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A Girl Fights To Be Called By Her Name In Iceland, Suing Government

For 15 years, an Icelandic teenager has been called her given name, Blaer Bjarkardottir, by everyone except government employees and other officials. That's because "Blaer" (reportedly Icelandic for "light breeze") isn't on a list of government-approved names for girls.

So, in school and at the bank, she is often addressed as "stulka" — "girl" — before she explains the situation.

Blaer, 15, is now suing the government with the help of her mother, Bjork Eidsdottir, who tells the AP that the name Blaer has been accepted by the Icelandic Naming Committee before, despite not being one of a reported 1,853 female names that are officially allowed.

"I had no idea that the name wasn't on the list, the famous list of names that you can choose from," Eidsdottir tells the AP.

The problem with "Blaer" seems to be two-fold: It's on a list of approved boys' names, and it takes a masculine article in the Icelandic language.

As Iceland Review reports, the review board has refused to budge, "even though Nobel Prize winning author Halldór Laxness [uses] it for a female character in one of his novels, Brekkukotsannáll ( The Fish Can Sing) in 1957."

With her mother's help, Blaer is now suing Iceland's interior minister, asking that the ruling against "Blaer" be set aside.

Iceland isn't alone in requiring a review of babies' names — in 2006, for example, an Italian couple was forbidden to name their son "Friday" (even though their son was born on a Sunday).

Some countries, such as France, have somewhat relaxed once-strict policies that required only government-approved names (many of which either appear in the Bible or are culturally entrenched).

Many nations still require baby names to indicate gender (Germany) or to be easily read by a computer scanner (China), as CNN reported in 2010.

And it remains common for many governments to give at least a cursory review, to ensure that the parents aren't potentially sabotaging their child by choosing a profane or demeaning name, or one that might otherwise be an unfair burden to the child.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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