Iceland’s Naming Laws Prevented a 10-Year-Old From Getting a Passport

Iceland’s rules for naming children are getting a lot of attention after a few high-profile cases

Iceland's Capital Reykjavík Arctic-Images/Corbis

Harriet Cardew may seem like a perfectly normal name to people in the United States, United Kingdom, or many other places. But in Iceland, it’s illegal.  

Iceland has laws about what its citizens can be named. And while the Naming Committee, which oversees the process, says that it wants most names to be passed and rarely rejects a name, some names don't pass muster. From the Guardian:

[N]ames unable to accommodate the endings required by the nominative, accusative, genitive and dative cases used in Icelandic are also routinely turned down. "That was the problem with Harriet," said Cardew [Harriet’s father]. "It can't be conjugated in Icelandic."

Harriet Cardew and her brother Duncan live in Iceland and are Icelandic citizens. They also happen to have a father from the U.K. The siblings are officially listed as Stúlka and Drengur Cardew ("Girl" and "Boy" Cardew) by the Icelandic government, reports the Reykjavík Grapevine. The International Business Times says that there are around 200 people in Iceland legally referred to as "boy" or "girl" (though they noted that in some of those cases, the children simply hadn’t been named yet). 

Harriet and her brother have travelled under passports with the names Stúlka and Drengur Cardew. But when Harriet needed to renew her passport, the government refused, on the grounds that she needed to have an Icelandic name. Cardew got an emergency passport from the U.K. instead, but her family is fighting for her to be allowed to have her name on an Icelandic passport, as well.

The Cardew’s lawyer now claims that denying Harriet a passport violates her constitutional rights. And this isn’t the first time that Iceland’s naming committee has been challenged in court. Last year, a 15-year-old girl named Blaer, which means "light breeze" won the right to legally use her name

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