Q: With that recent name issue of Blær that is making headlines around the world, what is the general census in Iceland about this?
Do Icelanders think she has a fair case or it is just one those things that people have never really fiddled with—testing the naming system!
Christian, Brisbane, Australia
A: There are divided opinions on the issue as is often the case with decisions made by the Icelandic Naming Committee. Many people support Blær’s case, including another woman who’s middle name is Blær, albeit not officially.
Some commentators say they find the name beautiful, others simply speak for the rights of parents to choose whatever name they want for their children.
Critics have commented that they find it unbelievable that parents would want to give their daughter a men’s name and that no exceptions should be made to rules to which all should abide.
As mentioned in earlier reports, only one woman is known as Blær in the National Registry and her name was approved before the Icelandic Naming Committee determined that Blær should be a male name in 1991.
Therein lies the problem, as according to Icelandic law, there shall be no unisex names in Iceland.
However, in his 1957 novel, The Fish Can Sing, Icelandic Nobel Prize in Literature laureate Halldór Laxness named one of his female characters Blær, and so did Birna Anna Björnsdóttir, Oddný Sturludóttir and Silja Hauksdóttir in their novel Dís from 2000.
Some people feel that Iceland’s most respected author should be given credit for his views and indeed, he is said to have convinced the Naming Committee to approve the name of the only woman officially called Blær in Iceland.
Blær is a masculine word for ‘light breeze’ and in general, male names are masculine and vice versa.
But not in all instances. It has been pointed out, for example, that the name Ilmur, which is a masculine word and means ‘scent,’ is a female name, as in the case of actress Ilmur Kristjánsdóttir.
More common still is the women’s name Auður, which is a masculine word for ‘wealth.’ It was the name of female settler Auður djúpúðga. However, although less commonly, it was also used as a men’s name before the time of naming regulations.
Similarly, the men’s name Sturla, the name of high chieftain Sturla Sighvatsson from the Commonwealth Era which is still used today, sounds female because of the –a ending. It’s actually a verb meaning ‘derange.’
Perhaps this matter is so complicated because of the strict grammatical rules of the Icelandic language. Words being masculine or feminine determine which pronoun is used and because names are declined like other nouns not all foreign names can be adapted.
There are two sets of declensions for Blær, masculine and feminine:
(Nominative) Blær (m) – Blær (f) (Accusative) Blæ (m) – Blæ (f) (Dative) Blæ (m) – Blævi (f) (Genitive) Blæs (m) – Blævar (f)
Most names that are Icelandic in origin are transparent in the sense that they have an obvious meaning. The meaning of a name is often important to parents when naming their children and the reason for them to apply for new names to be approved.
Other parents apply to have names approved for other reasons. For example, they want to use C instead of K or think foreign names sound cool, like Elvis, which was approved to some controversy.
Linguist purists want Icelanders to only bear names that are Icelandic in origin but the Naming Committee’s main concern is whether names are adaptable to the language and coincide with the law.
Some of Blær’s supporters argue that the law has become obsolete and should be modernized.