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Stop me if you've heard this one, as it's been all over the news. I'll sum up your average report on the net:

"In an example of European socialism-totalitarianism run amock, Iceland won't even let a girl have her own name! Poor Blaer just wants to be known as Blaer, but for no good reason, the government won't let her do that! The government tells everyone what to name their children out of some absurd misguided attempt to force tradition on people who don't want it and to tell people how to live their lives!"

And of course, it's nonsense. Oh, there's some truth there, but it's been so distorted - and in part, deliberately so -that it's totally buried.

Let's dig it up.

First off, by writing this, I mean no disrespect to Blær. That's Blær with an "Æ", not an "AE". Come on media outlets, what gives? You have no issue writing "café" or "El Niño" or "60°" or other characters that aren't on your keyboard, but you nearly never bother to do Icelandic characters. What's so damned alien about them? Several used to be in English (unlike, say, Ñ).

But back to the issue at hand.

Iceland is hardly alone in the government having some role in the naming process. Many other countries have similar systems. In Iceland, there is a committee called the mannanafnanefnd (the "persons' names committee"), which approves or denies new entries to the mannanafnaskrá (the "persons' names registry"). This is online and readily browsible, and everything the committee does is in public.

The process of naming a child in Iceland is this. The parents pick out a name. Whatever name they want. If it's already in the Mannanafnaskrá - great! It's all done. If it's not in the Mannanafnaskrá, they submit it to the Mannanafnanefnd who reviews it at their next meeting. The submission includes the desired spelling, any historical information about it, and how it is to be declined. The committee reviews the submission. Overwhelmingly, proposals are approved. So overwhelmingly, naming a child is simply picking whatever name you want for them.

The committee has three criteria: the historical connection of the name to Iceland, preventing names that are "abusive" to children, and preserving the Icelandic language.

The first criteria is almost essentially ignored nowadays. Want some examples? let's just pick from the "E" section. Elvis, Emerald, Emmanúel, Estefan, Ebonney, Erin. Sound Icelandic to you? Really, this criteria nowadays mainly functions as a way to argue for the approval of names even if they fail one of the other two categories! And there are many historic names which are not allowed because of the third criteria.

The second criterion is something alien to Americans but based on a philosophical difference that makes damned good sense: Children are NOT their parents "property". They're individual human beings with inherent human rights. For example, it's illegal to spank children in Iceland. Why is it that you get arrested in the US for taking a cane or paddle and hitting another adult with it, but you can do it at regular intervals to a helpless little child, and even have some people get mad at you if you don't? The same applies here. A child can't pick their name, but they sure as heck deserve the right to be protected from some jerk parent who wants to name their kid "PoopooFace" or whatnot. At least that's the general attitude here, one which I strongly support. This criteria is moderately enforced, but is sometimes criticized in that there are some ancient names in the registry from ancient times which can readily be viewed as insulting.

The third criterion is probably the most enforced, and is also something alien to most Americans: linguistic preservation. Let's start with this: if you took all of the Icelanders who ever lived, throughout history, combined, and put them in New York City at once, they'd still be outnumbered over 10:1 by New Yorkers. The entire country at present has about the population of Santa Ana, California. There are no other places in the world where significant Icelandic is spoken. Iceland has a higher rate of fluency in English than America. Very few products are labeled in Icelandic, very little media (say, movies or high budget TV) is in Icelandic, little on the net is in Icelandic, etc. The amount of pressure to absorb English into the language is huge while the population to resist it is small. To preserve this language - the best preserved of all the Nordic languages -takes serious active effort (including the willing participation of the Icelandic population).

Icelandic is a gendered language (three genders) and has an extremely elaborate declension system. Even people's names decline. For example, if you do something from me, it's "frá Karen", but if it's to me, it's "til Karenar". Yes, not only do imported names like Karen decline, even many foreign place names! For example, I would say "Þetta er Kalifornía" ("This is California"), but "Þetta er frá Kaliforníu" ("This is from California").

Declining the better known foreign places and words? Yep! As I mentioned, Icelandic is extremely protective, or at least often tries to be. For fun, go to Wikipedia sometime and look up modern technical terms which are not named after a person or based readily on existing words or people's names - things like "photon", "autism", "transistor", "amygdala", etc. Then look on the corresponding article links for different languages on the left to see what the word is in each of dozens of languages. In almost all languages it's extremely similar to the English... almost always except in Icelandic and a smattering of others, where it's something completely different. Photon is "ljóseind" (light-unit). Autism is "einhverfa" (singular-disappearence). Transistor is "smári" (clover). Amygdala is mandla (almond). Etc. Try it out. Now, again, the language isn't always as well protected in practice as one would hope, but even there it seemingly does much better than most other languages (compare an online Icelandic newspaper with a Danish one and see how many link titles you recognize the names of, for example).

So what does this all have to do with names? Well, for one, they need to use the Icelandic alphabet. Which really should be a non-controversial given. I mean, do we have to let every symbol ever conceived into names? And have them enterable into computers and handled properly? There's nothing unusually demanding about having the name be spellable with your own alphabet.

The next is declensions. The name has to decline, and it has to decline in a way that makes sense. Declensions aren't just for show; things get confusing when they're not there because the language expects them. Different verbs and phrases can have different meanings when used with different declensions!

Also, here is where gender comes in. It is a core aspect of the language. Most declension patterns - including that used by the noun "blær" - are obviously, visibly, one gender (in blær's case, the -r, -,-,-s that comes after certain vowels or clusters is always masculine). You refer to a blær (breeze or atmosphere) as "he", not "it", when talking about it. But it's more than that. Personal pronouns have to agree too. In English this only affects third person, but in Icelandic, it affects all persons. Adjectives too have to agree. If a (masculine) blær was cold, you'd say kaldur (cold-masculine) to describe it. And on and on it goes.

It's one thing to list rules, but let's try to give you a sense of how it feels in English. Mismatching nouns with their descriptive terms is like saying a "flock of lawyers" or a "wastepaper cylinder". It's understandable, but it just feels wrong. It's not in accordance with how you're supposed to talk. And even if you use all masculine terms with a masculine noun, her patronymic still ends in -dottír! That'd be like saying "He is Mrs. Smith". Again, it sounds wrong because it's just not how the language works.

Now, one can, for reasons related to gender politics, deliberately set out to break the gendered aspect of a language with genderqueering it to the point that nobody knows how to respond. But this is a historic part of the language, and I for one don't want to see the language deliberately undermined.

One could take a different route and decide, "okay, blær can also be feminine now". That we're going to change this word and make up a new declension for it. Okay, so now people are not only supposed to learn the new declension for her, but we're going so far as to say that all software that has to deal with declensions has now to determine from context or other data whether it's the normal Blær, or just this one particular girl. And of course, it's a deliberate change to the language. A lot of the time, such a made up declension will end up being no declension at all! Just a steady undermining of the Icelandic case system. I've never seen her referred to in the news no matter what the case as anything other than "Blær", although I haven't seen her referred to in eignarfall yet.

Now, all of that said, there are issues, both in general and with this particular case.

As mentioned, there are a number of names in there for historic reasons or otherwise that are, quite frankly, insulting. Blær can also point to historic precident, in that she could document one real-world female Blær. There was also a woman named Blær in a book by Iceland's nobel laureate, Halldór Laxnes (pretty much anything by Laxnes automatically gains some respect). Clearly the girl does not feel insulted by her name. And from a more fundamental basis, it's one thing to have the list to protect children from their parents giving them insulting names, but since the same list is also applied to adults, it makes it harder to defend in that context.

I've not, however, seen a defense from Blær on the basis of linguistic preservation. Using a masculine noun for a feminine name in Icelandic for a person who's not deliberately trying to genderqueer things is just asking for problems. But maybe she has some defense along these lines as well.

So anyway, I just wanted to make clear a few points:

1) Most of the foreign reporting on this case is just awful. 2) The law and the committee are not just some pointless exercise in totalitarianism, but are actually there to serve legitimate purposes. 3) There are grounds to criticize them, but it's only something that a person who knows the background and issues at hand should do, not just someone reflexively applying the American system onto another culture. 4) Blær may actually have a case; we'll see. But it's still a complicated issue.

Finally, a footnote: should it be a surprise to anyone that the first agency to break this "look at this evil totalitarian European government picking on a little girl" story was.... Fox News?

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  •  Very Interesting Diary (70+ / 0-)

    I don't find this Icelandic law to be harmful in the least, especially under the circumstances that you detail here.

    I was a student in college for a year in Slovenia, which is similarly a small country with a very small language population (about two million speakers). Names are similarly declined, with some pretty complicated rules based on the gender of the person, the final consonant, whether the name is understood to be a "local" vs. "foreign" given name, etc. But after a while, you speak it without a problem.

    However, among Slovenians, language borrowing from English, German and, to a lesser degree, Italian is very rampant -- in the Ljubljana dialect, in informal speech, among young people, it can seem to predominate depending on the circumstances.

    The written language, by contrast, is highly conservative, which results in a diglossia with the spoken language often straying very far from the received written standard.

    Do you happen to know how much English has penetrated into the spoken speech of Iceland as compared to the written standard?

    "I'll believe that corporations are people when I see Rick Perry execute one."

    by bink on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 08:19:54 AM PST

  •  Utterly fascinating (61+ / 0-)

    and a terrific diary on culture and history.  Any kids allowed to be named Odin???

    Thank you so much -- I love diaries such as this one.  Am forwarding it to a friend who is a retired professor but had done a lot of study on Icelandic and Nordic mythologies -- and that is his son's PhD concentration.

    " My faith in the Constitution is whole; it is complete; it is total." Barbara Jordan, 1974

    by gchaucer2 on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 08:21:53 AM PST

  •  I enjoyed the discourse as well (37+ / 0-)

    since I studied linguistics and Germanic languages in college and graduate school.  I know that in Germany they also have a names register with some 'forbidden names' on it - needless to say, abusive naming (i.e. insulting names) are on the forbidden list, as is Adolf, for obvious reasons.  But the way Germany handles it is - if the name is NOT on t he register, but NOT on the abusive names list, then the family will receive Kindergeld (tax payments for parents of ethnic German heritage).  If they do not name the child a Christian Germanic name (but not otherwise forbidden) then they just won't collect their Kindergeld.  More of an incentive than you might think!

    "Kossacks are held to a higher standard. Like Hebrew National hot dogs." - blueaardvark

    by louisev on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 08:26:04 AM PST

  •  In France, the liberty to choose names (30+ / 0-)

    was only recently accorded.   Per Wikipedia:

    First names are chosen by the child's parents. There are no legal a priori constraints on the choice of names nowadays, but this has not always been the case. The choice of given names, originally limited only by the tradition of naming children after a small number of popular saints, was restricted by law at the end of the 18th century. Officially, only names figuring on a calendar, or names of illustrious Frenchmen/women of the past, could be accepted.[3] Much later, actually in 1966, a new law permitted a limited number of mythological, regional or foreign names, substantives (Olive, Violette), diminutives, and alternative spellings. Only in 1993 were French parents given the freedom to name their child without any constraint whatsoever.[4] However, if the birth registrar thinks that the chosen names (alone or in association with the last name) may be detrimental to the child's interests, or to the right of other families to protect their own family name, the registrar may refer the matter to the local prosecutor, who may choose to refer the matter to the local court. The court may then refuse the chosen names. Such refusals are rare and mostly concern given names that may expose the child to mockery.
    Thank you for a very interesting diary!  

    It's the Supreme Court, stupid!

    by Radiowalla on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 08:35:20 AM PST

  •  Somehow I imagine that FOX News (38+ / 0-)

    would be in a tizzy if some male child were being named "Sue."

    What's interesting to me are the presumptions underlying all of this. The powerfully dominant assumption in the USA is one of hyperindividualism, a sort of deranged Libertarian I can do anything I want and no one has the right to stop me, ever.

    Extremes are destructive.

    The other end of the spectrum is, of course, the state in which people only exist for the community; the modern example is probably North Korea. It's easy for us to criticize it (and I do...)  because we exist way at the other end of the spectrum.

    The truth is that individuals do need to be valued and respected. People have rights. And so do societies.

    Sets of rights and interests inevitably clash, and have to be negotiated. The notion that the whole society and language should move and twist around to accommodate a parental impulse for a name is just... silly.

    Fox is the same cabal of prion-disease ravaged baboons that would be raging about some "inner city" mother who named a child something absurd and awkward ( Probably with as little accuracy, and as much fear, hate and ignorance as they displayed in breaking this story.

    "Be just and good." John Adams to Thomas Jefferson

    by ogre on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 08:38:49 AM PST

    •  "Hyperindividualism" as long as you conform to (11+ / 0-)

      chauvinistic views of naming conventions. The level at which most here misunderstand other naming conventions and are willing to force others to conform with are often surprising.

      It has become particularly problematic now with absolute force matching documentary forms post 9/11. Our "LN (family name), FN, MN convention is being forced onto completely different systems with consequences when voting or flying. It gets idiotic when matching passport, credit card and other information where the equivalent of "Jr." is "required" to be the "family" name.

      The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

      by pelagicray on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 08:50:18 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yeah (7+ / 0-)

        My husband chose to use his father's given name as a legal surname when he came to the US.  Back in Tamil Nadu he is known as V. Firstname, where "V" is his father's initial.  He does still sign his name that way, and no one's ever given him grief about it.

      •  and completely overlooking the right of (12+ / 0-)

        the Icelandic people to organize their society along principles that differ from the ones Americans might prefer.

      •  my youngest has, in effect, two legal middle (4+ / 0-)

        names -- the middle name all my children carry (which is my last name), and a Chinese middle name. Both of these are on her passport and legal documents.
         On forms we receive with her name, e.g., from her school, there's no standardization in how they handle it: Sometimes they put both middle names in as middle names, sometimes the first middle name is in the section for first names, sometimes they leave out one or the other middle name.
        And to make it more complicated, my daughter added her Chinese surname (part of the city name of her orphanage's location -- all the children there carried that surname) into the mix and signs her name like this:
        First name, Chinese surname, Chinese first name, Family middle name, Family last name.
        35 letters in all (not including spaces)!
        She's pretty proud of it, but when we fly internationally, I have to be very very careful how I fill out the forms!

        We're not perfect, but they're nuts! -- Barney Frank

        by Tamar on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 01:18:11 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  That is becoming a pretty ridiculous problem with (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Cassandra Waites

          this insistence that names, and names in a particular format, are so important in identification.

          The most ridiculous aspect is that in the cultures so many here associate with "terrorists" names are more fluid in the first place. I always mutter "idiot" when I see some news type commenting with a combination of amazement and "how other" when someone has only one name.

          Still, we try to enforce our naming convention on official forms such as the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Declaration Form 6059B.

          1. Print your last (family) name. Print your first (given) name. Print the first letter of your middle name.
          Now a liberal translation of that could mean that "last" is not equal to "family" in this use and the "(family)" name is clarification for those from a culture where family name comes first. Still, I've seen puzzlement and even arguments over that subject aboard aircraft and even entry points. It would make much more sense for any organization dealing with names to simply use "family" and "given" without any indicated order.

          The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

          by pelagicray on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 02:11:59 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I agree up until the last sentence -- I'm not sure (0+ / 0-)

            what you mean by that. In China, the convention is family name followed by the individual person's name. So Sun Harold in China is Harold Sun here.
            But there's nothing to say that a person who's last name is Harold can't have the first name of Sun. So there might be a Sun Harold who is not Chinese and whose first name is Sun.
            They are clearly different names.
            I don't think we can just mix up the order and not worry about it because then we'll end up with even more confusion. We just need a more flexible and culturally open way of handling a name difference. We've had to do this before: when I was a kid, there was often not enough space for my last name, which is pretty long. That was in the day when "American" meant Jones or Smith. Now there is always plenty of room. And we've had to adapt to hyphenated names here (which have been around in the UK for a long time!). My daughter's school directory has a separate section for finding parents who have a different last name than their kids (like me).
            I think forms will need to give translations of what they want and plenty of space for possibilities -- maybe even places for 1st middle name, 2nd middle name, etc.

            We're not perfect, but they're nuts! -- Barney Frank

            by Tamar on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 02:30:01 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  We also have interchangable "family" and "given" (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              scotths, Cassandra Waites

              names. My point is that for someone with a language in which family name comes first the customs form can cause confusion—and that includes among our officials at the border.

              Ever hear one yelling at some poor soul because their "official" reading of that instruction is that " last (family) name. Print your first (given) name" is not clarification of which goes where but that last name=family name and first name=given name. I have over years of travel across our borders.

              In too many cases Mr. Sun Harold might want to put his family name "Sun" in the first block but be told he has to put his "last name" Harold there instead. I have most certainly had that argument with officialdom with a visitor from Brazil.

