

Family names with a foreign and even exotic ring to them—which Icelanders sometimes have no idea how to spell or pronounce—are thus becoming more and more common, but it’s still forbidden to create a new Icelandic family name.

And why? Because it’s considered to be of common interest to maintain the old naming system; so most of us will keep on being Arnarson and Fróðadóttir.

It’s all for the public good. For the Icelandic nation as a whole, who loves to explain to foreign friends how ‘unique’ our naming system is.

Within one family of four there may be Anna Jónsdóttir, who is now married to Sigurður Halldórsson and they have a daughter, Guðrún, who is then Sigurðardóttir, and before Anna got married to Sigurður she had a son, Kjartan, with another man, Tryggvi, and thus his name is Kjartan Tryggvason.

So within this hypothetical—and yet so real—family we have four different surnames: Jónsdóttir, Halldórsson, Sigurðardóttir and Tryggvason.

Complicated to some, but really Icelandic in every way. And this is what is considered important to preserve and maintain.

Since 1991, in the name of equality, it has been legal to be known as the daughter or son of one’s mother instead of one’s father; so my own daughters could decide to be Bennýjardóttir instead of Óskardóttir (their father’s name is Óskar), and my son could be Bennýjarson instead of Óskarsson.

They could even be both! Bennýjar- og Óskarsdóttir and Bennýjar- og Óskarsson (with or without a hyphen and in any order).

Even though human rights trump tradition, causing naming laws to be modernized, and some Icelanders have family names, they are the exception that proves the rule.

But overall, we, as a nation, are still very much Arnarson and Fróðadóttir, all those years later.

Benný Sif Ísleifsdóttir is a folklorist, who covered this subject in her 2013 BA thesis.