Stay tuned for our Iceland Airwaves 2017 final radio documentary, which will air on December 17th at 5 p.m., with encore presentations on December 24th and December 31st at 5 p.m. on WCRX-FM 88.1 in Chicago (live stream here). In the meantime, listen to one of the cultural stories produced during our trip in Iceland below and check out our daily blogs, live reviews from the 2017 Iceland Airwaves Music festival, and hear our preview interviews we produced before we arrived.
What’s in a name? It’s the century-old question. To Icelanders, it’s part of cultural identity regulated by the country’s naming laws. The laws say that names must have only Icelandic letters, so no C, W or Z. Names also need to be compatible with Icelandic grammar, signify a gender and not be embarrassing to the child.
The governing body who oversees the laws is called the Icelandic Naming Committee, created in 1991. In recent years, it has received criticism by locals and immigrants who want to name their child something other than the 3,500 approved names.
Iceland’s naming tradition is matronymic and patronymic, not familial like the U.S. are used to. This means Icelanders’ last names are their parent’s first names plus a “son” or “dottir” (son and daughter in English) depending on the gender. It may sound strange to those unfamiliar with Icelandic culture, but for locals it’s the way it’s always been.
The U.S. also likes its names to keep American tradition, especially as immigration is rising and identities are more diverse in most modern nations.
In Georgia, a judge ruled a child could not have the last name “Allah” because it is considered obscene and is not a family name. Georgia’s naming laws state that a child can have a father or mother’s last name or a combination of both, but it cannot have any symbols or obscenity in any language. California also does not allow diacritical marks on vital records. In Texas, parents can spell them out as long as they fit the character limit on vital records. Unlike Georgia, parents can choose other last names, even if they are not their own.