              Take this example from the web of José Alexandre Felizola Diniz Filho. Given the free ranging Brazilian naming game this could be a "family" name, but gvien the rest and the individual's status it is more likely José Alexandre Felizola Diniz Filho, Jr. Our officialdom and common people know Jr. would not go in the family name block. As far as most are concerned "Filho" sounds like a name, it is last so it shall be the "family name" in the block. Yeah, the "Junior" family! In the end, arguing was futile, no flight or other real security matter was involved, just recovery of things, so Mr. Filho it was—to the disgust of the visitor who spoke excellent English and had also tried to give an ignoramus with a bit of authority a lesson in another way of naming.

              I would suggest we drop entirely first, middle and last on all forms since order is by no means universal and do, as some other countries do simply as for family and given names.

              The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

              by pelagicray on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 04:57:55 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  you make good points. I'm thinking of how the (0+ / 0-)

                form would have to be set up to handle this electronically, but given the level of technology now available, maybe there could be some sort of specific-to-the-country-of-origin method. (OTOH, that's changing also and some people may have a passport from one country but a naming tradition from another).
                So, going with your idea, just a separate space for each name -- up to some reasonable number of names, and the person puts the names in the order they choose to use.
                Maybe for cases like Mr. "Filho" in your comment, there could be a defined space with good instructions for a person to put in "junior" or "filho" or whatever designation that is not actually a name.

                We're not perfect, but they're nuts! -- Barney Frank

                by Tamar on Sat Jan 05, 2013 at 05:19:35 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  No problem electronically as "family" name is (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  generally consistent except where there are only given names. The problem with the forms and a data base is the confusion between order of names and what they define. In a good many cultures, at least recently, there has been fair stability in "family" names applied to related people. There are of course outliers. Iceland is one. That is what I witnessed throwing a couple of hotel clerks over my lifetime travels.

                  What is the "family name" in the Scandinavian countries? A look at Nordic Names, Surnames shows the problem.

                  The old Nordic tradition of patronymic/matronymic names is still in use in Iceland and by some people in the Faroe Islands. This means that surnames are not fixed and cannot be inherited from the preceding generation.
                  Gunnar Eriksson and Elsa Magnusdotter have a son (Arne) and a daughter (Astrid).

                  Their children's surnames would have been Arne Gunnarsson (= Arne, son of Gunnar) and Astrid Gunnarsdotter (= Astrid, daughter of Gunnar) in patronymic times.

                  Yeah, abolished by 1901 law in Sweden but now possible again. Still found in Iceland. And that is why, back in the more uptight days (dictatorship for one) when "good" hotels tried very hard to appear "against sin" and one even had to list parents full names and place of birth on registration forms a hotel clerk in Rio had a meltdown when presented with such a family. There they are, two men and two women, Gunnar Eriksson, Elsa Magnusdotter, Arne Gunnarsson and Astrid Gunnarsdotter. Nobody was related and they wanted the same room! Our reputation!

                  That was particularly amusing because in olden days, where "good" families in Rio might choose among the great string of "family" names a genealogy chart can look very strange to us here in the U.S. One might have a string of four or five of those "family" names, one for each parent, grandparent, great grandparent all strung together, and various closely related individuals would actually use only a couple.

                  And all that is why the focus on "names" in the first place as even reasonably unique identifiers, such as no fly lists, is an exercise in idiocy. It is a small town mindset, one in which there might not even be two John William Smiths, to a global population. It would be interesting if some expert in that field of math came up with the number of names an individual must have to even reasonably guarantee the full string would be unlikely to be duplicated in the global population.

                  That form would have to be damned long!

                  The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

                  by pelagicray on Sat Jan 05, 2013 at 09:08:08 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  I've heard that the no-fly list is riddled with (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:

                    problems because of the fact that names are not unique identifiers.
                    And, of course, we saw that in the original attempts of Republicans to show voter fraud. They would track a deceased person who supposedly voted and what would become clear is that a perfectly live and healthy person with the same name voted. (of course, this was not what happened in the most recent purges of voter lists but it did happen when Republican Sauerbrey in Maryland was sure the election for governor was stolen from her and she had her people go through voter lists. Sometimes they found the kind of thing I mentioned above; other times they found real errors, but as the Republican-appointed judge who threw the case out said, there was no evidence of systematic error. That is, the real errors were just as likely to benefit the Republicans as to benefit the Democrats).

                    We're not perfect, but they're nuts! -- Barney Frank

                    by Tamar on Sat Jan 05, 2013 at 10:12:02 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

        •  it can be complicated, (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Tamar, Cassandra Waites

          although less so, for people with western but double first names.

          Mary Jane, for example, will almost certainly be shorted to "Mary" by some computers and to "Mary J." by others. Not my name, but I have encountered similar problems.

          We are often so identified with whatever thoughts we may be having that we don’t realize the thoughts are a commentary on reality, and not reality itself. -- Gangaji

          by Mnemosyne on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 03:26:57 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  good point! We need flexibility in order to work (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            with the numerous variations in names that are a result of all kinds of cultural and ethnic differences (and also creativity).

            We're not perfect, but they're nuts! -- Barney Frank

            by Tamar on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 03:39:58 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  The ignorance in the U.S. about names elsewhere is (33+ / 0-)

    abysmal. Just look at our "terrorist" list fiascoes. Then there is the form forcing our first, middle, last/family name convention where it just cannot apply. I've seen fun with that on voter lists and Asian names in particular.

    It can get amusing as well. Ever have and lose an argument with a clerk that, "No, "Filho" is not the person from Brazil's last name!" Names there are treated rather wildly, but "Filho" is much like our "Junior" with a bunch of additional ones thrown in such as "Neto" for our version of "III" so that clerks may insist this is "Mr. Neto" registering.

    Then there is that damn patronymic! Icelandic "family" checking in to a hotel in a place really concerned about "sins" in its rooms all with different "surnames"? In my travels I've witnessed more than one incident of that farce.

    The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

    by pelagicray on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 08:39:40 AM PST

    •  The ignorance in the US about (32+ / 0-)

      so many things elsewhere is abysmal.  But points well taken here.

      Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

      by a gilas girl on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 08:48:40 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I will have to say that it is not peculiar to (14+ / 0-)

        "here" as I once saw a hotel melt down in Rio over patronymics back when registration forms required even one's parent's names on the registration form. Real hotels there once required full names of adults, their parent's names and full ID. Part was government and part to limit "sin" I gather. I've run into somewhat similar amusements in Europe and Asia, though Asian naming is so different along with character set that it seemed more accepted that name would be "crazy" there.

        I think the greater problem here now is that in the post 9/11 scheme we require exact matches and force fit into our conventions of first, middle, last (family) name where that cannot apply. I know of real difficulties in both flights and voting with that force fit along with pure ignorance in what is the "family" name.

        The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

        by pelagicray on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 08:57:47 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  we trained for election protection during the 2004 (7+ / 0-)

          election and we were warned that the most common victims of attacks on voter legitimacy were Latinos because of the different naming traditions. So a normal Latino citizen might have several completely legitimate ways of signing their name and even have different IDs with different versions. This was 6 years before the 2010 election of state legislatures that were so intent on denying people the right to vote, but people concerned about protecting voting rights were already aware of threats to those rights.
          We have a friend from Brazil and she has the short version of her name: (e.g., Jacinta Veira), and the longer version of her name (e.g., Jacinta Veira de Los Arvores) [note: I'm using made up names for my example]. And she is generally known by her nickname which is not a shortened version of her first name.
          My SIL is Swiss. Here she's known by her first name, her family name from Switzerland as her middle name, and her married name. In Switzerland the middle & last are reversed -- So she's first name, married name, original family name. And I think the Swiss family name is actually her mother's last name (but I'm not sure about that), not her father's.

          We're not perfect, but they're nuts! -- Barney Frank

          by Tamar on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 01:30:47 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Locally we had a good bit of registrar confusion (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Tamar, Cassandra Waites

            with Chinese and other Asian names with very similar issues. My area is so diverse that people in the registrar's office are getting some education on the possibilities, but I gather it is still causing confusion with ID.

            Brasil is very free form and it can get pretty wild. In looking for a good reference I found two fun pieces. One, The Indian Express' The long and short of Brazilian names deals with football.

            Affectionate familiarity in Brazil is for everyone from the kid next door all the way up to the country’s president. “We don’t use the last names,” said Lyris Wiedemann, a native of Porto Alegre, Brazil, who is now director of the Portuguese language programme at Stanford in the United States. “It reflects a trait in the culture that’s more personalised. We care about the person, and the person is not the family name. It’s who they are.”

            It’s why no one knows Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite as anything but Kaka. Why one player on Brazil’s 2006 team was called, simply, Fred. And why Edson Arantes do Nascimento is just some guy until you realise he’s Pele.

            The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

            by pelagicray on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 02:51:04 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  I read about this first on MSN. (18+ / 0-)

      They did a pretty good report, explaining that Icelanders are listed in the phone book by first name, and that they don't have the letter C and a bunch of other stuff though not near as fully as this diary.

      I wondered why the mother didn't change the child's name after baptism when the priest informed her he had made a mistake and that name wasn't allowed.

      Tracy B Ann - technically that is my signature.

      by ZenTrainer on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 08:57:31 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Just found that out... (19+ / 0-)

        ... by tracking down this old letter from the mother back in 2006  :)   She's a Halldor Laxnes fan and got the idea from his book "Brekkukotsannáll".  The letter also lists what she says is the proper declension - "Blær-Blæ-Blævi-Blævar".  Which I should point out just drives home the point that the Icelandic newspaper articles I've seen talking about her have called her just "Blær" in each case

        •  Halldór Laxnes's use (7+ / 0-)

          Thanks for the full explanation of this issue, Rei! I had heard about it briefly on NPR and wondered what was up. (I almost wrote, I wondered what was the case.)

          If Halldór Laxnes has used the name Blær as a feminine word in an Icelandic text, presumably he has declined it in an appropriate way. Might that literary usage count in favor of actually naming a child Blær?

          Does the declension you give ("Blær-Blæ-Blævi-Blævar") follow other regular paradigms of Icelandic declension?

          Join the 48ForEastAfrica Blogathon for the famine in east Africa: Donate to Oxfam America

          by JayC on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 10:34:47 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  First name listing is not unique to Iceland either (11+ / 0-)

        as some cultures without tend to do that for what I call "small town" reasons. You "know" people by their first name so you "look them up" by that means rather than a last name you might actually never really know. Put it this way; I've known people in other cultures for decades and learned their full legal names only when for some reason seeing their passport or other official document.

        In Brazil for example, pet names for people are so common and pervasive that good friends' "real" names are not the passport name. That article  I linked above notes:

        Today, Brazilians routinely address dignitaries by their first names, perhaps attaching a title, as in "Dr. Roberto," or "Professor Marcelo." Newspapers refer to President Fernando Henrique Cardoso simply as "Fernando Henrique." Three-time presidential candidate Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva, is known as Lula, his nickname; he legally incorporated it into his official name when he realized he was in danger of losing countless votes.
        It took me a decade to get the official phonetic name order for a person in Japan I'd worked and bar hopped with over years clear. He had always used a Latin friendly, but not "full legal" form even in official settings. My name got scrambled more than once there when "translated," much to the amusement of that friend on one occasion.

        The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

        by pelagicray on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 09:15:54 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Common in Thailand, too (5+ / 0-)

          or something like it.  I don't remember all the details.

          "As scientific knowledge advances, it does not mean that religious knowledge retreats." - horse69 on the bnet recon C&C board

          by lonespark on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 10:30:03 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  on the Island of Lewis in Scotland (8+ / 0-)

            I seem to remember the community phone directory listed people by their nicknames, since most first and last names were so common - any given village is likely to have several Mary MacLeods, Donald MacAulays, etc.

            'Se SUV a th'anns a' chànan eile agam

            by Seonachan on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 11:16:43 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Problem anywhere with a few last names (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Ahianne, mahakali overdrive

              and traditions of naming kids after family members.

              We've got a few over-populated names in my family that surge in use every two or three generations as kids get named after grandfathers and great-grandfathers. And, unfortunately for keeping track of genealogy, the Sr. Jr. III pattern only works in a straight line with the same spelling, not for the same generation of second-cousins.

              Had at least one member of the family take the nickname of Junior his entire life until he died of old-age-related illness over that one.

              Prayers and best wishes to those in Japan.

              by Cassandra Waites on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 05:32:22 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  This is just a personal thing but I've always not (0+ / 0-)

                quite been able to understand the kind of person who would name their son (and, now that I think about it, it's always a son) after themselves.  I get using names in the family, but naming the son after the father, to me, seems... ill-advised and a little narcissistic.  But it's so common that it's certainly none of my damn business.

                "The first drawback of anger is that it destroys your inner peace; the second is that it distorts your view of reality. If you come to understand that anger is really unhelpful, you can begin to distance yourself from anger." - The Dalai Lama

                by auron renouille on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 11:03:31 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

          •  In Thailand (6+ / 0-)

            as far as I can remember, for Budist Thais anyway, the "official" firstname is chosen by a monk when the child is presented at the temple. All Thais have a nick-name which is used by family and friends. It is perfectly possible to know a Thai very well and never know their official name.

            Surnames are a 20th Century inovation.

            "If the young are not initiated into the village, they will burn it down just to feel its warmth." African Proverb (-6.00,-7.03)

            by Foreign Devil on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 12:28:39 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  actually, I use mostly first names in my contact (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          ZenTrainer, FarWestGirl

          list on my cell phone because I remember them better. The exception is when an entire family is the contact.
          For my daughter's friends' parents, I'll list them as "Denise's family," so still by first name.

          We're not perfect, but they're nuts! -- Barney Frank

          by Tamar on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 01:33:12 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Funny, that's how I organize my phone anyway. lol (0+ / 0-)

          Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. The Druid

          by FarWestGirl on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 04:44:25 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  The US isn't even used to a second middle name (5+ / 0-)

      (and even less to more middle names) even though in other English speaking countries people with a second middle name, while not in the majority, aren't exactly rare either (around 10% or so).

      Repeal the 2nd amendment.

      by Calouste on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 11:20:29 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Back in the early 80s I worked as (7+ / 0-)

      a file clerk that the community college.  This was when there was a large influx of Vietnamese into the area.

      The forms were supposed to be Last Name, First Name, MI but there were tons submitted that were things like "Mary Jones," where you were 99.9 percent sure they didn't read the directions.  Then came the Vietnamese names.

      How to file Tran Nguyen, Nguyen Tran, Ng Nguyen, Ng Tran, etc. etc.?

      Well, at minimum wage I decided that the most common names were family, or last names and filed them accordingly, but still had real problems with Ng Nguyen.

      "I watch Fox News for my comedy, and Comedy Central for my news." - Facebook Group

      by Sychotic1 on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 12:13:46 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I spent a week in Japan a couple years ago and, (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        after a week of writing my name in katakana or, at a minimum, in Japanese order, I duly wrote my name on my customs form "First, Last" when it was of course supposed to be "Last, First" (or maybe the other way around?)  The customs agent in Guam, upon my return, visibly bounced his eyes back and forth between my passport and my form a couple times and then suddenly nodded and went "oh."  Probably neither the first nor last time he'd seen that.

        Even more complicated since the "Last, First" thing is a Western convention to make paper files easier.  No need to do it in Japanese, not when last names are already first and where alphabetizing lists for order happens but isn't as common.

        "The first drawback of anger is that it destroys your inner peace; the second is that it distorts your view of reality. If you come to understand that anger is really unhelpful, you can begin to distance yourself from anger." - The Dalai Lama

        by auron renouille on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 11:11:27 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  :-) As a person who does genealogy research... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Cassandra Waites

      ... in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, and who is on all three lists to help others with their research, it's astonishing how many Americans with Scandinavian ancestors have NO clue how the patronymic naming system works!  [I've heard of matronyms, just not worked with any yet.]

      To me it is remarkably easy.

      Better yet, In pre-1900 documents I don't lose the women to married name changes.  They keep their own names their entire lives...., and I have my Norwegian ancestry traced back to ca 1620.  The farm/location names were not used as surnames, and - strictly speaking - patronymic names were not surnames in those three countries until the late 19th - early 20th centuries when laws mandating a single family name to pass on to offspring went into effect.

      Once the immigrants arrived in this country, they had a choice to make for an inherited surname: their own patronymic name (which automatically was written with a son suffix, no matter if it was technically sen or sson in the old country or the suffix was supposed to be datter/dotter..., or the name of a location they came from in the old country - might be the name of the farm on which they were born, the name of the farm on which they worked, or the name of the last farm where they lived before emigrating.  The location name, as used properly there, was technically more of an address and it changed if the person moved.  [If someone is talking about three or four men all named Ole Olsen, the way to indicate which one they were talking about is to add the farm name where each lived.]

      Only Iceland and the Faroe Islands still use the Scandinavian patronymic naming system today, as far as I know.  Seems to me a few years ago someone said the Danish legislature was thinking of going back to the patronymic naming system or giving the people the option to do so, but I don't know if that law passed or not.

      Still, I always knew how the patronymic naming system worked, especially after I read the book Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset, so it never confused me when I finally got to do research in Scandinavian records.

