Trouble in Iceland

My affinity for, or interest in, things Icelandic is evident in the fact that sixteen posts on this blog mention Iceland (seventeen including this one). It’s a disease, I think, this longing for immersion in cultures to which I have absolutely no connection and for which my fascination has no reasonable explanation. Today, that fascination and interest, legitimate or not, are being tested.  You see, I learned today that the country has an official naming committee that determines the acceptability of names which may be given to children. Really! As I started to skim the Iceland Monitor, an article on the subject attracted my attention. Or, should I say, the article attracted my immediate disbelief and disdain (combined, in an odd sort of way, with appreciation).  I’ll quote from the article:

The famous Icelandic naming committee which decrees which new given names in Iceland are allowed or not have said no to names Carlsberg and Danski…The middle name Carlsberg, of Danish origins does not comply to Icelandic rules of grammar and neither does Danski…Boy’s name Javi and girl’s names Kolþerna, Einara, Ásynja, Elízabet, Emanúela, Baldína and Natalí were accepted however.

Can this be real? Yes, in fact, it can be and is. Iceland established the Naming Committee in 1991 to determine whether new given names not previously used in Iceland are suitable for integration into the country’s language and culture. Obviously, Icelanders are cultural purists, which in many respects I find patently offensive. On the other hand, I can appreciate the desire to preserve and protect one’s cultural legacies. But to control the names parents give to their children? Hmmm. My immediate reaction is negative, but I have to consider that negative reaction in the context of my own evaluation of the Icelandic culture…viewed through the prism of my own biases.

The relative offensiveness (or lack thereof) of Iceland naming restrictions depends to a great extent on whether the restrictions lead to corollary debasement or derision of other cultural naming conventions (or, for that matter, other elements unique to other cultures). If the Iceland conventions do not have the effect of either degrading other cultures or holding Icelandic culture as superior to them, then the practice would not be, in my book, offensive. Odd, perhaps, but not offensive. But if Icelanders (or a subset thereof who hold sway with the Naming Committee) viewed non-Icelandic names as inherently inferior to Icelandic names, then the troubles begin.

I have to wonder whether anyone else, outside of Iceland, finds this topic even mildly interesting? Maybe my strange fascination with arcane trivia explains my relative social isolation. It shouldn’t be too problematic, though, inasmuch as my interest is superficial and short-lived. It’s not as if I drone on and on about Icelandic naming conventions and the extent to which they might suggest either covert or overt xenophobia. Hmmm. If I were to pursue writing fiction again (which I think I suggested I might or might not), a story line involving a Colombian xenophobe who detests Apache and Icelandic cultures might be worth exploring. Or maybe not.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to Trouble in Iceland

  1. Warren, I am more concerned with white supremacy in the U.S., as well. But it seems to me the Icelandic insistence on cultural “purity” may be (and I stress “may be,” as I have only barely touched the surface) an example of an “innocuous” nationalism with the potential to morph into something more sinister. I’m interested in reading Fleming’s work. John

  2. warrens1or2 says:

    John, I am more concerned with white supremacy in the U.S. than I am about Icelandic supremacy in Iceland. I just finished “How to be less stupid about race” by Crystal Fleming. It is a very good, but uncomfortable, read. I now understand and admit that I am a white supremacist because of my ignorance and inaction concerning racism. It is not what or who I want to be, but it is who I am. Warren

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