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.