      I'm sick of attempts to steer this nation from principles evolved in The Age of Reason to hallucinations derived from illiterate herdsmen. ~ Crashing Vor

      by NonnyO on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 04:38:34 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  My maidan surname is Dutch (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        and I recently learned that all of the people in the US with my last name are descended from one person who emigrated in the 1660's from a small town in the Netherlands.   He came over and used Van and the town he emigrated from as his last name.  He is reported to be the only person to have emigrated from that town during the period when that was the custom, so we can all assume we are descended from his line.  At least, according to a distant relative who posted on the internet.

        We should not be fighting about equal pay for equal work and access to birth control in 2012. Elizabeth Warren

        by Leftleaner on Sat Jan 05, 2013 at 01:17:24 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I haven't yet mastered... (0+ / 0-)

          ... the Dutch patronymics because they could sometimes skip generations and use a grandfather's or other patronym, so it's not the straightforward patronymic naming system like I find for my ancestors in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark.

          I'm sick of attempts to steer this nation from principles evolved in The Age of Reason to hallucinations derived from illiterate herdsmen. ~ Crashing Vor

          by NonnyO on Sat Jan 05, 2013 at 05:48:03 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  PS: Check your Kosmail (0+ / 0-)

          I sent you some Dutch-American genealogy info links.

          I'm sick of attempts to steer this nation from principles evolved in The Age of Reason to hallucinations derived from illiterate herdsmen. ~ Crashing Vor

          by NonnyO on Sat Jan 05, 2013 at 07:37:10 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  There is someone who married into our family (0+ / 0-)

      whose mother wanted him to be a "junior".  Because both parents were immigrants and did not understand the forms or how the Junior/I/II/III thing works, they put Junior as his middle name on his birth certificate.

      The poor guy gets teased about it all the time.

      I fall down, I get up, I keep dancing.

      by DamselleFly on Sat Jan 05, 2013 at 08:47:20 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  oh yes! (9+ / 0-)

    I remember that children (not only football clubs) were named "Dynamo" or "Locomotive" or something such in the 1930s in early stalinist russia. That would be illegal here (continental Europe) too! There are minimal protections for children naming with very good sense.

  •  Thanks for the very interesting (9+ / 0-)

    read on issues that Americans never seem to think twice about.

    Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

    by a gilas girl on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 08:49:21 AM PST

  •  Fascinating diary... thanks. (9+ / 0-)

    My fiancée and I are likely going to be honeymooning in Iceland this summer... sort of a nice alternative to the typical "go to a beach somewhere and drink tropical beverages" honeymoon.

    I've been meaning to pick up at least a little conversational Icelandic out of respect for the local culture before going. Can you recommend a good resource or phrasebook for me?

    "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." --Dom Helder Camara, archbishop of Recife

    by JamesGG on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 08:53:28 AM PST

    •  I've never touched a (17+ / 0-)

      But if you want a language learning book with a relatively shallow learning curve (at the cost of being rather incomplete), I'd recommend "Teach Yourself Icelandic".  A better one is "Colloquial Icelandic", but it's a steeper curve.

      Spend extra time on the pronunciation sections, and especially remember that super-long stress on the first syllable of words!  :)

      Recommendation: Get as much time here as you can (you won't regret it), get a car and travel the ring road (and take as many detours as you have time for).  Soak up some hot waters - even the "pools" are like spas.  And catch some concerts, and if you're into it, the late night party scene.  Also, if you want there to be "big stuff going on", come either during 1 may (world workers' day), 17 june (independence day), menningarnott (culture night), verslunarmannahelgi (merchants' weekend), or hinsegin dagar (gay pride).  Massive fests going on during those times, especially the latter three.  Things start to really green in may, lupine blooms june to july, blueberries and other berries in august, other berries persist and mushrooms start in September.  Longest day is the end of June, hottest weather is late July.  Rental prices drop after Menningarnótt.

    •  Ah, be sure to try hákarl, though probably in a (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JamesGG, Aunt Pat, martyc35

      small sample first. Despite this being rather accurate in my opinion (and I have very wide, often to my grandkids "disgusting," tastes) it is worth the experience. Just be sure to have the akvavit on hand.

      The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

      by pelagicray on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 09:33:50 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  What a wonderful diary! (8+ / 0-)

    I loved every bit of it.

    I was reminded of a skit on In Living Color where the camp counselors were calling out the kids names and they became increasingly ridiculous as they got to "Vagina" as a girl's name.

    Tracy B Ann - technically that is my signature.

    by ZenTrainer on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 08:54:15 AM PST

  •  I seem to remember (11+ / 0-)

    that in New Zealand people were naming their children such outlandish names that the court stepped in and would not allow at least one child to have the name the parents chose.  I don't remember what the name was.  It was more like a ridiculous sentence.  I'm pretty sure Fox News had nothing to say on that case at all.

  •  This brings back memories... (14+ / 0-)

    No, I haven't been to Iceland, and I don't speak Icelandic, but...

    Too many years ago, when I was a grad student, I travelled to Argentina, Antarctica and Spitzbergen while working on my Ph. D.  I could get by in Argentina and in the Argentine portion of Antarctica with my high-school Spanish, and it improved while I was there.  We worried how we would get by in Norway, and in the Norwegian portions of Spitzbergen.  To our surprise, it turned out that virtually every Norwegian spoke English!  They told us that English is taught in elementary school, and that in high school, all Norwegians learn another language.  Swedish doesn't count, as it's identical to Norwegian when written, and only pronounced a little differently.

    At the time, most Norwegians we met loved American country and western music, and one artist, Bjorn Anderson sang traditional American Western songs, translated into Norwegian, except for the "whuppy-ti-yi yippe-yippy-yay, yippe-yay" of "The Old Chisolm Trail"

    I did learn some geographic names, as the names of map features include what type of feature it is.  it helped when the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted - "island mountain glacier", since I could translate it and pronounce it.

    Kidding aside, I hope the committee can work out something for Blær, other than calling her "Girl"

    The Scout Law (trustworthy, loyal, helpful...) is a GREAT liberal manifesto.

    by DaytonMike on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 09:04:26 AM PST

  •  Standing ovation! (19+ / 0-)

    Your explanation is lovely, and these are very, very difficult matters to explain.

    Of course, as an Anglophone, and an American one, I'm all for permissive, even slatternly languages, but everything you wrote was clear, comprehensible, and easy.

    The only thing you might want is that the ligature ae was "ash" in Old English, and, although the letter went away, the vowel did not.

    Bat, fat, hat, that, and even apple -- all use a different a than the European alpha. For Americans, it's a mid-a-e. The British upper classes move it more toward alpha. The Australians move it more toward e. South Africans split the difference between Australians and Americans. How different groups pronounce an ash is one of the clearest dialect markers we have, so the vowel is not only present, it's important, and we are very, very jealous in protecting it.

    People complain about dirt, but I'd like to see them make some.

    by The Geogre on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 09:08:55 AM PST

    •  Another thing people, including officials, here (11+ / 0-)

      rarely realize is that accent marks or lack of them can change the meaning of a non-English word or even name. The accent mark is a spelling issue so just dropping it is equivalent to changing "Johnny" to "Johnnie" on an official form.

      The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

      by pelagicray on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 09:42:10 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yeah... and we're the side that has to deal (5+ / 0-)

        with the screwups from overseas when people try to apply their naming conventions onto us.  If someone sends us a package to "13 Odinsgotu" instead of "Óðinsgötu 13", our post office still has to do their best to get it to the right place.  Yet if we want to send something to the US, we have to spell it all out in proper US form.  If I address a letter to "Elmstreet 42, 77346 Humble Texas, Bandaríkin", it's probably not going to get to its destination.  :Þ

        •  One of my favorites: (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          A common blunder, particularly in Brazil where coconut water is very common along with other coconut products is:

          coco: coconut
          cocô: excrement (shit)

          Just a slight hesitation or uneven run through the two "co" sounds and coconut turns to crap. It is a very common blunder with many a foreigner ordering "crap" or "shit water" which is the cause of much amusement and source of jokes.

          Of course some of the funniest, at times unfunny, blunders can just be between our "degraded colonial English" and the "mother tongue"!

          The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

          by pelagicray on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 01:43:26 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Haha... (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            pelagicray, DarkLadyNyara, Ahianne

            a more tame "foreigner joke" here in Iceland pertains around the fact that there are very complex declensions for the numbers 1-4, but starting with 5 (fimm) it gets simple.  An immigrant walks into a store and wants to buy... oh, let's just say, four pencils.

            "Ég vil kaupa... um.... um... fjórir blýanta."
            "... ha?"
            "Úff.... um... ég vil kaupa... fjórar blýanta?"
            "Fjögur?  Fjórum?"  
            "Vil kaupa fjöggura blýanta?"
            "... ha?"
            ".... hmm...   ... Okei, ég vil kaupa fimm blýanta."
            "Gerðu svo vel!"

  •  to add (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    lonespark, Aunt Pat, martyc35, FarWestGirl

    I actually hadnt known about that story before this diary! It is a nonstory here in Holland (not reported - though now it will be, because they slavishly copy American news here).

    but I had my own little run in with this issue recently: a colleague of me at work is pregnant with a girl, and in the early times of her pregnancy we sometimes referred to her baby as "the Thing" (derived from some lunchtime talk involving the movie Alien), so after awhile when the time came to talkabout names I suggested she should call her Thing, but then my colleague got mad at me and I had to make excuses.

    thanks much for the diary :)

  •  Since this is about language: "criteria" is the (12+ / 0-)

    plural of "criterion," just as "phenomena" is the plural of "phenomenon" and "automata" is the plural of "automaton."  These words are all derived from Greek.

    So I'm giving you an A+ for content and an A- for grammar.

    --Your high-school English teacher

  •  That's fairly common in Europe (5+ / 0-)

    Germany, for example, has a list of acceptable/approved names - if your preferred name isn't on the list, tough shit.

    •  And Denmark too! (8+ / 0-)
      While other Scandinavian countries, and some like France, have similar laws, Denmark's is the strictest. So strict that the Danish Ministry of Justice is proposing to relax the law to reflect today's Denmark, a place where common-law marriage is accepted, immigration is growing and divorce is routine. The measure, which would add names to the official list, is scheduled for debate in Parliament in November.

      "The government, from a historical point of view, feels a responsibility towards its weak citizens," said Rasmus Larsen, chief adviser at the Ministry for Ecclesiastical Affairs, discussing the law. "It doesn't want to see people put in a situation where they can't defend themselves. We do the same in traffic; we have people wear seat belts."

      People expecting children can choose a pre-approved name from a government list of 7,000 mostly West European and English names - 3,000 for boys, 4,000 for girls.

      Picked baby's name? Not so fast, in Denmark
  •  Ironically, those complaining about this issue... (19+ / 0-)

    the loudest are in the same "English Only" crowd that would scream if someone attempted to get a non-english alphabet accepted in common practice.

    Tax and Spend I can understand. I can even understand Borrow and Spend. But Borrow and give Billionaires tax cuts? That I have a problem with.

    by LiberalCanuck on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 09:19:44 AM PST

  •  Great diary. Language preservation is important. (13+ / 0-)

    There are lots of little languages all across the world that deserve preservation. Thanks for helping us understand some of the issues here.

    Also, you mentioned Nordic letters, and this Norwegian Music Video on the subject is hilarious. It does have some profanity though, fair warning.

    An Fhirinn an aghaidh an t'Saoghail. (The truth against the world.) Is treasa tuath na tighearna. (The common people are mightier than the lords.)

    by OllieGarkey on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 09:20:52 AM PST

    •  Profanity or not (11+ / 0-)

      It was funny, entertaining and educational and both guys were nice to look at. Glad you posted it.

      Also reminder that our attitude towards foreign languages is absolutely abysmal. How many Americans could come across as native speakers of some other language? How many would even want to?

      If we weren't in the business of aggressively exporting every single aspect of our culture we'd be in serious trouble the moment we entered a non-English-speaking nation.

    •  Funny (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      FarWestGirl, OllieGarkey

      BTW, the son I reference in a comment above has an 'ø' in his name. No one can pronounce it properly, they simply pronounce it as an 'o'.

      Paranoia strikes deep. Into your life it will creep. It starts when you're always afraid. You step out of line, the man come and take you away. - S. Stills

      by ask on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 10:04:02 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Is one name really going to destroy Icelandic? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Cynical Copper

      I don't mind language preservation in the abstract, and I understand that it's important from a historical, cultural, anthropological, scientific (etc.) point of view, but really? The damage that allowing people to choose a non-gender-traditional name is going to do to the language is really THAT bad? Bad enough to deny them that right? If this was an openly non-traditionally-gender-identified person, I think we'd all be singing a different tune around here. Regardless of that though, let people choose their own names, jeez. Seriously, we're arguing that an inconvenient grammatical construct might be made slightly more confusing in a tiny subset of conversations.

      "I wish you luck on not hating your parents for mixing up such an unthinkable person." --The frickin´ HP--

      by McWaffle on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 12:25:44 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Really think it's just about one name? (5+ / 0-)

        The debate is specifically about Blær, but more in general over the mannanafnaskrá in general.  Whether Iceland protects the declineability of names and protects children from being given mean names by their parents, or whether it gives up on them.  It's not about one person

        And as mentioned, it's not at all about "non-gender-traditional" names.  You're once again applying the US perspective.  It's not about a name being "traditionally masculine".  It's a masculine noun.  That's a different thing, and one that does not have an direct analogy to English.  To give a sense of what it's like to mix genders, look at my examples of "flock of lawyers" or "wastepaper cylinder" or "He is Mrs. Smith" to get a sense of how screwed up it sounds.

        Like it or non, in Icelandic we have genders for everything.  "Have you seen my-masculine blue-masculine car-definite-masculine?  He's beside the white-feminine fence-feminine.  I had her built to make it easier to see where to park him when he comes home at night."  Stuff like that.   If you mix-and-match them, it just sounds screwed up as if you mix-and-match the words in my English examples.

        •  Who cares if it sounds screwed up? (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Really. It might make grammar difficult/confusing/impossible in the subset of circumstances where you refer to that person by name. Is that a good reason to disallow people to be named that thing? I'm sorry, but preservation of a convoluted grammatical construct is NOT sufficient grounds to deny somebody the name they choose.

          "I wish you luck on not hating your parents for mixing up such an unthinkable person." --The frickin´ HP--

          by McWaffle on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 12:57:16 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  the artist (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            formerly known as prince

            •  An interesting example here, actually. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              I can't imagine he was actually able to change his name to an image, legally/technically speaking. Did he legally change it to "the artist formally known as Prince".

              But that name is exceedingly complicated beyond grammar issues. I'm not certain how I feel about it.

              "I've got a new student here, 'the artist formally known as Prince'"

              "I'll put him on the roster. How do you spell that?"

              "First, draw a vertical line...."

              "I wish you luck on not hating your parents for mixing up such an unthinkable person." --The frickin´ HP--

              by McWaffle on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 01:38:11 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  I believe that was never a legal name change (0+ / 0-)

              so much as a stage name that Prince asked the public to call him. I mean, Prince was never his full legal name in the first place, right? He'd already done work under a number of pseudonyms. Pseudonyms are, by definition, not legally binding as a name.

          •  Agreed (2+ / 0-)

            If English had these convolutions, would you give any weight to the fact that the terminology "his husband" and "her wife" would be similarly "screwed up"?

            To paraphrase a wise hippie troublemaker, language is made for man, not man for language.

            On the Internet, nobody knows if you're a dog... but everybody knows if you're a jackass.

            by stevemb on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 05:59:20 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Actually, Icelandic has no problem with that (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              A guy can say "maðurinn minn" (fig. "my husband)" or a girl "konan mín" (fig. "my wife") just fine.  But "maðurinn mín" and "konan minn" are completely wrong, no matter who says them.  It's a problem of grammar, not gender role norms.

              Actually, though, kinda amusing anecdote on this front.  I was at a dinner on New Years Eve with a friend and her family.  Her semi-elderly mother was at the table near me and she and my friend were talking about a guy they know who, I gather from context, is gay.  Anyway, the mother is talking about them and we suddenly hear about how "kærastan hans" lives with him.  In a nominative  context, kærasta means "girlfriend", instead of kærasti which means boyfriend".  My friend seems troubled by what appears to be her mother's either refusal to accept that he's gay or referring to a boyfriend as a "girlfriend" just because it's a gay couple.  She spends almost a minute trying to get her mother to use the right terms... before it becomes clear is that the problem is simply "brottfall", or the blending of words together in speech! Both "kærastinn hans" and "kærastan hans" blend together into a single "kærastans" sound which - unfortunately - sounds more like "kærastan hans"!

          •  It seems to me it's something for the people in (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            mahakali overdrive

            Iceland to decide, not something for those of us in the U.S. to decide.

        •  Wouldn't a mix-up in declension also sometimes (0+ / 0-)

          make it hard for people to understand what's being said?

