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Reykjavik. Photo supplied

Iceland to scrap law governing traditional gender names

In Iceland, girls will no longer be given only traditional female names and boys will no longer be given only traditional male names.

Published: July 1, 2019, 10:16 am


    Previously, Icelandic names were classified as “male” or “female” in the naming registry, explicitly excluding the possibility of unisex names.The new law applies to both parents naming their children as well as to adults who want to officially change their names.

    Icelandic broadcaster RÚV reported that the country’s new Gender Autonomy Act marks a major shift in the country’s age-old naming tradition. The previous law governing names for newly-born off-spring specifically stated that “Girls shall be given female names and boys shall be given male names”, and no name should be given to both men and women.

    Thus, for those with a name registered as the opposite gender, a petition had to be submitted to the Icelandic Naming Committee for approval.

    Gender neutral family names will also now be allowed under new Gender Autonomy Act. Children had always been given gendered surnames, with the exception of immigrants, but the Gender Autonomy Act provides for a third option which is the genderless suffix -bur [child].

    The gender neutral option will however only be available to Icelanders who are officially registered as neither male not female [X].

    Traditional Icelandic surnames are in effect patronymic, and only in rare cases matronymic. They are derived from the name of the father by using suffixes -son [son] and -dóttir [daughter].

    Therefore an Icelander named Einar Jónsson were to have a son and daughter, they would be Einarsson or Einarsdóttir respectively.

    Last year, the Icelandic Naming Committee rejected a petition to allow a four-year-old girl to be called “Alex”, since it is traditionally a boy’s name. But eventually the decision was reversed, after examples of the name being used for girls was submitted.

    Director general Margrét Hauksdóttir said that Registers Iceland was anticipating a high number of name change applications. Processing time for name changes should be within three to five business days,

    Many are unhappy about the decision to ignore Iceland’s Viking history. “It’s the beginning of the end of the Icelandic language, taking into account that more and more children speak English even among themselves”, a Facebook user complained.

    “Crazy idea in the name of being the most progressive country”, another remarked.

    In the Nordic island nation, most of the population lives in the capital, Reykjavik, being home to over two-thirds of the population. It ranks high in economic, democratic, social stability, and equality, currently ranking first in the world by median wealth per adult.

    In 2018, it was ranked as the sixth most developed country in the world by the United Nations’ Human Development Index and runs almost completely on renewable energy.

    Iceland has a relatively young population for a developed country, with one out of five people being 14 years old or younger. With a fertility rate of 2,1 it is one of only a few European countries with a birth rate sufficient for long-term population growth.


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