number 6
number 6 (Photo credit: jontintinjordan)

Have you been following the naming controversy in Iceland? It is all over the baby name news lately.  Like many nations, parents must choose from an approved list of names.  A committee handles appeals to go off-list.

Fifteen years ago,  Bjork decided to name her daughter Blaer.  To American ears, that’s Blair, and a completely acceptable name for a girl.  To Bjork, it was the name of a woman she’d known years ago.  But to the authorities, Blaer was not an option – because it takes a masculine article in Icelandic, they ruled that it cannot be a girl’s name.

I love The Name Station’s call for an end to name negativity.  And yet, the case of Blaer is too easy:

  • We readily accept Blaer as feminine, both because of its similarity to Blair, and because of its meaning: light breeze.
  • There’s at least some tangential evidence that Blaer would have been an acceptable girls’ name in Iceland’s recent past.  (In fact, Nordic Names lists it as gender neutral, while noting that it is not currently permitted for girls.)
  • While Blaer is not an intuitive spelling in English, it is the correct spelling for the noun in Icelandic.  We tend to be more comfortable with a child named Magic than one named Majix.

Certainly, it is easy to summon name scorn for any choice that is different.  There are countless blog posts out there about how terrible modern baby names have become, promising lifetimes of misery for the bearers of the names.  And we should all still to normal names, like Andrew and Samantha.

This is a decidedly ahistorical perspective.  The following things are true:

  • At many points in history, the pool of possible given names was smaller, and the customs governing which names should be given were much less flexible.
  • That said, there were always families willing to buck convention, and bestow different names on their children, for many reasons.
  • While the given name pool was constrained, it gave rise to endless nicknames and variations, many of which are now considered independent names in their own right.  The gap between your given name and what you were actually called has narrowed.
  • The lines between feminine and masculine names are much blurrier than many would like.
  • Likewise, spelling variations are the norm, not the exception.

And yet, I’ll admit to my own share of name scorn.  I actively dislike the style that Laura Wattenburg has dubbed “andro-girly” and I can be snobbish about parents who claim to have chosen Ava four years ago, “before it was popular.”  We all have preferences, and it can be incredibly difficult to remember that our preferences are just that – and not any more valid than others’ likes and dislikes.

Putting my soapbox away now …

Elsewhere in name news:

  • On a similar note, did you see The Name Lady’s answer to the question about Camden as a girl’s name?
  • I’m fascinated by this name: Edward Luxford Swann.  I’m in love with swans at the moment, and I find myself really liking the idea of Swan as a middle name – though I suspect Swann is a family surname in this case.  Theodora Swan is the one that keeps coming to my mind …
  • JarvisBritish Baby Names profiled my favorite name from the Iron Man franchise.  Besides all the great and weighty facts shared by Elea, he’s also the name of the computer system Tony Stark relies on in the movie versions of the comic book.  Could he be the new Jasper?
  • Hayes, Arizona, Buster, Inga … and more proof that names have always been wacky and wonderful at Historinamia.
  • Is -ayden fading?  Nancy has the numbers, and they seem to say yes …
  • Despite two attempts, I’ve yet to see Les Mis on the big screen.  It is a long movie, and the showtimes never seem to fit into our (too few) night out hours.  Maybe we should just take the kids?  I saw it on Broadway when I was 15, which made my brother 4 – Clio’s age, and my youngest sister 9 – just a year older than Alex.  In the meantime, look!  A baby Cosette.  (You know Names4Real was going to spot one!)  Something tells me this is the first of many … Maybe I should’ve listed her in my 2013 predictions.
  • Another name from the movies: Evanora.  Gorgeous!  And a great way to get to Evie.
  • Is Divergent the next Twilight?  In other words, will we all be pinning the rise of Beatrice on Veronica Roth’s sci fi series?  Of course, if the girls answer to Tris, then Roth probably has started something.
  • Really looking forward to this series from Bewitching Names.
That’s all for this week!  As always, thank you for reading this week’s summary of baby name news, and I’ll see you around the blogosphere …

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. I really do like Blaer!! I don’t think it was actually THE Bjork, though — from what I hear, Bjork is a pretty common name in Iceland, so I think it was just the daughter of a woman called Bjork.

    Jarvis is also seriously wonderful.

  2. I have been a huge fan of Jarvis for many many years, and I feel that his time might finally have come. I was a big fan of Jasper too, and that eventually paid off, so who knows?

    I’ve noticed that many of the boys names I loved in high school are finally becoming popular or at least fashionable, so I’m guessing I must be 20 years ahead of the curve when it comes to guy names (or I was – I may have hit a plateau by now).

    (I had to rewrite that as I made it sound that the names of all the boys I loved in high school had since become popular!)

  3. “We all have preferences, and it can be incredibly difficult to remember that our preferences are just that – and not any more valid than others’ likes and dislikes.” Great quote, it IS incredibly difficult to remember.

    This is the first I’ve heard of “andro-girly”, yuck.

    I’m with you on Cosette, I definitely see that moving up this year.

  4. I know many people who have strong negative opinions about many of the current naming trends, especially those which involve invented spellings and the andro-girly thing. However, the vast majority would not be in favour of any kind of restriction being placed on what people can and can’t name their children as exists in Iceland and other countries, except in the case of names that are legitimately cruel or offensive. Like you, I have my share of dislikes in naming styles, but beyond dislike I just feel bewildered by some name choices, as I truly cannot for the life of me see what is appealing about many of the more popular invented names or families of names. I feel like I must be completely missing something that is perhaps culturally important.

    I really love that your posts do more than round up name sightings – you actually make us think! 😀

    On “Swann”, this is a moderately popular given name in France, and I suspect the origin of it might be the character in Remembrance of Things Past. So perhaps Edward Luxford Swann’s parents are fans of Proust.

    Jarvis is a pretty groovy name. There is a Jamaican-Canadian musician named Gerald Eaton who uses the stage name Jarvis Church – Jarvis and Church are the names of two streets in downtown Toronto.

    1. Oops, I meant to mention that Swann is used for both boys and girls, though it is more commonly a boy’s name.

  5. Thanks for the shout out, and I love your take, as well! I think Blaer, which IS too easy, was a tipping point for my long-held feelings on the matter. I would never suggest someone name their kid Anus, but I have to remember that it’s not my kid, and I can contribute to humanity by not being a bully about the name.

    …I think I’m in a full-on resolution state-of-mind this close to New Year’s Day (I also quit smoking, which might explain the uppity-ness even further, ha!)

    1. I am a relentless resolution maker – I know EXACTLY how you feel! And I love this: “I can contribute to humanity by not being a bully about the name.” Very good resolution. I’m going to suggest it to Gawker …