      •  I think that if it were an issue about a (7+ / 0-)

        Genderqueer person changing their name, the Icelanders wouldn't have a problem with it. My understanding is that they're so permissive that even the Scandinavians think they're getting a bit carried away with personal liberty.

        It's not about being Gender-Traditional.

        The only reference point I've got for this is Gaidhlig. There is not a word for "yes" or "no" in Gaidhlig. The concept of a yes or no question does not exist. And their words for things are quite different. The gaidhlig word for Spider is "The Little Stag that Hunts."

        It is a different way of conceiving reality.

        English is kind of a Mongrel language, and that's great. I like the language. It's the only one I speak well. But as a medium of communication it has a way of oversimplifying things that isn't helpful. The circumstance here is one of those cases where it's very hard to communicate what's wrong with the name.

        A better example of a similar name problem are the names Ladynasty and Shithead. La Dynasty and Shi Thead, but they get read as Lady Nasty and Shit Head.

        I've met someone name LaDynasty, and a friend of mine, a neo-natal nurse, convinced a woman not to name her son Shithead. That's the best example I can think of, and even then, it doesn't come close to dealing with the complexities of the issue. The diarist does that well.

        An Fhirinn an aghaidh an t'Saoghail. (The truth against the world.) Is treasa tuath na tighearna. (The common people are mightier than the lords.)

        by OllieGarkey on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 01:16:39 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Their democracy has survived 1000 years. Ours is (15+ / 0-)

    already failing after 235.

    Who are we to criticize them?

  •  Interesting (5+ / 0-)

    Are there any gender-neural names?

    The only time I've had to deal with Icelandic is when the volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted and I was trying to pronounce it.

    •  I hate to say it (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Wee Mama, schnecke21, trumpeter, Chi, LeighAnn

      I couldn't wrap my American tongue around that name, so I started calling the volcano "Steve."

      That was a comment on my lack of linguistic skills and not on Icelandic naming conventions.  I'm sure "Mount Ranier" would throw most Icelanders.

      (-6.25, -6.77) Moderate left, moderate libertarian

      by Lonely Liberal in PA on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 10:14:58 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Not that hard. (8+ / 0-)

        It's just a compound word.  

        Eyja (island)
        Fjalla (mountain)
        Jökull (glacier)

        Just say one word after the other.

        Super-duper-hasty Pronunciation Guide:
        J is like y in english.
        LL is a lateral-plosive tongue click kind of like "tl" (pressure builds up then pops to the sides of your tongue)
        Ö is like the u in "duck".  Mostly.
        U is kind of like the i in "pig", said with rounded lips.

        Unfortunately, contrariwise examples are hard to come by because most Icelanders speak excellent English  ;)

  •  Thanks for this (7+ / 0-)

    I've always enjoyed your summaries of Icelandic customs and history. This was no exception.

  •  Iceland doesn't ask much of its people. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Aunt Pat, NonnyO, zinger99, Chi

    Even in crisis it's a great place to be born.  Given the challenges of keeping Icelandic viable for future generations, I think making people pick their names off a list is an acceptably small burden.

    You know, I sometimes think if I could see, I'd be kicking a lot of ass. -Stevie Wonder at the Glastonbury Festival, 2010

    by Rich in PA on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 09:29:58 AM PST

  •  I read this on yahoo, i was hoping you would (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Aunt Pat, FarWestGirl

    write about it. thanks for the interesting diary.

    "Let us never forget that doing the impossible is the history of this nation....It's how we are as Americans...It's how this country was built"- Michelle Obama

    by blueoregon on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 09:31:21 AM PST

  •  Fair points, but I think you're overstating (4+ / 0-)

    the linguistic problems of noun gender, especially here:

    One could take a different route and decide, "okay, blær can also be feminine now". That we're going to change this word and make up a new declension for it. Okay, so now people are not only supposed to learn the new declension for her, but we're going so far as to say that all software that has to deal with declensions has now to determine from context or other data whether it's the normal Blær, or just this one particular girl.
    I don't see why this is an issue at all: Icelandic is far from the only heavily declined language in the world, but other languages don't seem to have a problem admitting foreign or undeclinable names into their inventory.   From the cultural preservation side of things, yes, I understand the argument - but not from the linguistic or easily resolved software side of things.   Neither of those are real issues, nor is the problem of potential gender queering.  

    Easy case in point: the Icelandic word for President is forseti, a masculine word, no?  Even when it's applied to a female president?  The Icelandic language didn't crumble in linguistic confusion, because gender flexibility is already built into certain aspects of the language.  The software survived, too.

    The other points are stronger arguments - that parents don't own their children, and that Iceland is in danger of losing its cultural heritage.  'Tho I'd point out that linguistic preservationism rarely works, and is unlikely to have much of an effect in the long run.  Even more powerful institutions like the Académie française have had to watch their influence and power wane in the new global environment.  

    More typically these things happen in waves: some generations don't care much about their heritage, and others pine for it.  Culture is a living organism, not an object preserved in amber.  Government policy, however well meaning, can't control language for long.

    Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

    by pico on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 09:31:41 AM PST

    •  You're mixing up concepts. (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      sfbob, surfbird007, cpresley, lotlizard, NonnyO
      Easy case in point: the Icelandic word for President is forseti, a masculine word, no?  Even when it's applied to a female president?
      The president's name is not forseti.  You decline the job and any adjectives or pronouns in reference to it as masculine.  You decline their name and any adjectives or pronouns that refer to them as feminine.  Really quite simple.  There's also placeholder words for things whose gender has not yet been determined by the sentence structure - for example, „Þetta er góð bók“ - This/that is a good book.  Book is feminine.  Good is declined, thusly, as feminine.  But the object in question hasn't been determined at the start of the sentence - you use þetta as an indeterminate pronoun placeholder, which is neuter, instead of þessi, which is feminine.

      The analogy to using a masculine name for a woman would be „Þetta er góð bíll“ (bíll = masculine = car), which totally doesn't work.  You just don't mix up genders on descriptive words with what they're describing.

      •  No, I'm not mixing up concepts. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        mahakali overdrive

        I'm saying that the Icelandic language is built to handle gender confusion in a way that you're rejecting as impossible.  Take your example:

        You decline the job and any adjectives or pronouns in reference to it as masculine.  You decline their name and any adjectives or pronouns that refer to them as feminine.
        Up the ante: what if the subject of your sentence is "President Vigdis" (Vigdís forseti).  Masculine title, feminine name.  Does that subject take masculine or feminine governance of other parts of speech in the sentence?  What about forseti when the implied subject is female?  Did it cause confusion about whether Vigdis was really a woman?  Of course not.

        Grammatical gender is not the same as human gender, and people can hold the concept of a masculine title with an implied feminine subject just fine.  There is no reason why names can't do the same thing, and indeed they do in other inflected languages.  That's why I'm arguing that this line of defense is not very convincing.

        Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

        by pico on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 10:05:06 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Agreed, although I tipped this diary (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          pico, FarWestGirl, NonnyO

          simply because it's interesting. I did also stub my toe a bit on that specific part for the same precise reasons about noun genders and how languages deal with these. Le chat, Mary, can still be Mary, the female cat (with a masculine pronoun). Likewise, a word introduced newly into a language oughtn't cause too much trouble unless it really causes the rest of the syntax to change its meaning, and even if it does, even if the syntax becomes slightly anomalous in one case, that's going to be evident to a native speaker and will be adjusted for. I know we have things like this in English and just can't think of an example right now. Well, some of our noncount nouns can get funky with why they don't take certain articles, and I can't think which, but I know when I tutor non-native speaking students, I resort to saying "This one is just idiomatic, so you'll have to just remember this."

          I guess that's what I'm getting to: idiomatic use.

          Otherwise though, really interesting diary. I adore Iceland. Language preservation is a fool's errand and yet the errand only of the noblest and best sorts of fools. Language is always shaped by circumstance and time like wind through desert valleys. I haven't yet read the story which this originated from either.

          Click the ♥ to join us on the Black Kos front porch to review news & views written from a black pov - everyone is welcome.

          by mahakali overdrive on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 11:49:25 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  It reminds me a bit of the old riddle/joke (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            mahakali overdrive, FarWestGirl

            about the father who takes his son to the emergency room, and the doctor says, "I can't possibly operate on him, because he's my son!" (because the doctor is his mother, and lol lady doctors)  Granted that's a social stereotype rather than a linguistic one.

            Agreed on everything you wrote.

            Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

            by pico on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 01:04:58 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  Mix-and-match (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            lotlizard, PJEvans

            "Le chat, Mary, can still be Mary, the female cat (with a masculine pronoun)."

            I don't speak French, so I'll make these assumptions:

            Le: Masculine article
            Chat: Cat, masculine

            In Icelandic, the equivalents are:

            Köttur (cat, also masculine)
            Kötturinn (the cat)

            If you have a female cat named Mary, and you wanted to write, "Mary is good, she's a sweet cat", you'd write „Mary (F) er ("is") góð (F), hún (F) er ("is") sætur (M) köttur (M). “

            What you can't do is stuff like:

            „Mary (F) er ("is") góður (M), hún (F) er ("is") sæt (F) köttur (M). “

            That's totally wrong.  Do you see the difference?  You can't mix and match.  Nouns have gender.  Anything that modifies said noun has to match it.  Nouns don't change gender just because you're declaring one to be an instance of another.  All words which describe each noun continue to match each noun in gender (and case, and number, and strength, and comparative status...)

            •  Won't anyone please think of the poor grammarians? (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              mahakali overdrive

              ...but...but...but... it would sound wrong to decline the words in one way rather than the other! Monocles fall into champagne flutes across the whole island! Heavens forbid!

              "I wish you luck on not hating your parents for mixing up such an unthinkable person." --The frickin´ HP--

              by McWaffle on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 01:22:47 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  It's probably not coming from grammarians (0+ / 0-)

                or elitists. I'm a "grammarian." I recognize the instability implicit in language in use and motion for this reason. There are no languages which don't adapt any more than there are animals who don't adapt to their environments, biologically, over time or due to circumstance.

                It's a nationalist-based ideology which requests language purity. Whether that's good or bad, morally or ethically, is totally up for grabs and depends on any one persons' perspectives. I know that I would never tell Icelanders what they should and shouldn't say. I do see here in this story that there is already a tension between Icelanders, one of whom is suing the Government for recognition of her name. Thus our discussion of any of this. Again, what's right for Iceland is really not for me to judge.

                But in terms of the grammatical viability of this, I do feel qualified to weigh in.

                Click the ♥ to join us on the Black Kos front porch to review news & views written from a black pov - everyone is welcome.

                by mahakali overdrive on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 01:52:20 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

            •  I'm trained as a Linguist (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              McWaffle, FarWestGirl

              I'm not able to follow what you're saying here.

              I don't speak Icelandic. But I do understand how language works. It's often idiomatic or violates syntactic, or even morphological or phonological precepts. There are literally thousands and thousands of variations here in languages. This is what idiomatic use is by definition (I don't mean to use the term to mean "a phrase which sounds funny when translated out of the language" which is the other use of the term; I'm using this to mean anomalous linguistic usage): use that doesn't follow general "grammar rules" but does occur nonetheless in specific instances.

              What I see you describing, let me see... Mary (noun, gendered) is (verb) good (adjective, gendered to match noun), she (pronoun, gendered to match noun) is (verb) (a -- article not used in Icelandic) sweet (adjective, gendered to match noun) cat (noun, gendered).

              That's not a complicated syntactic construction to read. It's the same in French translation: Mary est bon.  

              That's: Mary (noun, gendered -- female) est (verb) bon (adjective, gendered -- male).

              Am I missing something here? Mary is a good cat, in French, has apparently the same linguistic gendering issues and yet these are idiomatically accepted even though they "sound wrong." Nouns often need to match the gender of an adjective in many languages. Sometimes other things, such as an article (as with German) will have to likewise match genders. That does not mean that there are not exceptions. Grammar is not fascism. It's a basic way to structure a language and even in the strictest languages, these rules are broken. I assure you. If I go look for pre-existing examples of Icelandic idiomatic or anomalous grammatical use at the semantico-syntactic level, it shouldn't be hard to find at all. So this strikes me as nothing but an ideological imposition. Well, that also happens in many, many countries which carefully monitor language purity -- France does this, for example. But is it nationalist? Absolutely. Is it due to Linguistic inflexibility? Absolutely not. It can't be. Linguistics specifically permit for violability of previous grammatical rules.

              Click the ♥ to join us on the Black Kos front porch to review news & views written from a black pov - everyone is welcome.

              by mahakali overdrive on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 01:48:23 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  The whole point of th "Mary is a good cat" example (0+ / 0-)

                is that it's a correct sentence.  Because mary and cat are two separate nouns.  Feminine adjectives describe Mary, masculine adjectives describe cat.  Cat and Mary do not, and cannot, need to match each other.

                The problem arises when you try to make adjectives and pronouns not match the noun they modify.

                Oh, and French doesn't do a tenth the linguistic purity effort Icelandic does.  It gets way too much credit for this.  Random example: what's the word for telephone in French?

                •  This doesn't follow how language works though (0+ / 0-)

                  "Correct" sentences don't exist. There is no such thing as a "correct" sentence. There is a socially-agreed-upon sentence. In Linguistics, we allow for this "non-matching" quality. These are called "deviations." I've already said this so I don't care to repeat myself in that I don't believe this to even be an arguable topic on these grounds; we could also argue 1+1=3 but that wouldn't make it real or a worthwhile argument.

                  So in terms of Linguistics, this is again not a problem. Those saying otherwise are incorrect.

                  Since I work with non-native English speakers on a regular basis, let me assure you that the confusion about gender agreement in language is exceedingly minimal. I regularly since sentences from students of English like "The woman, he is going to the store," and these are not terrifically confusing sentences for a reader since obviously there is just a minor moment of pronoun deviation. With declensions, it's going to have the same basic impact.

                  I agree with this statement perfectly, moreover:


                  It is pretty dead-on.

                  Click the ♥ to join us on the Black Kos front porch to review news & views written from a black pov - everyone is welcome.

                  by mahakali overdrive on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 02:47:11 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Correct sentences (0+ / 0-)

                    ""Correct" sentences don't exist. There is no such thing as a "correct" sentence"

                    There are sentences that sound right and sentences that sound bloody wrong.  And yes, "The woman, he is going to the store" sounds bloody wrong.  It's clearly a mistake and you know what they mean, but it still sounds all wrong.

                    Now imagine someone suing to force the government of a country trying to preserve an under-threat language to make it so that the official standard way to refer to her daughter is of the same effect as,  "The woman, he is going to the store"

                    Now, from what was pointed out by me in one comment thread, based on a message I found from her from 2006, she's wanting to literally change a little piece the language to avoid said  gender confusion instead.  She wants there to be a special extra declension for the word Blær for her daughter, so that Blær is almost always masculine, except when her daughter or a couple other rare cases are involved.  And concerning that declension, notably, the Icelandic media covering the story hasn't used it, as far as I've seen - they've been treating her name as undeclineable.  As if they'd know her special-case declension!  As if anyone would without having to be told.

                    •  You aren't listening to my words (0+ / 0-)

                      Good evening.

                      I've retracted my tip and rec from your diary, sorry, which is something I rarely do. I look forward to visiting Iceland next year, however.

                      Enjoy your evening, truly.

                      On this, I, as a trained Linguist, will simply have to disagree.

                      And from what I discern, ethically, I will also choose to disagree on the basis of my opposition to nationalism.

                      I'm sure I'll enjoy your next diary. They're usually some of the most wonderful diaries on this site. Thank you for diarying here.

                      Click the ♥ to join us on the Black Kos front porch to review news & views written from a black pov - everyone is welcome.

                      by mahakali overdrive on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 10:16:58 PM PST

                      [ Parent ]

                    •  Isn' t it all about the declensions? (0+ / 0-)

                      The more I listen to this, the more it seems that gender has nothing to do with it, but rather that the parents are specifying not just the nominative case of the name, but also three oblique cases that do not match the normal declension of that word.

                      Extreme example:  Suppose my mother had come to Iceland, gave birth to me, and was so proud of her Hungarian heritage that she chose to name me Robi with Hungarian declensions ... Robi - Robit - Robinak.   Not a gender issue at all since Robi is presumably perfectly good masculine name.  The only issue is the irregular declensions.

                      Am I missing something?

                •  Quebec actually protects French more than France (0+ / 0-)

                  A stop sign in Paris says "STOP."  But not in Quebec. (Arrêt)

                  Self-described political "centrists" believe the best policy is halfway between right and wrong. — @RBReich via web

                  by BentLiberal on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 11:12:18 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

        •  Once again, you're mixing things up. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Forseti is not an adjective.  It's a noun.  Nouns have their own gender.  It's independent.  Things in the sentence which describe forseti are masculine.  Things in the sentence which describe Vigdís are feminine.

          Here, let me demonstrate.

          "My dear Vigdís was an awesome president."

