When parents come to putting a name to the bundle of cells gestating inside one of them, they are bedevilled by a dilemma.
You want your precious little darling to fit in but you also want him or her to stand out. So what do you do? Go for a boring, conventional Peter, Paul or Mary type name or throw some wacky moniker shapes? Maybe a cheeky ‘My name’s Shaniqua and what?’ or even a ’Tulula does the Hulu from Hawaii’?
But, while the kind of parents who name their babies ‘Judas’ or ‘Adolf’ should probably be stopped by the relevant government authority on grounds of child cruelty, dismissing a girl’s name because its ‘unfeminine’ does not pass muster.
That’s what happened to 15 year old Icelandic Blaer Bjaekadottir who has won the right to use the name her mother gave her after years of being referred to only as ‘Girl’ on official documents.
Her name means ‘Light Breeze’ in Icelandic but is not on the list of 1853 female names approved by the totally not made up Icelandic Naming Committee.
Now you do have to wonder what century the Icelandic authorities are living in. I know it’s a very small country, far away, whose major cultural export is Bjork but they really can’t be that far behind the times surely? Especially as they are usually cited as one of the most progressive countries in terms of feminism (lesbian PM, cabinet 40% women and striving for 50, excellent childcare, etc. etc)
We’ve long since established that qualifying certain attributes as ‘feminine’ or ‘unfeminine’ is essentially bollocks. What is so ‘unfeminine’ about ‘Light Breeze’ anyway? Sounds rather girly to me. Now if she tried to get away with ‘Almighty Knob Hammer’ I may just about have been able to see where they were coming from.
Is it perhaps because it suggests some sort of activity? A breeze is movement and activity even if it is rather feeble. Are the Icelandic Naming Committee suggesting in order for a woman to be ‘feminine’ she must be passive, still and inoffensive?
Given the fact that names like ‘Magnus’ meaning ‘great’ and ‘Thor’, after the king of the Norse gods, are acceptable boy names (so is Adolf apparently) is Iceland conditioning its boys and girls at birth to be divided into ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ or even at its most extreme ‘good’ and ‘bad’?
Of course this is probably inadvertent and the Icelandic Naming Committee thought they were doing what was best for Blaer (though I’d reckon growing up being referred to as ‘Girl’ would be tougher than ‘Light Breeze’) but the point still stands.
Why do girls have to be conditioned from birth to be ‘feminine’? Why do boys have to be conditioned to be ‘masculine’? Surely this perpetuation of gender stereotypes is the reason we still have so much hateful sexism, transphobia and even homophobia in the world?
Instead of treating individuals like individuals we allow them to be categorised into two. Girls can’t be loud, they can’t be assertive, they can’t be forceful because that’s ‘unfeminine’. The perennial othering of girls who want to be different, who like to get into scraps, stand up for themselves and possibly one day run a FTSE 100 company is why there aren’t enough women in boardrooms, judge’s chambers or sitting in major newspaper’s Editor chairs.
‘Light Breeze’ is hardly a warrior woman name. I wonder what they’d make of ‘Boudicca’, ‘Xena’ or even ‘Buffy’? Would they be unfeminine too?