Mannanafnanefndin: You can't call your son Ginger, but Cactus is fine

The baby is as yet unnamed, which inspired me to look through the official list of names which you may legally call your child in Iceland. If the name you want does not appear on the list, you can submit it for the consideration of the Mannanafnanefnd (meaning, roughly, The Names Committee). Quite recently it was in the Icelandic news that the name Elvis had been added to the list - Theodór Elvis Ólafsson was baptised this January. The rules for foreigners living in Iceland are slightly more relaxed - it is possible to give your child a foreign name now. Not so long ago, though, foreigners applying for Icelandic citizenship were actually required to change their name to something from the official list.

The rationale usually given for the existence of such laws about naming children focuses on protecting children from ridicule (i.e. no girls with boys' names or vice versa, no children called Moon Unit and so forth). In Iceland there's also a grammatical argument - foreign names often don't decline properly. My name, aside from being really close to the Icelandic word for monkey (api), looks grammatically like a masculine or neuter word, so nobody declines it at all. Not even for the genitive (possessive case), which is weird - it's like if in English you didn't say "John's house", you just said "John house". 

And really, this grammatical reasoning is much more persuasive than the idea that this is somehow ensuring that children only end up with sensible names. Because there are a lot of extremely silly names on the official list. I think my absolute favourite is Kaktus for a boy, which means exactly what it looks like it means. You may also call your son Ljótur, which means ugly (although it did not originally), Bambi, Emerald, Nóvember, Rósinkrans, Trostan (?!) or Metúsalem. For girls we have Ársól (pronounced hour-soul - not funny in Icelandic, but pretty unfortunate if she ever goes to an English-speaking country), Axelma, Bogey, Bogga (surely the most beautiful name in the world), Konkordía, Mekkín, Ninja, Úranía and, currently my first choice if I had to change to an Icelandic name, Gógó.

It's also possible to look at the list of names which have been rejected. A lot of them are foreign names, although there are also a fair few foreign names on the 'yes' list, and I find it hard to see what their criteria was. For example, Jack, Adam and Oliver are allowed, but Ben, Ian and Dominic are apparently too outlandish. The highlights of the boys' reject list are Engifer (meaning 'ginger'), Grimmi (meaning 'the cruel/vicious one'), Berk, Bald, Lorenzlee, Spartacus and Twist. My own name features on the girls' reject list, along with Abel, Cathinca, Erykah, Lárenzína, London, Mizt, Randy, Toby and Kap. I think the Mannanafnanefnd made the right decision with most of those... It is a bit worrying when you think of it, to realise that in Britain there is nothing to stop you naming your daughter Toby and your son Spartacus.

The baby is a boy, so I'm hoping for Kaktus. If you would like to browse the Mannanafnaskrá, you can find it here.


  1. 'Ann' isn't underlined, but I don't know if that means it's allowed or not. Help? Does this mean the boy can't be named after me?

    Has anyone got confused about your being a monkey yet? xxx

  2. Ann is allowed, but not for a boy. The underlined ones in the 'approved' section are slightly controversial, but acceptable, spellings. Like 'Arthur' is underlined because you can have it, but they'd rather you had Arthúr or Artúr.

    Öll samþykkt eiginnöfn drengja = All approved names for boys
    [...] stúlkna = [...] for girls
    [...] millinöfn = [...] middle names
    Nöfn sem mannanafnanefnd hefur hafnað = Names that the mannanafnanefnd have rejected

    Don't bother with the other categories, they're not interesting.

    Sometimes the six-year-old 'confuses' Abi with api, but he doesn't do it by mistake.