          „Vigdís mín var æðislegur forseti.“

          To annotate that:

          „Vigdís(F) mín(F) var("was") æðislegur(M) forseti(M).“

          See how it works?  It's not a complicated rule.  It is, and it always has been part of the language.  Now, THIS is totally screwed up:

          „Vigdís(F) minn(M) var("was") æðisleg(F) forseti(M).“

          And this sort of thing is what we're talking about when you use a masculine noun as a feminine name.

          And by the way, want to see a real-world example?  

          "Já nei takk.. vil bara hafa Vigdísi Finnbogadóttir þarna, mér fannst hún æðislegur forseti": "Yeah, no thanks... just want to have Vigdís Finnbogadóttir (F) there, I found her (F) to be an awesome (M) president (M)."

          •  No, you're misreading me. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            McWaffle, mahakali overdrive

            I know foresti is a noun.  I know it's masculine.  That's why I picked it in the first place, to show you that grammar and human gender have no problem contradicting each other.  Just because forseti takes a masculine adjective doesn't mean you're confused about the Vigdis' gender.

            Neither Icelandic nor any other inflected language is that rigid.  A given sentence may cause momentary grammatical confusion, but it doesn't cause confusion about human gender.  That's why the alleged queering effect of grammatically non-feminine names for girls is not convincing to me at all.  

            That is the point I've been trying to make.  This idea that speakers won't know what to do with a female Blær, even though they maneuver just fine with a female forseti, is not at all convincing. (Especially since everyone's been calling the girl Blær for the last 15 years without a problem, and Blær has apparently been a popular nickname for girls ever since the publication of Brekkukotsannáll.)

            So yeah, I find this particular argument - that the language/software would find it too confusing - to be ridiculous.

            Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

            by pico on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 01:46:41 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  I'm through trying to explain this to you. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              To sum up for everyone else: Nouns don't modify each other's gender.  They have their own gender.  Always.  Adjectives and pronouns do not.  They take the noun they modify's gender.  When they don't - when you start using feminine pronouns to modify a masculine noun - that's when things break and you get results that sound like, in English, "He is Mrs. Smith"

              And the fact that the case system has been slowly breaking down is nothing to cheer about.  The "flattening" of cases isn't just eappening with newly imported names, but even traditional nouns, most notably in the increasing instances of dropping of an -i in þagufall masculine.

              Blær may have a case in her particular instance; it's hard to say.  But this isn't just about her.  It's a much broader issue.

              •  *Sigh*. You're talking right past me, anyway. (3+ / 0-)

                So... Moving on:

                On this:

                And the fact that the case system has been slowly breaking down is nothing to cheer about.
                Why?  You know it's the natural progression of modern, inflected languages to simplify over time, right?  What's happening in Icelandic now is not much different than what happened in the rest of Europe: English lost nearly all of its oblique cases; German is down to four cases and has essentially lost any gender in the plural; Russian shed an entire chunk of its case system (dual), eliminated vocative, etc.  This isn't just about modern globalization, given that these processes go back to medieval culture.  It's actually one of the unsolved mysteries of linguistics that inflected systems became so complicated in the first place, because even in isolated environments the tendency has been toward simplification for the last thousand years or so.

                I do understand language preservation as a cultural, nationalistic policy.  Heck, one day I may write a diary about how mass-market culture has essentially eliminated the jargon my parents and grandparents grew up with in the linguistically bizarre mix that is southern Louisiana.  But the whole kerfuffle over Blær is silly, and it highlights how blindly rigid policies end up putting false barriers around natural linguistic processes that, truth be told, are going to win in the long run anyway.   Blær will still be Blær to her friends and family, none of them are having a linguistic freakout over alleged genderqueering in grammar, and it's only the ideologues who are wringing their hands over this.

                Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

                by pico on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 03:51:56 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Off Topic - Zeitoun (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  Hi Pico, been meaning to ask you if you read Zeitoun by Dave Eggers.

                  Self-described political "centrists" believe the best policy is halfway between right and wrong. — @RBReich via web

                  by BentLiberal on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 11:18:38 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  I haven't yet, but it's been recommended to me. (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:

                    Did you like it?

                    Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

                    by pico on Sat Jan 05, 2013 at 12:32:29 AM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  I did like it when I read it. (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:

                      It seemed to me that it captured a lot of good things ("good") about Katrina and that time in New Orleans. That's the opinion of a non-local, of course.

                      (The next paragraph is purposely oblique)

                      However, right after I read the book -- I did some googling on the main character (it's non-fiction). And I found some news accounts about the main character, which occurred after the book was written. And those news accounts really made me think twice about the whole book - it makes you question it a little.

                      The reason I'm being vague is I wanted to give you the chance to read the book without reading the news stories first! Reading them would have somewhat of a spoiler effect.

                      I still think it was a good story - and I'd venture you might too.

                      Self-described political "centrists" believe the best policy is halfway between right and wrong. — @RBReich via web

                      by BentLiberal on Sat Jan 05, 2013 at 12:47:21 AM PST

                      [ Parent ]

          •  In Iceland, do they use nouns as titles the way we (0+ / 0-)

            do?  In other words, would they ever say President ?

            •  In what context? (0+ / 0-)

              Like "President Obama"?  Yeah, "Obama forseti".  But since they're both nouns, they don't care about each other's gender.  Nouns have genders.  Adjectives and pronouns are objects which describe or stand in for nouns, and take their genders.  Adverbs, which describe verbs and adjectives, are undeclined.  

              English only has a bit of this "things have to match" stuff, but one can point to cases where they do to see what it sounds like when you screw up: "This girls is here."  Here we're mismatching number.  Note how bad that sounds.

              •  Yes, that's what I meant. Thanks. I think (0+ / 0-)

                Daily Kos took off a bit of what I typed, maybe because I used characters that are used for something specific in the software.

                On the "This girls is here," example, I think it's more than sounding bad.  I think it leaves the listener wondering what the speaker meant.  I'm wondering if the potential for misunderstanding and confusion is also a problem with using the wrong kind of name in Icelandic.

                I'm not really good at understanding all the things you wrote in your diary, although I do find it very interesting as far as I'm able to understand it.  I refused to take Latin II in high school after being forced into Latin I in seventh and eighth grades.  I chose French instead because I didn't want to have to suffer through another language with declensions.

                But I'm interested in linguistics and language in general.

                •  Indeed, mismatched words can cause such (0+ / 0-)

                  confusion.  Peoples' minds always do the best they can to figure out what a person meant (taking into account context and whatnot), but the more you screw up how a language is expected to work, the more likely you cause confusion.  I give an example early on of how even using the language right can lead to ambiguity and confusion at times (search for "kærasti").

      •  having met (0+ / 0-)

        several gendered-noun languages, I have the concept as 'adjectives match the gender and case of the noun they're attached to'. Pronouns are messier....

        (FWIW: German, Latin, French, and Spanish, in order of familiarity.)

        (Is it time for the pitchforks and torches yet?)

        by PJEvans on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 08:07:49 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Hehe, in Icelandic... (0+ / 0-)

          adjectives have to match the gender, number, case, strength, and comparative status of their parent.  120 declension forms!  Thankfully many are duplicates and there's only about 10 adjective patterns which are mostly regular.

  •  great read (9+ / 0-)

    If only every journalist would care this much about the things they write, we would have a far more educated population.
    Of course that assumes that same population has enough intellectual curiosity to read well written blogs and articles.

  •  A language with that many rules (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ipsos, FarWestGirl

    suggests to me a culture in which the idea that the common good trumps individual liberty goes back many centuries before the advent of socialism.

    Light is seen through a small hole.

    by houyhnhnm on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 09:49:07 AM PST

    •  It says to me that their communication has (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      developed as flexible and specific, exacting in description and relationships. But that's me, and I'm at least a half bubble off plumb on a pretty regular basis. ;-)

      Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. The Druid

      by FarWestGirl on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 05:29:04 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  This has been changed (0+ / 0-)

    But for a long time, foreigners who settled in Iceland were required to change their name to something traditionally Icelandic.

  •  I dunno (9+ / 0-)

    I am not sure I buy the idea that some percentage of people choosing a non-culturally-or-historically-appropriate name for their child is really going to cause serious damage to cultural or language preservation.

    My kids both have traditional, old-fashioned names and I am actually not personally a fan of the made-up names that are popular right now (Kaeylynne and such), but I can't imagine not supporting those parents' right to give their children those names.

  •  Thanks for this diary (4+ / 0-)

    Very informative.

  •  Thank you for this diary! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    We used to have lists of names in Belgium... They came into existence because of the Catholic Church but were done away with over three decades ago. If parents give their kids offensive names the authorities may try to persuade them to change it on account of child abuse, though. I didn't know these name registers still existed in Iceland and Denmark.

  •  Nothing is permanent (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    McWaffle, wildweasels

    I feel for Iceland in that they want to preserve the language and all of that, but in the end the larger truth is that nothing is permanent.  I think that cataloging and studying traditions is great, but keeping traditional practices alive for the sake of keeping them alive, even when it begins to cause practical problems, is a bit of human weakness, the illusion that anything is permanent.  The fact that software can't be made to comport with this name, etc., means essentially that practical reality has begun to pass the language by.  Language is supposed to be a practical tool, and Icelandic is beginning to show signs of not being a practical tool.  Many, many languages have fallen out of active usage (Latin, for example), because that's what languages do, and it's OK.  Eventually the cost of preserving Icelandic in its pristine state will become prohibitive, and the influx will have to be allowed to happen.  Then we will end up with a modern Icelandic that will better serve its people in the end.

    Another good example of this kind of thing is the British monarchy.  It serves essentially no purpose except to keep alive a historical institution for the sake of keeping it alive.  When we look at the cost of maintaining the monarchy, and we start getting embarrassing tabloid photos of royal family members, etc., Britain has to take a long look at whether the monarchy has outlived its usefulness.  You can guess which way I fall on this.

    I have to say that this is one thing I do like about America as opposed to Europe.  We are captives of our own history to a lesser extent than they are.  

    •  it costs pennies per person per year (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      tommymet, ChurchofBruce, NonnyO, zinger99

      and well spent damn it...

      Look at the world's monarchies; isn't it interesting that so many countries with them are so democratic, peaceful, prosperous, happy etc etc?

      I don't feel the need for any change, thanks.

    •  Do a mind game after considering. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Rei, zinger99, nobody at all, marsanges

      Icelandic is a rather peculiar language, somewhat as if we were a small group still using Old English. That site notes for Icelandic:

      Icelandic is a Northern Germanic language with about 300,000 speakers in Iceland (Ísland), Canada (Kanada) and the USA (Bandaríki Norður-Ameríku). Icelandic is the closest of the Northern Germanic languages to Old Norse and it is possible for Icelandic speakers to read the Old Norse sagas in the original without too much difficulty.
      Suppose a Korean couple with a child born in San Francisco insists that the child must be named "정" because according to Behind the Name-Korean Names "Note that depending on the Korean characters used these names can have many other meanings besides those listed here." and they really want to be clear without the confusion of Romanized "Jong" or "Jung" or "Jeong" (which on the flight manifest to check against "the list"?) Think we are going to allow that? It won't work linguistically for us so, no, I don't think any U.S. birth certificate will be issued for 정.

      We would tell a Korean couple they cannot use 정 as a legal name. It is damned presumptuous, demonstrating cultural chauvinism, to argue a culture of very few people, surviving in a very hostile place and with the world's oldest democracy, that preserving the integrity of their language is any of our business whatsoever.

      The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

      by pelagicray on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 04:15:49 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  For pure legalism... (0+ / 0-)

        ...your point makes sense; if a name can't be accommodated in the current usage, it's a practical matter not to (formally) permit it.  In our case, it wouldn't mean the person's name isn't 정; it's just that we are not able to represent it officially that way as a purely practical matter.  The same appears to be true for this girl's name in Icelandic.  Her parents can call her Blær if they want to, but it can't be legally dealt with that way for purely practical reasons.  

        I'm not really talking about the name part so much in my comment, though.  I'm talking more about the refusal to allow the language to evolve in general.  When I do a quick cost-benefit check of, say, the ability to read the original Beowulf vs. functioning in a modern global society, I would lean toward the latter.  I just think that it's OK to use a word like 'computer' transliterated into Icelandic characters rather than having to call it a spark-light-move-box or whatever they call it after a careful review by some artificial board of linguists.  That reduces it to a contrived sort of Esperanto that eventually becomes impractical and not very useful.

        English certainly could use some cleaning up - I'd be all for making some things more regular - but I guess assembling a language board who makes decrees is not the right way to go about it.  English speakers are always experimenting with such things: "lite" and "nite" for example.  They are used informally for a while, and sometimes eventually they stick, because they just do.  "Traffick" and "publick" lost their k's, because people by mass action over time decided that they should.  Some people like to use "employe" rather than "employee", but that one seems like it will not stick (thank goodness).  Some people were opposed for awhile to nouns like "combat" and "impact" being used as verbs, but people kept using them as verbs because it was useful to do so, and they stuck.  No careful review by a board of scholars decided any of this, and it shouldn't have.  It IS important for the rules and spellings to be standardized, and that's what a group of scholar-observers can and must do, but it's also OK for those things to change by sustained popular will.  

        English's liberal borrowing of words from other languages (especially American English), in my view, doesn't weaken it but in fact strengthens it.  The Japanese came up with "umami", and we just took it up wholesale; we didn't have to change it to "tongue-savory-feel" after assembling a carefully selected advisory committee.  When the Norse gave us "fjord", we took it as "fjord", even though no one had seen "fj" before.  I like the fact that these are left alone, because we get them as new words, but we are also reminded of where we got them from.  Similarly, Icelandic will not go anywhere if they allow some influx of new stuff; in fact, it will likely strengthen the language by making it more flexible.  If it turns out that the complex declension system starts to disappear by sustained popular will, then so be it.

        In any event, you are correct that it is not my business what Iceland does with its language.  I just wanted to express my opinion on it, even though that will not and should not have any force whatsoever in Iceland.

  •  Fascinating (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pelagicray, FarWestGirl, NonnyO

    I enjoyed this. Americans are pretty ignorant of the world around them. I sometimes wonder if that's by design---de Toqueville complained (sort of) about the same thing

    just a little bit bored.

    by terrypinder on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 10:11:20 AM PST

    •  A common trait for large continental states, but (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      we have long seemed to make an art of it. Our "exceptionalism" is not a lot different from China's and we often are shocked by the extent of that.

      We have not been well served by that nearly religious "city on the hill" stuff being used to excuse almost anything. Funny how we condemned empires to become one, particularly in grabbing Spain's former colonies for our own often abusive colonial period.

      We have contributed much, but have also been like the person looking in the mirror admiringly while ignoring the ugly warts. Almost everybody has those, but maybe removal should be considered rather than ignoring.

      The only foes that threaten America are the enemies at home, and those are ignorance, superstition, and incompetence. [Elbert Hubbard]

      by pelagicray on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 04:23:14 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I think it's more related to our sheer size... (0+ / 0-)

      The vast majority of our populace doesn't ever hear voices or languages or points of view that aren't local or at least regional. Unless one lives close to the eastern border of Canada, very few Americans can hear French on the air, even if they look for it. And even down near the southern border the main stations and channels are strictly Anglophone, Spanish language media are separate and easy to ignore, which many Americans do.

      We only hear our own local voices and I think it gives us the subconscious impression that there are no others, just from the sheer lack of anything to the contrary.

      Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. The Druid

      by FarWestGirl on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 05:39:08 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Great diary! Coming from a heritage whose... (13+ / 0-)

    ...language is near the final process of decline (the Creek dialect spoken fluently by just a few hundred Seminoles as older or older than superannuated me), I greatly sympathize with the Icelanders and their mannanafnanefnd. Thanks for this terrific discussion.

    Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

    by Meteor Blades on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 10:19:54 AM PST

  •  And it's not just Iceland ... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Catte Nappe, pelagicray, FarWestGirl
    Denmark, Spain, Germany and Argentina all publish lists of acceptable names from which new mothers and fathers must choose.

    A regular part of the BBC News Magazine, Who, What, Why? aims to answer some of the questions behind the headlines
    In Portugal, the Ministry of Justice's website includes 39 pages of officially-sanctioned names and 41 pages of those which are banned. Included in the latter group are Lolita, Maradona and Mona Lisa. But Portugal is being lobbied to repeal its controls, and four years ago, Norway replaced its own list with a ban on swear and sex words, illnesses and negative names.  LINK BBC News

    And it's rather OLD news ...  the above story is from 2004.

    ( I knew to go looking for this story because, these name regulations have from time to time served religious and nationalist agendas against foreigners. At one time this was particularly Jews -- currently it's Moslems --  )

    And it's not a case of "Anti-YOU, " it's just a case of Pro-US" ... "heritage, not hate, y'know."


  •  Fox is of course being ridiculous (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    -- take any weird-to-Americans cultural concept that happens to be tied to government and infringe on the preferences of an individual and they trot out out the OMGEuropeanSocialism meme like it's their job.  Which it is.

