What’s In A Name?

Written by
10 October 2012

This article from the October 2012 edition of the IPA Review is by Researcher at the IPA, Peter Gregory.

A wise man once said, ‘If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.’

Actually, it was Noam Chomsky. Wait…really?

Whatever. He’s right. Freedom means freedom for everyone. Even people who we don’t agree with. Even people on The Shire.

And this notion has been threatened many times. From the most extreme acts of genocide from totalitarian regimes to your garden variety we-don’t-like-you-so-we’re-going-to-shut-you-up infringements on freedom of speech that go on in most Western countries these days.

But in the history of human endeavour, never has this ideal been more sorely tested than with the advent of the peculiar, dystopian, nihilist phenomenon of…crap names.

You know what I’m talking about. The people who don’t care enough about their child to spell their name correctly. The people who downright make it up. The people who just do it wrong.

A cursory glance at any AFL list will show you what I mean. I give you Cale Morton, Cheynee Stiller and Kepler Bradley. Collingwood has Dane Swann and Dayne Beams—that’s two separate versions of a name that doesn’t exist!

Now, whilst I find this phenomenon distasteful, this week I’ve came across an Icelandic response to the problem that is far more reprehensible.

In Iceland, mothers and fathers are not free to choose what to call their offspring, but must select from a list of legal names. That’s right! No random ‘y’s, or ‘i’s, or replacing ‘c’ with ‘k’. You have to choose a name from the list.

If their preferred name is not on the list, then they must submit a request to a government naming committee called Mannanafnanefnd! For the name to be approved by the committee it must fulfil certain conditions. Other Icelanders must have had the same name. It must uphold grammatical purity and comply with ‘the linguistic structure of Icelandic’. And names that contain the letter ‘c’ or ‘z’ are prohibited as those letters aren’t contained in the 32-letter Icelandic alphabet.

It was this draconian legislation that recently prevented one Icelandic couple from calling their child ‘Pedro’!

But most balmy of all, is the condition that the name can’t embarrass the child. Apparently the names Ljótur and Loftæna are thorny issues for Icelandic naming regulation as they have significant historical precedent and fulfil grammatical obligations but mean ‘ugly’ and ‘loft hen’ respectively.

No kid wants to be called a loft hen.

But folks, as we like to say around here, you either believe in freedom or you don’t.

We here at the IPA are not afraid of taking unpopular stances. We say the unsayable. And although certain names may leave us with the urge to set up home on a small frozen island on the other side of the world, we proudly support naming freedom for every Tom, Dick, Harry, Rainbow, Kepler, Aðalmundur and Þjóðhildur!

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