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Debate Rages Over Bill to Change Naming Law

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Debate Rages Over Bill to Change Naming Law

Photo: Roberto Taddeo

The debate over a new bill that would make sweeping changes to Iceland’s naming law continues to rage, RÚV reports, with the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies (ÁMI) and Samtökin 78, Iceland’s National Queer Association, issuing statements on both sides of the matter this week.

In a statement authored by Aðalsteinn Hákonarson, ÁMI's project manager in the Department of Onomastics, or Name Studies, the institute said that it was prepared to offer advice on the revision of the current naming law, but that under the new proposal, “prospects regarding the protection of Icelandic naming conventions are uncertain.” Meanwhile, a statement issued by Samtökin 78's executive director Daníel E. Arnarsson noted that the suggested changes to the naming law will, for instance, be positive for trans people, making it “easier to change their names and in so doing decide for themselves how they will be addressed and how their names will appear publicly.”

The country’s naming law has been the subject of much debate in recent years and have been decried by some as an outdated tradition. For instance, Pirate MP Helgi Hrafn Gunnarsson recently called the law a “historical phenomenon that no one would ever want to reinstate in a free country.” For its part, however, ÁMI says that the new bill does not heed longstanding policies regarding Icelandic language, which say that the language should be used in all areas of society.

In his statement, Aðalsteinn argued, among other things, that the current law is not as restrictive towards non-Icelandic names as the bill supporters have suggested.

“The current laws assume that names will be Icelandic,” he wrote, “but it doesn’t follow that people may only have long-standing Icelandic names along the lines of Sigríður or Gunnar; rather, provisions are also made for borrowed names, names of foreign origin that are adopted into the Icelandic language and adapted to Icelandic language structure and spelling conventions.” The institute would rather help to make changes to the rules governing spelling and name declension, he said, than get rid of the naming rules all together.

However, in as much as the Icelandic naming committee still has the power to assign gender to names and enforce, through naming conventions, a binary in which “girls shall be given female names and boys shall be given male names,” Samtökin 78 is enthusiastic about the bill.

“It is in every person’s power to decide their own name, without reference to gender identity, for example,” wrote Daníel. “A name is a significant part of every person’s self-identity and thus there needs to be ample leeway for changes...”

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