    That said, if it were up to me the girl would certainly get to keep her name.  I think the linguistic issues, while real, don't have to be defining for her as a person (she and her acquaintances will just make up something that works for her) nor likely to undermine the language as a whole.  She's only a single individual.

    Further -- maybe for just this one thing, the language should actually be allowed to be more creative.  Some people actually do have gender-related reasons to refer to themselves by nonstandard name/pronoun/declension combinations.

  •  eignarfall (3+ / 0-)

    For those wondering what eignarfall is, it appears to be the Icelandic word for the case many of us may know as Genitive. It indicates possession. In English, we make the possessive form of nouns by adding apostrophe S (or a variant).

    If you know some German, you may recognize the parts of the word: eign = "ownership" and fall = "case". Or so says Wikipedia.  

    Join the 48ForEastAfrica Blogathon for the famine in east Africa: Donate to Oxfam America

    by JayC on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 10:26:32 AM PST

    •  I prefer to use the Icelandic terms for it (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      FarWestGirl, Cassandra Waites

      for two reasons... one, most people have no clue what genitive is either, so why give them a second word that means nothing to them?  And two, it's not a direct correspondence to possession.  For example, "I miss you (eignarfall)."  "I'm thinking of you (eignarfall)".  "I'm going to you (eignarfall)."  "This is without you (eignarfall)".  Etc.  None of these examples match the concept of "possession".

      But indeed, the word does come from "ownership case", because it is also used for that.  :)

  •  Thanks for the cultural history lesson (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wildweasels, FarWestGirl, NonnyO
  •  I'm so happy with Icelanders (13+ / 0-)

    jailing bankers that I wouldn't argue with them even if it was totalitarian scheme designed to ultimately change my name to Armando!

    "Do what you can with what you have where you are." - Teddy Roosevelt

    by Andrew C White on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 10:31:27 AM PST

  •  Governments always limit freedom for the good (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    misslegalbeagle, wildweasels

    of the people. For the good of the children or the good of the language are bonus arguments. And God knows, maintaining ethnic purity is a good thing.

    One notes Europeans don't have much problem criticizing American mores if it suits their purposes, e.g. "cowboy" as a pejorative, not to mention what constitutes freedom and liberty.

    •  sorry, what is the issue here with (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      trumpeter, zinger99

      'freedom' and 'liberty'?  If you have a point, you may want to make a diary out of it and give us details.

      I am not sure where to consider the the perceived anti-Americanism to which you are objecting here...................

      •  Perhaps you would like to debate the European (0+ / 0-)

        concept of the freedom of self defense, to name one.

        •  I do not presume to comment (0+ / 0-)

          shock horror, Europe is not monolithic.

          We have a common governmental line on very little - no to the death penalty is probably about it.

          I can comment on one view from the UK, yes.

          Self defence - yes, we do that.  Manage very well here - in fact our homicide rate is very low, and you may care to consider reasons for that.  I suppose it might be because we are overall a nicer people, but I have to say that I would be slow to reach that conclusion!  We as a people tend not to kill people; think about reasons why.

    •  Do you have an argument? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Do you think that children are simply their parents property, to do with as they will?

      Do you think that it's not important that names be spellable in your alphabet and be capable of being used in a grammatically-correct manner?

      What's the issue here?

  •  This is tyranny! (5+ / 0-)

    Obviously the US should invade, blow up all the infrastructure, kill a bunch of people in collateral damage, install a crook as a president and give these people their freedom.

  •  USA doesn't ever get bent out of shape about (0+ / 0-)

    This better be good. Because it is not going away.

    by DerAmi on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 11:16:18 AM PST

  •  I agree completely with the majority of posters (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    wildweasels, zinger99

    The fact the Iceland has almost a completely homogenous ethnic, genetic and cultural population that wouldn't even rank it in the top 50 US cities makes this stuff easy. I agree completely with the majority of posters that objecting to  this is only right-wing prevaricating about socialism and totalitarianism and "teh freedumz," which is why I support English as the official language of the US.

    "You can die for Freedom, you just can't exercise it"

    by shmuelman on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 11:25:06 AM PST

  •  Elvis the Red ... a well known viking! (6+ / 0-)

    You have exactly 10 seconds to change that look of disgusting pity into one of enormous respect!

    by Cartoon Peril on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 11:29:55 AM PST

  •  Great diary but I still disagree. (5+ / 0-)

    Yes, saying "He is Mrs. Smith" just sounds wrong because of certain language expectations.  But if a certain person wants to be called "Mrs. Smith" then who cares?  I don't think it screws up the language at all if people decided.

    I openly admit to knowing nothing about Icelandic language, but based on your description it seems more like referring to a girl as "he"...or "guy" which does happen all the time in English.  It is often common to refer to a group of people as "the guys" or "you guys" even if it is a group of women or a group including women.  The language doesn't fall apart because people can look and see who the group is and people who can't don't care because the specific gender make up is likely irrelevant.

    I think that is the issue here.  This idea that giving a girl a boy's name will somehow endanger the language.  I don't believe that because I believe that all languages are flexible and evolve.  Something your own description seems to support considered the influx of non-icelandic names being improved.  

    Just use the name as you normally would if the baby was male and names Blaer.  

    •  It's more than that. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      NonnyO, zinger99

      You keep thinking about it from the American perspective of, "This is a traditional girl's name, this is a traditional boy's name, so what if they want to swap."  In a gendered language, it's not just about "what's traditional".  It means you have to muck up the grammar for every adjective and pronoun in every clause related to her name.  Is it „Ég er að hugsa til Blæs minn“ or „Ég er að hugsa til Blæs mín?"  The former genderqueers a person who doesn't want to be genderqueer (it's saying she's a guy - minn is used with guys), and the latter mixes grammatical genders, making it totally wrong.

      As noted elsewhere in the comments section, I found online how the mother wants to decline it.  She wants to change the declension of the name for her daughter, to avoid this mixed-gender thing.  So that there would be two declensions of Blæs - one only for her daughter, and one for every other instance of the word.  Do you not see an issue with this in terms of linguistic preservation when you start allowing this?

      And I'm not even saying that in this specific case she's inherently wrong.  I'm just saying that it's not as clear-cut as people want to make it out to be.  This is a complicated issue.

      •  It would be confusing to strangers. (3+ / 0-)

        I'll admit that much. But that shouldn't be a barrier. If somebody prefers to be referred to using nontraditional gender pronouns, it's confusing for strangers as well but people get over it (where I live at least).

        And I don't necessarily mean to make it about gender politics again. It's just an example that works somewhat in terms of necessitating unfamiliar uses of language to accommodate personal preferences.

        It's not like they'd actually re-write every government form letter she got in the mail to appropriately match her name. It'd just come out wrong and everybody would understand why and it wouldn't end society.

        But ultimately, she speaks Icelandic, right? Isn't that the critical part in preserving the language? She could legally decide to go around speaking nothing but English until she forgot Icelandic entirely, but I don't think they're making any laws like that.

        "I wish you luck on not hating your parents for mixing up such an unthinkable person." --The frickin´ HP--

        by McWaffle on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 02:23:13 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  What about future girls who like the name? (0+ / 0-)

        I come from the position that all language should evolve.  I don't mean change of lose it's independance.  I know that here in Canada, Quebec wants to keep their language firmly rooted in tradition, and there is a group whose job it is to adapt english words into the language.  This way French keeps its independance, but it adaptable and changes with the world and new words/inventions/brands.

        I would argue that making a new declension for this girls name.  By creating a new declension that is unique, it keeps the language relevant and would apply to all future similar instances when girls want'have names with similar spelling.

        I guess that doesn't really change your position in the sense that creating new declensions would go against preserving the language.  But at the same time I wonder if preserving the language and evolving it need to be so mutually exclusive of can they really be one and the same.  Perhaps languages with too rigid rules are their own worst enemy in the sense that people will move away from it and stop using it.  

        Having said that, I do want to thank you for an interesting and original diary.  This is something I knew nothing about before and I enjoyed reading the background.  It is not often that I get to discuss language on the ol' interwebs.

  •  Interesting diary, but (8+ / 0-)

    this woman is Icelandic, and she is asserting she wants to do this. Why the commenters here seem so eager to dismiss her claims is odd to me. Why is her perspective considered "less Icelandic" than this committee?

    Culture is a moving, fluid thing. All cultures change. Iceland may be isolated, but it is not a museum. And government doesn't control culture (I consider language and culture to be basically the same thing - one can't be divorced from the other.)

    I have a feeling she'll use the name anyway. It's a very small country. It's not like people won't notice. It would be great if she ran into the committee members somewhere and gave them a smile and a wave and used her preferred name to remind them who she is...

    here is a background article for more context.

  •  I'm extremely confused here... (8+ / 0-)

    Are we really invoking cultural relativism as a defense of this? I disagree entirely with the OP and most of the commenters here.

    Now, one can, for reasons related to gender politics, deliberately set out to break the gendered aspect of a language with genderqueering it to the point that nobody knows how to respond. But this is a historic part of the language, and I for one don't want to see the language deliberately undermined.
    Yes, one can deliberately set out ot break the gendered aspect of a language with genderqueering it to the point that nobody knows how to respond! And it sound a lot like one should. Are we really saying that, for the linguistic comfort of language purists, this person shouldn't be allowed to have the name she wants? This is absurd.

    "I wish you luck on not hating your parents for mixing up such an unthinkable person." --The frickin´ HP--

    by McWaffle on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 11:50:16 AM PST

    •  Great. Tell Iceland to change its language. (0+ / 0-)

      And while you're at it, any advice for the Huaorani peoples of the Brazilian rainforests on how they should change their language to meet your particular views on gender politics?

      The crazy thing is that the girl isn't a genderqueer.  She's not trying to mix genders, she's trying to change the language so that her name can be purely feminine.

      •  My point isn't dependent on gender identity. (3+ / 0-)

        And it looks like Icelanders are already telling Iceland to change its language via the lawsuit.

        Call me a radical individualist, but regulating names in an effort to enforce rigid, arbitrary grammar constructs is unnecessarily heavy-handed.

        And I'm not sure what you're going for with the Huaorani peoples. Do they have a centralized name-approval bureaucracy that enforces conformity with arbitrary grammar constructs?

        If so, yeah, obviously I don't think they should do that.

        "I wish you luck on not hating your parents for mixing up such an unthinkable person." --The frickin´ HP--

        by McWaffle on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 02:06:56 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  You said: (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Yes, one can deliberately set out ot break the gendered aspect of a language with genderqueering it to the point that nobody knows how to respond! And it sound a lot like one should.
          Your perspective is clear.  You want to degender someone else's language because it bugs you.  

          Hey, why not just abolish the case system entirely, rename the language "English", and just get it over with?

  •  tiny correction (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    pico, FarWestGirl, Sharon Wraight

    The tiniest possible correction, and of no interest except to etymology nazis and worse (nerds):- "mandl" doesn't look like native Icelandic but rather like a (medieval) loanword from Latin "amandula" (the German "Mandel" certainly is, according to my German etymological dictionary). The Greek for this is "amygdále," also meaning "almond." I'm guessing that the brain part is named for the shape, not for the taste.

    •  Icelandic is a Germanic language. (0+ / 0-)

      They all share a common root.    And yes, the English / international term was taken from the greek.  So there's sort of a looping back around.

      The Icelandic technical terms often have the same meaning as the coined international words, but use Icelandic bases.

  •  Interesting, she's Bjork's daughter (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    McWaffle, pico, Cassandra Waites, stevemb

    who is suing about this.

    She's likely pushing back against the Icelandic sense of cultural insularity given that bit of information and Bjork's famously outspoken perspectives:

    It sounds like Iceland has a tight grip over names. Whether one wants to say that's something to be celebrated as cherished tradition, and whether it's something which the Government ought to have control over, or whether it's something to be rejected as antiquated, and whether it's something more properly held by an individual is an extremely contingent, extremely personal ideological matter which really asks us questions about the role of Socialism vs. Libertarianism as well as tradition vs. progress, in addition to absolute moral relativism.

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    by mahakali overdrive on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 12:00:27 PM PST

    •  So, I've been thinking and this seem a bit too far (5+ / 0-)

      It veers into a sort of Totalitarianism which I'm not personally comfortable advocating for after reading some of the news stories.

      Click the ♥ to join us on the Black Kos front porch to review news & views written from a black pov - everyone is welcome.

      by mahakali overdrive on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 12:01:52 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Oops, sorry, different Bjork (4+ / 0-)

      but here's another story:

      I don't like the idea of outlawing a name like "Satania" because the Government doesn't approve of the ethical -- or religious -- values embedded in a name, and Iceland has, in fact, made that very argument.

      That's not something I find acceptable, ethically.

      Of course, I live in the U.S.; Iceland can do as it pleases.

      Click the ♥ to join us on the Black Kos front porch to review news & views written from a black pov - everyone is welcome.

      by mahakali overdrive on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 12:04:36 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Not correct. (0+ / 0-)
        Government doesn't approve of the ethical -- or religious -- values embedded in a name, and Iceland has, in fact, made that very argument.
        Where do you get that from? This you have invented. I cant find it in the diary or any of the news items.

        What ethical or religious values are embedded in "light breeze"?

        please be careful that your imagination doesnt run away with you.

        •  She's talking about the committee banning (2+ / 0-)

          a name like "Satania" for being too close to "Satan".  That's in the news article; a quote from Agusta Thorbergsdottir, head of the committee that apparently decides these things.

          Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

          by pico on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 01:12:43 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Why are you speaking so sharply? (5+ / 0-)

          To answer your question, yes... Iceland has a national body that does have to approve names, and yes, they have done so on the basis of religion: the example given in the article is mentioned in my comment. The name "Satania" was forbidden by Iceland's national body of name approvers because it sounded too much like "Satan."

          "What one person finds beautiful, another person may find ugly," she acknowledged. She pointed to "Satania" as one unacceptable case because it was deemed too close to "Satan."
          Clearly that's a choice based on state-sponsored religious dogma. State-sponsored religious dogma can be argued to be a valuable part of a culture's heritage -- as one might argue in the U.S. about a Christmas nativity scene in a state building or in Egypt where you cannot insult Allah -- and even less extreme examples can be argued to be important to greater society in some way, or these types of choices made in the name of cultural/national preservation be seen as infringement on individual rights, which is precisely what this little lady is presently suing Iceland and claiming in her comments.

          As I've said, how one perceives these restrictions made by a state body will be determined in accordance with ones' own ideological views; my own view is that it's valuable to preserve Linguistic tradition, but I also know that it has always been an impossible task to maintain its purity. I could literally write a book on this topic, but to keep it short, I'll refer to Orwell's "Politics and the English Language," Gloria Anzaldua, the contemporary bilingualism debate in the U.S., the issue of colonial languages, such as French or Portuguese, in African post-colonies, Anglo-Norman French, the Japanese handling of imported words, and English as a wordlwide trade lingua franca used in advertisements for multinational corporations, the notion of Pidgin (not Creole) tied to trade, and the issue of "dying" languages and UNESCO's stand on these.

          It is an extremely complicated issue, ethically.

          People should weigh all of the factors involved in deciding where they stand on the notion of "social betterment" through nationalist interventions into language.

          Click the ♥ to join us on the Black Kos front porch to review news & views written from a black pov - everyone is welcome.

          by mahakali overdrive on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 01:28:22 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  It's not about state sponsored religious dogma. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            marsanges, Cassandra Waites

            It's about whether the kid's likely to get teased for that name, when they could have a perfectly fine other name, almost anything else in the world, that won't get them teased.  It's the difference on whether kids are viewed as merely their parents property to do with as they please or not.

            •  The instance of the name Satania (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              McWaffle, misslegalbeagle

              being rejected was based on religious grounds -- it was too close to being like the name "Satan." That's a religious objection, isn't it? Or is Satan not a religious figure in Iceland?

              The issue you bring up is causal. It's the effect of what could happen if someone violates a religious norm in a country ("teasing") and what can be done to prevent that.

              One could just as easily say that this causal effect normalizes not going against the norms, in other words, prioritizing traditions to avoid "hurting people." To me, that's a sticky wicket. We could do the same in the U.S. by requiring that no gay soldier let it be known that she or he were gay to avoid teasing and bullying; fortunately, we did finally reject that kind of thinking in our repeal of DADT. Instead, we avoided perpetuating the object of what is "teasable" by saying "Let's be more tolerant, not less."

              That's how I see this at any rate.

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              by mahakali overdrive on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 02:08:46 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Not what I'd call a religious objection. (0+ / 0-)

                Religious objection: You can't call a child Satania because that's blasphemy and it'll make God mad.
                Child welfare objection: You can't call a child Satania because other kids will pick on them for having a name like Satan.

                I don't even tangentially see the connection you're trying to make with DADT.  So a parent doesn't have absolute authority to give their kids a name that'll get them picked on... means that gay people should stay in the closet???

                •  Other kids will pick on the kid because... (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  of a religious stigma.

                  If you name a kid "Satania" in a Hindu country, no one would bat an eye.

                  It's religious stigma there. Clearly.

