Pre-Approved Baby Names Only

[From the archives.]

New and Approved Names

You read that right.  Not “new and improved” but “new and approved”.  That’s how things went in Iceland recently.

Iceland, like other Scandinavian countries, has official name registers and new parents are restricted to selecting pre-approved names when it comes to naming their children. That didn’t sit well with one family:

A 15-year-old is suing the Icelandic state for the right to legally use the name given to her by her mother. The problem? Blaer, which means “light breeze” in Icelandic, is not on a list approved by the government.

According to government records, her name is not Blaer but “Girl” because they can live with that. What sort of foolishness is this, you might ask? A quick visit to the Icelandic name registry page sheds some light on their thinking:

Rules for names

  • Rules for Icelandic personal names provide that names must:
    • be able to have a genitive ending or have been adopted through custom in the Icelandic language,
    • must be adaptable to the structure of the Icelandic language and spelling conventions and
    • does not cause the bearer embarrassment.
  • Girls should be given a female name and boys should be given male names.
  • No person can have more than three personal names.

If we had these rules in the English language, you couldn’t name a girl Madyson: it might not be considered as fitting English spelling conventions (as if the English language has those anyway); and someone could make fun of the child and cause her embarrassment (as if it takes an odd name for parents to embarrass their kids).

The happy news is the commission saw fit to approve her name. It took them 15 years, but Blaer (formerly known as Girl) at least now has a good story to tell her friends.

New Names

Blaer’s story took me to Revelation 2:17

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give … a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.

and Revelation 3:12

The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name.

Jesus will give to his people and write on his people a new name, his new name, one that we will carry with us forever and that will be stamped upon us, a name that shows we belong to our blessed Savior.

It’s a name that’s new, a name that’s approved and one that is better than any we could choose for ourselves.

It’s a name I will be proud to bear and wear for eternity.


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16 Responses to Pre-Approved Baby Names Only

  1. Pastor Bob says:

    “A Rose með hvaða annað nafn myndi lykta eins sætur”
    The Icelandic language is a VERY difficult language to understand. I grew up with Norwegian in the house, yet my grandmother struggled with this challenge in the Nordic languages. As you can see form the quote from Shakespeare, the word/noun “Rose” does not change. makes me wonder about the name list……
    -Does tell us something else, Some things may get lost in translation, but Jesus does not…..
    ==== Jesús =====

    • Tim says:

      I am so glad that Jesus doesn’t get lost in translation the world over, PB!

    • I though the other name for Rose in Norweigan was Dårlig Ulv.

      • Pastor Bob says:

        That was from the Icelandic tongue. However, the proper name does NOT change, while the flower does ….. so the translation flaw was my own.
        Proper name: Flower
        Rose hækkaði (Iceland)

        My sister with a degree in the Norwegian Language told me that your term is “bad wolf.”

        c’est la vie! (qui est la vie (dans le Christ!)

  2. Small nations are fiercely proud of their language, As Ireland’s Pádraig (Patrick) Pearse (executed by the British after the 1916 Easter rising) put it: “Tír gan teanga, tír gan anam”; A country without a language is a country without a soul. This was the philosophy of 19th century nationalism, not your modern racist version of nationalism but post Napoleonic reaction asking the big empires to kindly leave their country and culture alone. (Well ok, sometimes asking them not so kindly). Iceland is one of the few language success stories, reforming Icelandic in the 19th century so modern Icelanders are able to read the 10th & 11th Century Sagas written in Old Norse, the language of Iceland’s Viking settlers. So I can see why they might want to stick to their Björks and keep out the Britneys and Beyonces, or even Icelandic words with the wrong ending.

    • Tim says:

      Great point. Language purity is not just nationalism run rampant, but a connection to the past that can easily be lost. English is a rich language, but we’re hard pressed to read Chaucer as originally written.

      • Major languages grow and get richer by all the culture and language they borrowing (or march in and grab). Smaller languages are more likely to get swamped, especially if the dominant language nearby is also the economic centre people are drawn to. Still it’s not just Chaucer modern English has problems, ‘International English’ is pretty unintelligible to most native born Brits.

  3. Dee Parsons says:

    This from the country who has no problem naming a volcano Eyjafjallajökull. Try pronouncing that one!

  4. Tuija says:

    A note from a grammar nut: usually, “genitive” does not have anything to do with sex/gender, it means the same thing that English does with the possessive suffix, ‘s (as in “Tim’s blog”). 🙂

    As a speaker of a small language, with grammar that works very differently from English and many other ‘big’ global languages, I have a lot of sympathy for the rule about names needing to work with the grammar and spelling conventions of Icelandic. Finland has some similar rules but not a list of pre-approved names. Parents can get creative, just within limits…

    • Tim says:

      thanks for clearing up the genitive mystery, Tuija. I’ve noted that in the post now.

      • Tuija says:

        You’re welcome. 🙂
        When I think about this – it’s ironic, somehow, that my own name works perfectly well within the Finnish language – grammar, spelling, pronunciation – but it seems very difficult to pronounce for speakers of almost any other language. (I can only speak for the people I’ve encountered, of course, but I’ve met people from very diverse backgrounds.)

        And thinking this, I’m looking forward to the new name Jesus will give me. In Heaven, we’ll need no more of “how do you spell that” and “how did you say it” and “can you please repeat it” and so on…?

  5. Jeannie says:

    When the Hollywood stars start naming their kids Apple and Blanket, you sometimes wish there were limits on what name you can give!

    I remember when my daughter was about 4, she was obsessed with a Richard Scarry book called “The Great Steamboat Mystery,” in which Mrs. Pig, a ship passenger, had her pearls stolen while she rested in a deck chair. My daughter would re-enact this event by putting on a necklace, stretching out on a lawn lounger, and then crying out, “My pearls, my pearls! They have been stolen!” And for months, whenever we called her by name, she would reply, “It’s Mrs. Pig, actually.” Glad that phase passed. 🙂

  6. Rev. Carlene Appel says:

    I like that the rules say that names cannot embarrass the bearer. Names can cause such heartache for children when they must endure merciless teasing from classmates because of parental stupidity. How wonderful that a child there never has to worry about being named Moon Unit 2, Dweezel, Blanket, and the latest idiocity North East (a la Kim and Kanye).

    Speaking of messing with names. Kanye decided to take on the Creator. He just put out a Kanye “bible” which is a rewrite of Genesis with “God” replaced with “Kanye” wherever it appears. So, in the beginning it was supposedly Kanye who created the heavens and the earth and on and on. No problem….Someday, he will have to answer to the REAL God and won’t be talkin’ no hubristic trash then. He only does that because he doesn’t have to fear any retribution from the Christian Community. Let him try rewriting the Koran like that and there’ll be a fatwa out on his head.

    • Tim says:

      Avoiding embarassment is one of the reasons on the list, and there is wisdom in making sure children are well named. I’m not sure governmental approval is what works best, but if the Icelanders like it then good for them.

      As for rewriting the Bible, anything to make a buck I suppose.

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