The Vagenda

Naming Your Baby Girl

 
 
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?
- CM

6 thoughts on “Naming Your Baby Girl

  1. The problem was that ‘blaer’ is a masculine word in the Icelandic language. For example in French the word for wind, vent, is masculine, but the word for breeze, brise, is feminine.

    I’m not saying that a Name List is right, but in this instance I think it was more a quirk of the Icelandic language than anything…

  2. “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?”

    Nice, fight prejudice and stereotyping with prejudice and stereotyping. Brings down the tone of the whole article, which otherwise makes a great point.

  3. Feminine in Blaer’s case has nothing of the sort of gender stereotyping implied in the article.
    The english language doesn’t give masculine or feminine attibutes to things, words and concepts. Other languages, like the latin languages (and apparently the Icelandic one) do.
    To an English native, it may sound as they want to forbid her to be called Johnny like the song from The Waterboys, but it isn’t the case.
    The perpetuation of gender stereotypes is the reason we still have so much hateful sexism, transphobia and even homophobia in the world, but seeing everything from this perspective alone may make you jump at wrong conclusions.
    The lesson to be learnt from the story of the boy who cried wolf all the time, was that when the wolf really came for him, nobody paid attention to the alarm.
    That being said, it may be that it’s better to call everything wolf than to let one slip by :)
    From my perspective of a privileged white (in my country I’m white) male, I’d like to take theopportunity to thank you for this site where I can read (and learn) and enjoy myself without being made to feel detached or unequipped to understand and contribute positively to issues brought up here.

  4. I understand the point your making, but from some of your statements I wonder if you’ve ever lived in a country with Norse culture.

    I’m not from Britain, or Iceland, but I’ve been to both and lived in another Nordic country and I felt much more subjected because of my gender while in Britain than any other country I’ve ever been to. I cried with joy when I finally left Britain after living there for two years. (Melodramatic? Perhaps. But I was just so relieved to be moving on.) I felt most equal in Nordic countries.

    There are historical, cultural, and linguistic reasons for wanting to retain certain names (especially in such a small country which could easily be subject to globalization) which have nothing to do with sexism. They have approved name lists for men too and many of the traditional names have masculine and feminine versions of basically the same name.

    I bet if you look, Adolfa is on the list of approved names for women.

  5. I think that the progress of feminism and and being ‘with the times’ in Iceland is far better summarized with “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)” than this name issue.
    If you don’t speak Icelandic (which is supposed to be a very difficult language to learn) then how can you understand the nuances of what they mean when they refer to boy’s names and girl’s names. Literal translations probably won’t cut it.

Leave a Reply to Hayley Jones Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>