                  I feel like these points are almost too obvious to actually argue, sorry.

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                  by mahakali overdrive on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 03:06:14 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  The reason for the picking on would be religious. (0+ / 0-)

                    The reason for the objection would be child welfare.

                    Saying it's a "religious objection" makes it sound like you think the government thinks that allowing such a name will make god mad.

            •  And seriously, if an Icelandic kid named Satania (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              marsanges, Debby, misslegalbeagle

              was teased for that, you know who is to blame?

              Those doing the teasing.

              That's pretty intolerant. What kind of parents raise their kids to  be such intolerant jerks that they can't face another kid with an unusual name that sounds "funny" or weird to them? And what kind of people, as adults, accept that?

              Those are the people with the problem, IMHO.

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              by mahakali overdrive on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 02:11:16 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  So... if the parents wanted to name their kid (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:

                Ugly Fuckwad, would you support that?

                How mean do the parents have to be to their child before you think enough is enough?

                •  This is not about my views (2+ / 0-)

                  on the law. This is a diary claiming that the Icelandic language cannot accommodate gender non-normativity or other forms of cultural impurity.

                  If a parent named their child "Ugly Fuckwad," and the kid was teased for it, I would say those doing the teasing were assholes. Nicknames are pretty common. There are probably some kids with goofy names in the U.S. who use other names, and there are probably some kids with "normal" names who name themselves nicknames like "Ugly Fuckwad." Try Berkeley, CA sometime for this sort of thing!

                  Click the ♥ to join us on the Black Kos front porch to review news & views written from a black pov - everyone is welcome.

                  by mahakali overdrive on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 03:03:24 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  I might even go (2+ / 0-)

                    so far as to say the parents were also a-holes if they were to name their child Ugly Fuckwad, but the question is should the state have a role in stopping it. I tend to think not. I wouldn't blame him if he wanted to use a nickname or change his name, though.

                    •  Should parents also get to beat their children? (0+ / 0-)

                      I mean, if we're going whole-hog on the children-as-parents-property attitude here...

                      •  No (1+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        mahakali overdrive

                        But I don't think a name is the same thing. And obviously Blaer isn't in this category anyway, it's not harming the child, it's offending some unrelated people. I just personally don't see a name choice as being the government's business.

                        •  I said that Blær isn't in this category in the (0+ / 0-)

                          diary, so the straw man doesn't address the issue at all.

                          You seem to be accepting that children are not parents property to do with as they choose.  So why not apply that attitude here here?  If parents are doing something that's going to cause their children to be abused by others, how is that not just as bad as them doing it themselves?

                          •  Couldn't you say that of (1+ / 0-)
                            Recommended by:

                            a lot of things? Parents who buy only really uncool clothing, for example, or who pack stinky liverwurst sandwiches in the child's lunch box. Parents who teach their children "weird" religious or offensive personal beliefs ... Etc. There are a lot of things parents do that could easily get you just as teased as a name might. (And I sympathize, I have a very teasable last name myself.)  

                            I encourage parents doing the best by their kids of course. I'm not endorsing ugly names or liverwurst sandwiches or any of that. But I am just not convinced that, basically, arbitrating personal taste is a role governments should be playing.

                            Obviously it doesn't matter what I think of course, Iceland is free and is going to run things the way they want. But if you write a diary, some will see things differently. I appreciate your effort though.

            •  oh (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              mahakali overdrive

              now I must say what mahakali said above,

              "Concision is not my strong suit." LOL

          •  because .. (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            mahakali overdrive, Rei, zinger99

            I was actually thinking about a sharp reply to your earlier post (employing words like totalitarianism and socialism in ref to this story). Then I remembered MB´s and twiggs good advices and went away to cool my mood.

            just because I respect you so much as a politically educated person, I was so surprised to see you see this in such terms.

            The Satania comment of the regulatory person wasnt about the "Satan" content. It was about the entirely predictable reaction of other people later in the life of that child, and about the obligation to safeguard the well being of the child.

            Compare to the often cited Adolf Hitler case. Why cant I name my child Adolf Hitler? Not because my government rejects nazism. (It does, but that has got nothing to do with this). I can´t because this would inflict with certainty harm to the well-being of the child, and although I have far-reaching authority as a parent about my child, that authority does not extend to inflicting such harm to it. Thats what the Icelandic spokeswoman said.

            The context of this has therefore nothing whatsoever to do with political theories or state structures (socialism, totalitarianism). It is a regulatory issue. parents are free to do very much, but not free to inflict grave harm, even to their children. And not the parents, but public bodies get to judge exactly where the border between "acceptable harm" and "grave harm" lies.

            In the case of this light breeze I would probably concur with you, that should pass. I dont really see that they have grounds there. (When even their own poet has used that name in that way.) But in the Satania case I would agree with the Icic woman. But its just that - a regulatory issue, a judgement issue. So they have a court case and the court will decide. Such judgements will also obviously change with the times as societies change.

            What it is not, is an issue of "no freedom under socialism" or "totalitarian tendencies" or anything such. That is just propaganda from interested side (rightwingers). And I was surprised to see you fall for that.

            So I hope that was less sharp! I dont want to bite, but you know how it is on the internet.

            •  How about a lowered the age limit on name changes? (5+ / 0-)

              I wonder if that'd help clear things up. A formal name-review process that can be initiated by young kids who don't like their name. Yeah, it'd be a mess bureaucratically, but so is a name-regulating agency.

              "I wish you luck on not hating your parents for mixing up such an unthinkable person." --The frickin´ HP--

              by McWaffle on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 02:11:00 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  Thus what I hope came off as a gentle rebuke (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              McWaffle, marsanges

              and no more!

              I totally disagree though. In the U.S., we have lots of people named Adolph -- Adolph's Flowers is a prime example! -- for one thing, but we're not Germany, so I understand. Still, we have no prohibitions of what we name our kids. And I do think that's right for the reason that I expressed in the comment (now) just above yours: that those doing the teasing are the problems.

              Some parents are stupid. In so many ways. But a kid could be given a funny name and teased just as readily as they could be born with a birth defect and be teased. They could be given an ugly bowl hair cut and dressed in clown shoes. It doesn't mean teasing is ever right. And when we try to limit who can do what, we start saying "this is normal," and "this is abnormal." Societies always do try to draw these lines, and there's nothing wrong with this, but when they draw them in a way that favors "non-weirdness" and homogeneity, I'm going to object. That's precisely what Hitler, since we've been discussing him (not therefore a Godwin) was after: purity and conformity.

              And why is Iceland freaked out about Satanists? To me, that's something not equitable with the Adolph Hitler issue one way or another. Satan isn't a real person. The girl in question here, her name isn't that of a mass murderer. There are a lot of evil sorts of people in the world, all of whom had names: Jeffrey, John, Adam, Anders, and Jared are all at the top of the list right now. I'd say they are all worst than "Satan." But that's a real curveball from my main point.

              Click the ♥ to join us on the Black Kos front porch to review news & views written from a black pov - everyone is welcome.

              by mahakali overdrive on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 02:22:54 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  realistically, (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                mahakali overdrive

                you too limit what is acceptable and what is not. One of the news stories I found linked in one comment above (didnt keep track of it) linked to a US story about a US case where the name Adolph Hitler was interdicted (note: not Adolph, but the explicit two-name version); that story said you in the US cant name your child 50. I mean, 50, as in the number 50. Why not?

                Of course that is taken to an extreme. The point therein is that no realistic society has no such limits. I mean, you say it yourself too.

                The child case has the added complexity that the child is completely, absolutely defenceless in this issue. It has (until it reaches an age, as McWaffle says) to live with what it got. And there must be at least somewhere a public limit to what parents can do to their kids.

                all your other points are well taken. I actually tend to agree on this Blaer case and I agree against bullying and for the defence of weirdness against pressure towards normality. These are all very valid and say that the limits should be rather taken widely than closely. Therein I totally follow you.

    •  Björk is a common name. (5+ / 0-)

      It just means "birch".  :)

  •  Fascinating and useful diary! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jayden, FarWestGirl, NonnyO

    I enjoyed reading it!

  •  And there's also (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jayden, Debby, Cassandra Waites

    The suggestion of witchcraft.

    C'mon - you've never hear of the Blær Witch?

    I am not religious, and did NOT say I enjoyed sects.

    by trumpeter on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 12:44:58 PM PST

  •  I wonder how'd we react if some Tea Bagger (4+ / 0-)

    legislator proposed a Name Committee using the same or similar rationale.  Make sure everyone has a name like Debbie or Skippy.

    Guns don't kill people...people with GUNS kill people.

    by thestructureguy on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 12:51:26 PM PST

    •  Or perhaps (0+ / 0-)

      Dana, or Lamar, or Jefferson, or Saxby, or Rand, or Sheldon, or Lindsey, or Orrin ...

      I am not religious, and did NOT say I enjoyed sects.

      by trumpeter on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 01:06:03 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Day 2 of the Romney presidency. (0+ / 0-)

        "Since you liberals like Iceland so much, you now all have to have Mormon names.  Would you rather be Joseph, Moroni, Brigham, Orrin, or Widmer?"

        "A good president does what's possible and a great president changes what's possible." --sterno

        by sk4p on Sat Jan 05, 2013 at 07:47:26 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Only if (4+ / 0-)

      you spell it correctly! ;)

      Actually, too damn many Debby/ies in the world as it is. Though we are all cool. Except that Debby Boone chick.

      But seriously, your name is such a personal thing. I think you should be able to be called whatever you want. It seems because we consider Iceland benign some people want to give them a pass on this but your counter-example calls up the issue.

      An unsuccessful shoe bomb attack resulted in nine years of inconvenience for every flier in the country. It would be nice to think [this diabolical act] might lead to some similar inconveniences. --mrblifil

      by Debby on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 02:34:23 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  a bit off topic, Rei, but ... (0+ / 0-)

    First of all, thank you for the diary. As others have already said, it's neat to learn things like this.

    I was looking for the lyrics to an Icelandic song just yesterday and had no luck ... The song is on the album "Kjærlighetens Palett" (by Julie Kleive/Runar Andersen) and its title is "Fugl I Bur" -- "bird in a cage" or "caged bird" as near as I can tell.

    The problem I ran into is that there is another song with the same name but different lyrics and that's all a web search seems to be coming up with. Not speaking Icelandic, I can't figure out what to search for in order to come up with the right version. (Of course, if I did speak Icelandic there would be no need ...)

    Can you find a link to the correct lyrics? It would be much appreciated. I can use Google Translate to figure them out.

  •  I admit to thinking about class and social (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    markers on names when I was naming my sons.

    There was also strong pressure to name them "after" someone in the famly.

    Fortunately, that name pool gave me two good solid English names that they can get numerous nicknames out of and will be reasonably pronounced across most of the country.

    The eldest is James Michael, who would have been Joanna Ruth if a girl.  The younger is Peter Garrett, who would have been Lydia Elizabeth.

    There are other James in the family, and other Michaels, but the older Michael goes by Mike, so that's okay. There were two other Peters in the family (my maternal grandfather and my cousin) but they are both dead, so he is the only living Peter.

    I guess in genealogical research that habit of naming after dad and grandpa or her family does rather help pick out lineages.

    When you come to find how essential the comfort of a well-kept home is to the bodily strength and good conditions, to a sound mind and spirit, and useful days, you will reverence the good housekeeper as I do above artist or poet, beauty or genius.

    by Alexandra Lynch on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 12:54:44 PM PST

  •  Fascinating (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    thestructureguy, jayden, FarWestGirl

    Whereas here, parents are free to name their daughter "Hulkster" if they want...or their boy "Sue"....

    As a matter of fact, there was once a well-known Texas lady, a governor's daughter, named "Ima Hogg." (Apparently her sister Ura was mythological, though.)

    'Scuse lack of proper format, my computer is an Edsel.

  •  I wonder how much trouble I'd have. (7+ / 0-)

    My name is River and I'm a woman. Would I be permitted in Iceland to keep my name? Would I keep it in English or need to translate it and get used to a new name? Is my name a wrong gender in Icelandic, and in which gender would my name in English be viewed? And what would be done about our surname, which is a hyphenated name? Would I become River (or whatever) Kentsdottir?

    Organ donors save lives! A donor's kidney gave me my life back on 02/18/11; he lives on in me. Please talk with your family about your wish to donate.

    Why are war casualty counts "American troops" and "others" but never "human beings"?

    by Kitsap River on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 01:14:29 PM PST

    •  Glad to help. (4+ / 0-)

      1) If you moved there, nothing would happen.  The naming law is only about giving new names.  Your name wouldn't sound quite the same when said with Icelandic pronunciation, though - the r is trilled, the "e" is more of an "eh" sound, the final r is devoiced, and there's more stress on the first syllable.

      2) Your name would likely be approved if applying for a new child, being not something likely to get them made fun, being spellable in the Icelandic alphabet, and for which a plausible declension could be made without conflicting with an existing Icelandic word.

      3) There's also a number of girls' names already on the list built off of the stem of "Á" (river).  Indeed, while á is not on the list, it too is feminine.

      4) As mentioned, nothing would happen to your name if you moved.  As for new children, a patronymic is not mandatory and a surname is optional.  

      •  Thank you. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Mostly this is just curiosity, but not wholly so; I've read most of your diaries about emigrating and have been wondering whether we should attempt something similar. My kidney issues will most likely keep me here, though.

        Organ donors save lives! A donor's kidney gave me my life back on 02/18/11; he lives on in me. Please talk with your family about your wish to donate.

        Why are war casualty counts "American troops" and "others" but never "human beings"?

        by Kitsap River on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 02:29:35 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  is it not (0+ / 0-)

          better to be at home there where one is?
          (I´m not)

          •  I have wanted out of the US since my teens (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            marsanges, zinger99, DarkLadyNyara, sk4p

            Earlier, actually, since when Nixon was Presudent. He was elected when I was eight. The Vietnam War was a big reason I wanted out that young. I just never went ahead and dud it, and now it's probably too late because of my kidney stuff. Not like we haven't been looking to emigrate for all the years we've been together, though; we have.

            Organ donors save lives! A donor's kidney gave me my life back on 02/18/11; he lives on in me. Please talk with your family about your wish to donate.

            Why are war casualty counts "American troops" and "others" but never "human beings"?

            by Kitsap River on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 03:29:30 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  What a great diary! (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jayden, FarWestGirl, NonnyO


  •  I can't help but wonder (8+ / 0-)

    Fox News was the first to report this in such a negative light ... I wonder if it's because when Iceland had a financial crisis, they actually jailed those responsible.

    "Valerie, why am I getting all these emails calling me a classless boor?"

    by TLS66 on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 01:25:05 PM PST

    •  lol Yup, those Icelanders B ebil Commies! ;-) n/t (0+ / 0-)

      Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. The Druid

      by FarWestGirl on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 05:48:18 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  You know ... (0+ / 0-)

      ... Any anger I felt towards Iceland about this name registry thing (and even after reading this article, I still think it's an offensively big overstep of government) is pretty well outweighed by actually jailing those who tanked the economy.

      "A good president does what's possible and a great president changes what's possible." --sterno

      by sk4p on Sat Jan 05, 2013 at 07:51:58 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Fascinating diary (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jayden, ridemybike, FarWestGirl, Rei, zinger99

    Exceptionally well presented. You are a pro, Rei. Bravo!

    "It is easier to fool people, than to convince them they've been fooled" - Mark Twain

    by Sarge in Seattle on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 01:46:18 PM PST

  •  Kickin' back with a smoke, some coffee, and... (4+ / 0-)

    ...some Icelandic law and linguistic history.
    Nothing like it! (I just didn't know until now.)


    I'm the plowman in the valley - with my face full of mud

    by labradog on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 02:00:57 PM PST

  •  IIRC, French Officials Are Allowed (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    marsanges, NonnyO, MaikeH, DarkLadyNyara

    to reject names that are "unsuitably weird" by traditional French standards.

    You won't see any idiot French parents getting away with saddling their helpless infants with monikers like "Twinkle Starr" or "Crystal Ball" or Effluvia Jones."

    Readers & Book Lovers Pull up a chair! You're never too old to be a Meta Groupie

    by Limelite on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 02:22:04 PM PST

  •  Love this diary. (0+ / 0-)

    And new information.  Fascinating, thanks.

  •  I, for one (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    think that the United States should do this.

    Fact: My cousins informed me of a pair of sisters they know whose names are Gonorrhea and Chlamydia.  Who gives their kids those names?

    28, white male, TX-26 (current), TN-09 (born), TN-08 (where parents live now)

    by TDDVandy on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 02:37:54 PM PST

  •  Children aren't property? Really? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rei, DarkLadyNyara, Miggles

    I've had arguments on this very site with folks who seem to think otherwise...

  •  Recommending for how well written and (0+ / 0-)

    informative the diary is.  However, no matter how it's rationalized, justified or how it's spun, a governmental entity that approves or can disapprove a name scares me.  

