Why Harriet and Duncan Weren’t Allowed in Iceland

Pictured above (via the Evening Standard) are two Icelandic twins. Their last name is Cardew. Their first names… that’s complicated.

The twins were born in or around 2002 to Tristan and Kristin Cardew. Tristan, the children’s father, was born in the UK; Kristin was an Icelander. The couple planned to name their children Duncan and Harriet, respectively, and for all intents and purposes did just that. But they ran into a problem: Iceland has a very restrictive naming law. Mental Floss lays out the major parameters:

The Iceland Naming Committee, formed in 1991, is the group that decides whether a new given name will be acceptable. If parents want to name their child something that is not included on the National Register of Persons, they can apply for approval and pay a fee. A name has to pass a few tests to be approved. It must only contain letters in the Icelandic alphabet, and must fit grammatically with the language. Other considerations include whether it will embarrass the child in the future and how well aligned it is with Icelandic traditions.

And the Cardew twins? Their names weren’t on the list. As you can see here, while Dúddi and Dufgus and  Dufþakur are fine, if you want to make your kid Duncan, you’ll need to avail yourself of that application-and-a-fee process. Same with Harriet — it’s not listed, despite the fact that Harri and Harry and Harrý are all fine for boys. And unfortunately for the Cardew family, the Naming Committee wasn’t keen on approving these off-list names. The name Harriet, they ruled, couldn’t fit within those grammar rules. The problem with “Duncan” was even more straightforward; there’s no “C” in the Icelandic language. The Committee rejected the children’s names.

While this didn’t have much impact on the twins’ day-to-day lives — they remained Harriet and Duncan to their friends and family — it had some strange legal implications. Specifically, the children couldn’t get passports in their given names; the Icelandic government refused to issue official documents with the forbidden names on them. As a result, at age two, the twins were issued passports reading Stúlka and Drengur Cardew — “Girl and Boy Cardew” — respectively.

For the Cardew family, this wasn’t a problem. But in 2014, they hit another bump in the road of names. As the Independent reported, “authorities [refused] to issue new passports due to law that states no official document can be given to people who do not have an approved Icelandic name.” No longer could Harried and Duncan go by “Girl” and “Boy.” So, they sued.

And ultimately, the Cardews prevailed. As reported in the above-linked Evening Standard piece, the family “won the case after a year of battling to have their children’s names approved.”


Bonus fact: Iceland isn’t the only nation with restrictive naming rules — hardly. In 2014, a family from Rosario, Argentina tried to name their son Messi Daniel Varela, after soccer superstar and hometown hero Lionel Messi. As NBC Sports reported, this wasn’t OK: “the director of the Civil Register of the Santa Fe province, Gonzalo Carrillo, has stated that no child shall be given the first name ‘Messi’ simply because, it is a last name and should be kept that way.” Kids named Jordan, Ruth, and Brady were unavailable for comment.

From the Archives: Why You Can’t Name Your Kid “Albin” (With a Different Spelling): Spelled “Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116,” just to be clear.