You say you want to name your daughter after me? Aww, I’m honored! But if you live in Iceland, you’re out of luck. Laura isn’t a legal Icelandic baby name.
Many countries around the world limit parents’ name choices. The types of regulations vary, as do their motivations: protecting children’s welfare, preserving linguistic traditions, safeguarding aristocratic privilege, ensuring readability, enforcing religious or cultural conformity. Most governments simply lay out criteria for acceptable names. Some, though, lay out the exact options in an approved name list. And some of those lists are publicly available.
I’ve tracked down the official baby name lists of Hungary, Iceland, Argentina, Denmark and Tajikistan. (If you know of others, I’m all ears.) Follow the links below to see where your name is legal, and get a feeling for each country’s naming culture. You might want to keep Google Translate at the ready until you get the lay of the land at each site. Oh, and if you do live in Iceland, I’m happy to report that Lára is an option.
Hungary offers one of the most rich and interesting official name sites. You can search by criteria like name day and popularity trend, and the results include derivations, nicknames and number of syllables. That last can be less obvious than you might think—Laura is three syllables in Hungarian. Note that diacritics are essential to the language. For instance, István returns a search result, while Istvan does not.
Icelandic names must work in the Icelandic alphabet and linguistic case system, and be generally compatible with the nation’s culture. Iceland used to require gender-specific names as well, but not any longer. Last year the law was changed to permit unisex given names, and a gender-neutral family name suffix was created as an alternative to the traditional -son/-dóttir (son of/daughter of). As with Hungarian, diacritics distinguish separate letters in Icelandic, plus a few letters are different from the Latin alphabet. (Sample name: Þjóðbjörg.) Try browsing names on the site by clicking on a letter below the search field. You can then copy and paste name elements to search for more names that match.
Argentina loosened its long-time naming laws a few years ago, part of global trend toward more creative naming. But the government still maintains this list to guide parents on which names are “convencional.”
Denmark has been famous for its strict and elaborate naming laws. The first time I made my way through the text of the Danish Name Act about 15 years ago it included 72 major provisions, and the official name list was just a few thousand names long. In recent years, public pressure has led to a streamlined law and a major expansion of the approved name list.
The Catalogue of Tajik National Names is an exception to the general trend toward liberalization of name laws. It was established in 2016 as part of a push for “cultural purity,” and pointedly excludes certain Muslim religious names. To help navigate the Tajik site, look for a drop-down menu in the upper right next to a flag icon and choose English.
I don’t know how often the Hungarian Academy of Sciences Institute of Linguistics’ “name finder” is updated, but the PDFs and plain-text files are supposedly updated monthly, and can be accessed from this page: http://www.nytud.hu/oszt/nyelvmuvelo/utonevek/
(Férfinevek: men’s names; női nevek: female names. No, there are no unisex names allowed.)
The name finder says it’s based on 2013 data.
I looked up my name (Russian spelling of a traditionally Slavic name) in the Tajik list, and nope, illegal. In fact, I see very few Russian names on the list whatsoever, and if I had to guess, it’s probably due to a general anti-Russian sentiment in the former Soviet Union/Eastern Bloc. (I can’t blame them!)
Tangentially, this reminds me how after the fall of the USSR, several of the former Soviet republics, most of which did not use a Latin-based alphabet, changed the official way that names for both places and people were Romanized – Kiev becoming Kyiv being the most well-known example. I was fifteen at the time, and when I saw how my country was planning on spelling my name, I actually cried for the rest of the afternoon because I just hated how it looked. The place names seem to have stuck far more than the given names – I haven’t seen Ukrainians referred to as Oleh (rather than Oleg) on Wikipedia or in the news.
That’s fascinating about the new Romanizations! Looking at Wikipedia’s Ukrainian transliteration timeline, it looks like the letter Г in particular has been something of a sticking point. 🙂
By odd chance I learned all my geography of the region in Cyrillic to start with, studying Russian at my American public school in the 1980s. For years I had to mentally transliterate Romanized place names to get my bearings on a map.
Yeah, there’s no good Latin analogue for it – it’s sort of a gh, but in English that already has a specific sound at the end of words (like “through”). If you Russify it first, it becomes a hard G sound, which is very easy to convert to the Latin alphabet.
The charts on that page are fascinating but also horrifying – Ю as iou in particular is making my brain hurt. Iouri instead of Yuriy just looks so wrong to me!
The Щ is another fun one – we like to joke that Catherine the Great made eight spelling mistakes in a two-letter word (щи, a type of soup) because in her native German it would have been “schtschi”!
Genealogy is a hobby, and it looks like I could fit in with my name Nicole/Nikole with my direct line from Denmark! Ironically I was given a French sounding name to honor Maurice, my grandfather. Well I did some sloothing to firsthand living relatives back (eastern USA) to find out it was pronounced “Morris” intentionally just liking the way the former was spelled better by a the naming mother. Since I’d also gotten a DNA test for Christmas, yes I have 0% French ancestry. Ha! All English/Germanic/Danish. We all have ties to other countries and can reflect on the aspects (or specifications!) of many others.