    Guns don't kill people...people with GUNS kill people.

    by thestructureguy on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 03:38:02 PM PST

  •  Uff da! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rei, sk4p

    I saw a story on Yahoo about this, and many of the comments were just rude!  Too many had been influenced by the fake outrage of the average Faux Snooze viewer and the American-centric attitudes and snobbery were just painful to read.

    A few comments were funny.  One mentioned [snarkily] 'so glad we live in the US where people can name their child Hashtag or Honey Boo Boo.'  And, let's face it....  Some of the names "movie stars" have come up with for their children are just..., awful.

    I didn't read far in the comments, but I wondered if anyone remembered the hubub a few years ago when one moronic couple in the US named their child "in honor of Adolf Hitler."  Seriously, that one upset a lot of people at the time.  I felt really sorry for that poor child to have such ignorant parents stick him with such an awful moniker.  He is likely old enough to be in school now, if he isn't being home-schooled.  If that poor kid survives a childhood with such an awful name and isn't totally brainwashed by his parents, hopefully he can change his name to something less controversial as an adult.  [About the time that poor kid was named, I was wishing for a law that no one could name their kid for such an infamous war criminal.]

    Almost twenty years ago I worked with a young woman who had been baptized Bambi.  [From Italian, bambina = young girl.]  I wondered at the time if her parents realized that it was also a stripper's name (besides being the name of a movie where the baby deer is a male named Bambi).  I could understand Bambi as a nickname, a term of endearment..., but not a name to hang on a kid for all of her life.

    As a genealogist I get tired of seeing names like John, Thomas, William, etc., but at least one knows the children were named for someone respectable and worthy of emulation.  Names like Thankful, Deliverance (both male and female name), Rejoice, Content, Waite/Wayte and Temperance are from the colonial period in America.  [Peregrine was the name given to the baby boy born in the harbor when the Mayflower got to America.  The name was given to many males in the White family for many generations thereafter.  That one I almost understand.  There was another baby born who died, and he was named Oceanus.]

    Names in my genealogy database for the last twenty to thirty years are either very traditional or... tending toward the odd without being too outlandish (yet).  As with old records, multiple spellings of all kinds abound.  In Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish records I run into feminine and masculine spellings of names.  Helga is female; Helge is male.  Jørgen is male; Jørgina is female, and the J is pronounced with a sing-song Y sound, as in fjord; the names translate to George and Georgina in English.  Anders is male; Andrine is female.  Hans is male; Hansine is female - pronounced Hansena, later spelled Hansena in America since the ending e in Hansine is pronounced with a soft 'ah' sound.  Anne is pronounced Anna, for instance.  "Leif is pronounced to rhyme with safe," according to a linguist (and teacher by profession in Norway) on the Norwegian genealogy list I subscribe to.  Leif is often mispronounced in America.

    I honestly do not have an opinion one way or another about the name/word Blær.  It's a pretty word and meaning.

    I also completely understand the desire to preserve the Icelandic language, and I heartily approve of that.  No other country can claim to actually understand the words written in their original constitution over a thousand years ago.  Not that many countries are interested in preserving their language, and in other cases [America, for instance] languages died out because children of minority populations were forced to learn English only and to forget their original languages.  In Wales much the same thing was tried, but they are bringing back their language.
    Vikings: Journey to New Worlds (2004)
    (Great background music.)
    Most Icelandic & Old Norse names are mispronounced in this show, even if the essential facts are correct.
    Not sure if Rei can view this same show from Iceland or not.  Here's the same show in four parts on YouTube:

    I hope the name situation can be resolved amicably.

    I'm sick of attempts to steer this nation from principles evolved in The Age of Reason to hallucinations derived from illiterate herdsmen. ~ Crashing Vor

    by NonnyO on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 03:42:25 PM PST

  •  Great diary! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rei, DarkLadyNyara

    Similarly, in France you can't give just any Prénom to a child. They will refuse any Prénom which would be detrimental to the child, although we don't have a national board for that, I think it is left to the appreciation of the civil servant who establishes the birth certificate; and if you don't agree you can still sue the state.

    On the other hand we don't have to submit the full declension, since we don't have cases (Ancien Francais had two, sujet and régime) !

    By the way, what's the correct term for a 'flock a lawyers'? An unkindness, perhaps?

    Obama - POTUS quondam, POTUS futurus The Once and Future President

    by French Imp on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 03:51:09 PM PST

  •  A diary by somebody who knows what they are talkin (3+ / 0-)


    That, and the fact that this story smelled bad just from the exploitation style headline, Fox style, is reason enough to rec it.  (Didn't even bother to read it, and now I know why).

    But this one is just plain well written.


  •  There are times (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    marsanges, Laughing Vergil, NonnyO

    I wish there were such a registry here, when I see some of the awful names people inflict on their kids.

    Being "pro-life" means believing that every child born has a right to food, education, and access to health care.

    by Jilly W on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 04:00:53 PM PST

  •  Expect to see more media swipes at Iceland (6+ / 0-)

    Iceland has committed the unacceptable faux pas of actually sending some of the banksters who looted their economy to jail. And in another sign that they apparently didn't get the memo, they have resisted using public money to bail out the private monied interests.

    For a country a fraction of the size of Singapore to be so audacious clearly can not stand... And even worse would be if these steps got more attention (or, shudder, celebration) among Americans.. ("what? We can subject bankers to the same legal system as mere mortals without sparking an apocalypse?")

    So, predictably, the media (thanks for pointing out that this was started by Fox) has started throwing spitballs.

    Great diary by the way, very interesting and informative.

  •  I really agree with the second reason given (4+ / 0-)

    A while back, I made a study of historical naming, focusing on the British Isles.  Using only easily documented, readily available sources during limited timeframes, here are a few of the names I could reasonably document.

    • Lustslæve (as a given name)
    • Lustslæve (as a surname, leading to the awful...)
    • Desire Lustslæve
    • Batman Robinson
    • Hugelina Archbutt
    • Bugge Offa

    Just because something is traditional doesn't make it good.

    In short, our current system and philosophy is creating a country of a few million overlords and 300+ million serfs.

    by Laughing Vergil on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 05:05:11 PM PST

  •  Interesting Details (0+ / 0-)

    The mass market article I read on the subject pretty much made the same points but with a whole lot less detail about the language. I didn't get the impression that anybody was accusing Iceland of being Totalitarian. It was more along the line of explaining how different Iceland's traditions are form what we take for granted in the US. I think you may be a wee bit overeating here. I don't think most Americans care one way or the other how people in Iceland go about naming their children.

  •  I Don't Buy This Argument (0+ / 0-)

    Except for the "psychologically abusive" case, I just don't think this is any of the government's business.

    As for protecting the language lest its purity be offended... shall I dredge up some old William Safire columns on the evils of "Ms"?

    On the Internet, nobody knows if you're a dog... but everybody knows if you're a jackass.

    by stevemb on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 05:32:10 PM PST

  •  Better than naming your kid "hashtag" (0+ / 0-)

    That's truly assholic.

    Of course there's Ima Hogg and Shanda Lear.

    At least those girls had rich parents.  Not so sure about hashtag's folks.

    -9.00, -5.85
    Quite an experience to live in fear, isn't it? That's what it is to be a slave.

    by Wintermute on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 05:57:25 PM PST

  •  speaking of abusive names (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    When I was in high school I had a classmate named Lasagna Larkin. That's right, Lasagna, just like the baked Italian pasta dish.

    Now, I never actually shared a class with Lasagna because she was in what was then called the LD (Learning Disabled) Program. LD was sort of a purgatory halfway between mainstream and special education classes.

    The only reason I remember Lasagna 25 years hence is that her name was always being called over the intercom to report to the assistant principal's office. It was the assistant who was responsible for meting out discipline.

    I don't know if she was tormented into misbehaving because of her name. Or if her name was a reflection of being birthed and raised by total idiots and her ingrained idiocy was the culprit and the name was just an aggravating factor. I always leaned towards the latter hypothesis.

    Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read. - Groucho Marx

    by Joe Bob on Fri Jan 04, 2013 at 07:28:23 PM PST

  •  English has similar problems, Rei (0+ / 0-)

    My middle name is Rhea, which is a family name from my Scottish ancestors, also spelled Re, Rea, and perhaps even Rei.

    It was my father's first name, which was confusing in America because Rhea is usually considered in feminine name in this country. He used to get mail addressed to Miss Rhea xxx.

    When I started elementary school they insisted that it was misspelled as Rhea and had to be "Ray", starting one of the many fights with authority of my life.

    When I noticed that the author of this post was named Rei, I had to tell my story for the synchronicity.

    When I lived in Sweden for a year (about 40 years ago) I learned about their naming rules for surnames, which appear to be as potentially as controversial as the Icelandic ones, except as I remember the Swedes are trying to promote diversity: there are too many people with the surname Person. So you can't change your name to a common one.

    "There's an old country saying: The water won't clear up until you get the hogs out of the creek." - Sen. Byron Dorgan

    by Earwicker23 on Sat Jan 05, 2013 at 12:38:32 AM PST

  •  Thank you for an informative and well written (0+ / 0-)

    diary.   Several years ago, at an age where many are already using walkers, I decided to learn Italian.  It had been YEARS since I even thought about possessive, indirect, or direct object pronouns or definite and indefinite articles....etc.  And, applying gender to adjectives and nouns was totally new.

    I've followed your diaries from the beginning and all are thoughtful, informative and exceptional.  This diary is too.

    I'm sorry you took flack from some folks.  Every now and then I wonder if some people awaken (svegliarsi - reflexive :) ) with the intent of being contrary and argumentative.   I'm surprised you took the time to try to explain, again and again, what you made clear from the beginning.

    Should I have another child (NOT!) I'm gonna be sure and name it "flaming asshole" so it won't need a different screen name on blogs.



    The longer I live, the clearer I perceive how unmatchable a compliment one pays when he says of a man "he has the courage to utter his convictions." Mark Twain

    by Persiflage on Sat Jan 05, 2013 at 04:38:52 AM PST

  •  Approving the names of children.. (3+ / 0-)

    ..sounds Orwellian.  I'm even less convinced if it is being done for 'the preservation for a language'; in this age, there are no linguistic borders, and English influences are everywhere.

    So, this particular governmental influence is somehow both totalitarian and false-utopian at the same time.  That's a tough pair of accomplishments to pull off simultaneously.. well done, Iceland.

    When extra-terrestrial beings make their first appearance on our planet, and ask for representatives of our species to best exemplify humanity, I'm sending a nurse, a librarian, and a firefighter.

    by Wayward Son on Sat Jan 05, 2013 at 05:35:57 AM PST

  •  There ought to be a law (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    that no child can be given a name he or she will spend the rest of their lives telling people how to spell it or pronounce it.

  •  Whatever (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mahakali overdrive

    These guys have nothing to do but critique small European social democracies?  



    by otto on Sat Jan 05, 2013 at 08:05:48 AM PST

    •  "These guys" have nothing to do (0+ / 0-)

      but criticize democracy, period.

      That's the job description. That, and posting articles from anywhere that have teachers committing crimes.

      "We have done nothing to be ashamed of. We have nothing to apologize for." NRA 12/14/2012

      by bontemps2012 on Tue Jan 08, 2013 at 07:34:40 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I still remember the first declension of an (0+ / 0-)

    adjective that I ever memorized.  I was in the 9th grade in my first year of Latin.  And the first adjective we learned?

                       Miserable  :-)

    miser, misera, miserum
    miseri, miserae, miseri
    misero, miserae, misero
    miserum, miseram, miserum
    misero, misera, misero
    miser, misera, miserum

    And that's just the singular!

    I learned more about English grammar in my Latin classes than I did in my English classes.

    I fall down, I get up, I keep dancing.

    by DamselleFly on Sat Jan 05, 2013 at 09:00:33 AM PST

  •  This was one of the most (0+ / 0-)

    interesting thigns ive read in a while, especially since I started reading wondering why I should care. I have had that answered in no uncertain terms.

    Nice article and thanks for the... very long (but not inappropriately long) description of the issue.

    The only Bug-type Pokemon that can learn the move Fly - Volcarona and Genesect - Are not Flying types.

    by kamrom on Sun Jan 06, 2013 at 10:08:11 AM PST

  •  Is there a feminine suffix they can add to Blaer (0+ / 0-)

    to make it an appropriate woman's name?

    "Mistress of the Topaz" is now available in paperback! Link here:

    by Kimball Cross on Mon Jan 07, 2013 at 10:03:53 AM PST

  •  Well written! (0+ / 0-)

    Þakka þér fyrir að taka tíma til að útskýra Litbrigði mest sakna. Íslenska er yndislegt tungumál til að læra-ekki auðvelt einn, og flestir missa af hverju þetta gæti verið umtalsverður.

    For what it's worth, my legal name is a Russian diminutive form- ending in an 'a'. I've lost track of how many times people have called, asked for me, and expressed audible surprise to have a male voice on the other end. Half of my junk mail arrives addressed to Ms. Vanya T____v.

    At times I've explained it to people. "'Ivan' was my grandfather. I grew up significantly in his shadow. Besides, it's a name which fits someone who goes 2m and 120kg (~6'7, 265 pounds)- I'm not that close to either (at 1m87/6'2", 77 kg/170 pounds)." Most of the time it's not worth the effort. It's a somewhat more clearcut case of application of cultural misunderstanding.

    "My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world." - The Hon. Jack Layton (1950-2011)

    by wingedelf on Mon Jan 07, 2013 at 02:47:40 PM PST

  •  IceLand (0+ / 0-)

    The Ice Landics are a hell of a lot smarter than Americans, and all of the other nations that did not jail their bankers.

  •  It's Not Just Children (0+ / 0-)

    People who immigrate are required to either change the spelling of their name (if that is required to match a spelling in the nafnaskrá - for example, Paul becomes Pál).  In the early 1900s, there was a movement to abandon the patronymics and adopt family names, but it was a short-lived thing.  Since 1925, it is only legal to use a family name if one is entitled by right of inheritance (the aforementioned Halldór Laxness is an example of someone who abandoned patronymics).  It is also possible to use a matronymic, i.e., take the mother's name instead of the fathers.  This is sometimes done as a social statement, sometimes as a mater of style and sometimes because paternity is uncertain.  In the sagas, a character with a matronymic is almost always a dastardly villain - medieval sexism, perhaps?

    I spent a summer in Iceland between undergrad and grad school and while I was there, came up with an Icelandic translation of my name.  Although my own personal name is in the nafnaskrá (albeit spelled differently), I chose to translate based on the English meaning of my name, which is Greek in origin.  I did the same for my father's name to provide a patronymic.

    Icelandic is a very conservative language, and it is preserved against enormous cultural pressures, which is aided almost solely by it's geographical isolation.  If Eric the Red (Eirīkr hinn rauði) sailed through a time warp and showed up tomorrow in Reykjavik harbor, he could probably speak to the people of today, although with a strange accent.  The written language has changed even less.  Any literate Icelander (and that means almost everyone old enough to go to or graduate from school) can read books that were written a thousand years ago without the need of a dictionary.  I think maybe it's time for me to re-read my Icelandic translation of The Hobbit - the adventures of a "hobbi" named "Bilbo Baggason".

    I'd have to look for it, but it seems to me that over the course of my studies in Old Norse literature I ran across at least one example of a personal name of a man that was declined as grammatically feminine, which should give poor Blær some hope

  •  I love your writing. (0+ / 0-)

    "We have done nothing to be ashamed of. We have nothing to apologize for." NRA 12/14/2012

    by bontemps2012 on Tue Jan 08, 2013 at 07:31:38 AM PST

  •  Hard to know what the actual name is... (0+ / 0-)

    It's very difficult for anyone without knowledge of the Icelandic language or Icelandic names to grasp what the issue is here. The problem in this case is that when the name, which is a male's name as has been mentioned, is forced into the female gender it becomes very difficult to recognize what the actual name is in some usages because of the grammar. That is the issue and it is the only issue in this case. A similar scenario would be to name a child Steve, except when used in the possessive, then it's Harry. Imagine the confusion that might ensue:
    "That's Harry's book."
    "What happened to the book?"
    "I gave it to Harry."
    "Why did you do that? You were supposed to give it to Steve. I told you it's his book!"

    Add to this that in Iceland the first name is the primary identifier - not the last name, like in English. Things are alphebetized by first name and people are addressed by their first name. Things can get pretty problematic when you don't even have any reliable way to know what the actual first name is.

    Consider this:
    The possessive for the name "Blær", in the masculine, is "Blæs". So, when you hear the possessive form "Blæs" you know that the nominative is "Blær". No problem there - all in accordance with grammatical convention. When the name is unnaturally forced into the feminine gender you have a couple of options for the possessive:
    1. "Blær" (same as the nominative which doesn't happen in Icelandic - however, to make things more proplematic, many possessive forms do take an 'r' as an ending)
    2. "Blævar" (which happens to be another masculine name).

    So, when we hear these possessives of the feminine form of "Blær", because it doesn't conform to grammatical convention, we can't be sure what the nominative is.

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