It's Illegal to Name Your Daughter 'Harriet' in Iceland


Icelandic officials are refusing to renew one 10-year-old’s passport because her name does not comply with the country’s strict naming laws. Previously listed on legal documents only as Stúlka Cardew (translation: GIRL Cardew), the little girl and her parents will have to go to court and fight to retain the child’s original and exceedingly offensive given name, Harriet.

The government in Iceland recognizes 1,853 names for girls and 1,712 names for boys (MISANDRY). Any name not on that list must be submitted to the Icelandic Naming Committee for approval before it can be added to the National Registry, so long as at least one of the child’s parents are of Icelandic decent.

The Guardian explains that:

Among [the Icelandic Naming Committee’s] requirements are that given names must be “capable of having Icelandic grammatical endings”, may not “conflict with the linguistic structure of Iceland”, and should be are “written in accordance with the ordinary rules of Icelandic orthography”.
What this means in practice, according to the Reykjavik Grapevine is that names containing letters that do not officially exist in Iceland’s 32-letter alphabet, such as “c”, are out.

“Harriet” is not compliant with the Icelandic Naming Committee’s terms, either.

…names unable to accommodate the endings required by the nominative, accusative, genitive and dative cases used in Icelandic are also routinely turned down. “That was the problem with Harriet,” said [Harriet’s father Tristan] Cardew. “It can’t be conjugated in Icelandic.”

Naming laws vary greatly from country to country. As this 2012 Time article points out, names that “raise doubts about the sex of the registrant” are illegal in Portugal, while in the U.S., naming laws are comparatively lax (each state has its own rules, however) and the only names that are illegal are the ones that could potentially put a child at risk (which is pretty subjective).

While it’s probably good that there are some safeguards in place to keep parents from naming their kid #HitlerDoritos666, naming laws — particularly those in the western world — can be a little sketchy. “Appropriate names” often end up translating to “Anglo-Christian names,” which, at best, is grossly nationalistic and, at worst, is racist and xenophobic.

Truth be told, there’d probably be a lot less virtual ink being spilled over little Harriet’s passport being denied if her name was less British and more, say, Muslim sounding (the Icelandic Naming Committee actually rejects just shy of half the names submitted their way every year and you don’t hear much about it), but either way, not letting a kid have an entirely harmless name ends up making a government look rather petty. True for the judge in Tennessee that wouldn’t let a couple name their baby “Messiah” and true for the Icelandic Naming Committee for blocking the name “Harriet.”

Image via Harriet the Spy.

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