The Icelandic cannot be called Lucifer. Nor more prosaic names like Hannalisa, Theo or Bened. In its latest opinion, the Committee for the Names of the tiny Nordic nation rejects these four appeals. The Satanic Lusifer, who was requesting an adult, because he considers that it can cause damage to the bearer. The others, simply because they are alien to the national tradition.
Iceland has one of the legislations world’s strictest about Names, born a century ago to protect the language and the patronymic system. Although regulation has been relaxing as society has become more diverse, more and more voices ask to review it if not eliminate it altogether.
Parents cannot call their children as they please. They must choose from a previously authorized list – about 2,500 names by gender – and innovators have to ask for an uncertain permit. Also they surnames They are rigidly regulated and are a rarity. Most Icelanders bear the first name of their father or mother, with the suffix They are (son) or dottir (daughter). In 1913, as the Nordic neighbors did, Iceland authorized the adoption of surnames, but ended up renewing and banned them. They could only keep it – and transmit it – who already had it. The upper classes, essentially.
Until the 1990s, foreigners who were nationalized were forced to change their name. It is the case of the Catalan painter Baltasar Samper, 82, who arrived on the island in 1961 to fish herring and married an Icelandic. Interestingly, the letter informing him that he could not keep his was signed by three Icelandic people with a surname, Samper recalls by telephone from his home north of Reykjavik. He had to register with his wife’s patronymic, as if he were his father-in-law’s son. “I was the first Baltasar in centuries in Iceland. Today there are 24. It is fashionable! ”He says with a laugh.
The procedure to authorize new names is complex, admits the linguist Adalsteinn Hakonarson, one of the three members of the controversial committee. They must respect the orthographic and grammatical norms of Icelandic (for example, they cannot contain the letters C or Z, non-existent in their alphabet), they must not be pejorative or stigmatizing and they must enjoy “sufficient tradition” in the country. The name is approved if at least 15 Icelanders currently carry it, a figure that drops to 5 if among them there is someone over 60 and zero if it goes out in old censuses.
“Most of the applications are accepted, about 70%,” says Hakonarson. It seems to people that our decisions are arbitrary, but there is a law that we are obliged to follow and it is the responsibility of Parliament to change it. ” In recent years there have been several proposals, but none has come forward. Now the Minister of Justice, from the conservative Independence Party, is preparing a new law that she will present in March.
The linguist himself is in favor of an opening. “The law authorizes foreigners to keep their name, but says nothing about what happens after a generation, when a person is already only Icelandic. We had to say no to parents who wanted to put the name of a foreign grandfather, ”he laments.
It is not the only incongruity. As the comedian and former mayor of Reykjavik Jon Gnarr, one of his most bitter scourges, has denounced, the law perpetuates privileges of a caste with the right to surname and grants freedom to citizens of foreign origin who denies the natives. The former mayor moved to the United States, where he officially changed his name, to get his country to recognize Gnarr as his last name.
“With so many exceptions, the process itself is increasingly complex,” denounces Thorsteinn Viglundsson, a liberal deputy who last year prompted a failed legislative proposal to abolish the Names law. For him, it is a matter of individual freedom. “Parents have the right to choose the name they want for their children without the government meddling,” says Viglundsson, who doubts that the patronymic system is in danger. “It is a tradition dear to the Icelanders, which developed over centuries without anyone imposing it. The first law only came a hundred years ago. ”
Not everyone is convinced. “The only heritage we have is our language, which has barely changed in 1,100 years. We are the only ones in the world that we don’t say phone ”, Says documentary filmmaker Kolfinna Baldvinsdottir, defender of restrictions. “It is a small society (360,000 inhabitants), with 13% of immigrants, in a globalized world, under the great influence of English. If we did nothing, in two or three generations the Icelandic would have disappeared. Thanks to these radical measures it enjoys a health that other minority languages would already want. ”
In March we will see how far the Minister of Justice is willing to go. Until then, goodbye Hannalisa, goodbye Lucifer.