In Defense of an Unusual Baby Name
What happens when your favorite baby name is against the law?
How far would you go to defend your baby’s name? (Not her honor, mind you—her actual name). In Iceland, one mom has gone all the way to court to defend the name she gave her daughter at birth, after government officials there refused to recognize it because the name fails to conform to Iceland’s strict naming rules.
The name in question?
Blaer, which means “light breeze” in Icelandic. When she chose the name for her daughter, Bjork Eidsdottir claims she was unaware that it was not an allowed name for a girl until the priest who baptized her daughter caught the “mistake.”
The problem with Blaer is that it is officially listed as a boys’ name in Iceland’s Personal Names Register, the government-approved list of 1,712 male names and 1,853 female names parents are required to choose from when naming their children. Names included on the list are those that fit Icelandic grammar and pronunciation rules and that officials say will protect children from embarrassment.
When Eidsdottir appealed to the naming commission to make an exception for her daughter’s name (for example, the name Elvis was allowed on another parent’s appeal because it fits Icelandic grammar rules), the commission turned her down, saying it was it just too problematic for a female to have a masculine name. Because of Eidsdottir’s refusal to change her daughter’s name, despite being told to, Blaer, who is now 15 years old, is only known as “Stulka”—or “girl”—on all her official documents.
Think the mom should have just changed the name? For some parents, says baby naming expert Candace Alper, choosing an unusual name for their child is just too irresistible a prospect, even when, as in the case of this mom, it may come with the potential for negative consequences.
“I think that it’s about expressing creativity, spirit and self. I think that what you name your child says more about you than it does about your child,” Alper tells BabyZone. “Your child will eventually own their name, but in the beginning, it’s all about you. The name might be about a thing, place or feeling that you love or that you are sentimental about and you want to pass that on to your child.”
As Pamela Redmond Satran, one of the baby name experts behind Nameberry.com, finds, “Many parents today are looking for unusual names that carry personal meaning. Increasingly, that means looking beyond the conventional first name choices. The non-name names that parents are attracted to today might include a family surname that would otherwise be lost to time, like Grandma’s maiden name, or the name of the city where their child was conceived, or a name like Justice or Lake that embodies a spiritual or natural meaning.”
And Icelanders, take note! Unusual baby names are now almost the norm, at least here in America. “Unusual names are definitely becoming more accepted than they were a generation ago,” says Satran. Statistics back this up—there are more than twice as many names in general use in the US—over 33,000 given to five or more children in 2011 (the most recent year counted) vs. fewer than 15,000 in 1970. Also, a much smaller percentage of children are being given the most popular names: there were just over 20,000 children given each of the #1 names, Sophia and Jacob, last year. Compare to this 46,000 given the name Jennifer and 85,000 boys named Michael in 1970 when these names were on top!
What’s more, while your own mother may balk at the name you’ve come up with, chances are the other kids your child meets in life won’t even bat an eye. “Children today are more used to having classmates with names that are ethnically diverse, that bend gender boundaries, that have creative spellings, and that move far beyond what grandma might identify as a first name,” Satran notes.
Back to Iceland and Blaer, her mother is hopeful a judge will rule in their favor and allow the name—if not, she’s prepared to appeal to Iceland’s highest court to get approval. Beyond that, she is also hoping that perhaps her daughter’s “light breeze” of a name will bring some stronger winds of change and completely get rid of the country’s strict naming rules altogether.
As Eidsdottir tells the Associated Press, “It seems like a basic human right to be able to name your child what you want, especially if it doesn’t harm your child in any way…and my daughter loves her name.”
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