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Girls, Gentle Breezes And Bureaucrats

In a sentimental moment, we might say a girl is like a gentle breeze.

As the father of two beautifully grown-up daughters, I can confess to having felt that way when they were still living at home. Sometimes, that is. Other times, especially when they were teenagers, I looked inside my daughters’ bedrooms and wondered whether an F3 tornado might have somehow struck their closets without damaging the rest of the house.

I believe in fighting only battles that are worth fighting, however, so I never made an issue of it. Architects put doors on girls’ bedrooms for a reason. Close the door, solve the problem.

Some bureaucrats in Iceland never got that memo. They picked a pointless fight with the wrong young lady and, as one might expect, they came out on the losing end.

The fight was over a young girl’s name. Iceland has pretty strict conventions about how children are named, and the small North Atlantic nation backs up its traditions with the force of law. Each child has a given name that is appropriate for his or her gender, and a surname that consists of the father’s given name (or sometimes the mother’s given name) plus the suffix –son (if the child is a boy) or –dottir (if the baby is a girl).

Thus, Bjork Eidsdottir is a woman named Bjork who is the daughter of Eid.

Bjork Eidsdottir also happens to be the mother of a 15-year-old-girl who goes by the name of Blaer Bjarkardottir. Until yesterday, Iceland’s bureaucrats refused to call Blaer by her name. To them, she was officially just “Girl.”

When she named her daughter, Eidsdottir did not realize that “Blaer,” which means “gentle breeze” in Icelandic, had apparently never been used as a girl’s name in Iceland. This meant that the Icelandic Naming Committee had to approve the mother’s choice, in the interest of preserving the national culture. But the committee refused, deeming the word Blaer insufficiently feminine for a girl’s name.

I don’t know whether the committee would have approved Blaer had the name been given to a boy. I am sure, however, that girls and boys in Iceland are pretty much the same as girls and boys everywhere else, which makes me wonder whether anyone on the Icelandic Naming Committee has ever encountered a child of either gender. Girls may not always resemble gentle breezes, but boys certainly don’t come any closer.

I learned that from the boys that hung around when our daughters were growing up.

First there was the third-grader across the street, who liked to leave his playthings dangling from the trees in our front yard. “No place should be perfect,” he explained to my wife.

Then there was the middle schooler who cooked a plastic fiddle (a souvenir I brought my younger daughter from the childhood “Little House on the Prairie” once occupied by Laura Ingalls Wilder) in our microwave, just to see what would happen.

Gentle breeze, my foot. If some Icelandic mom wants a fitting name for her newborn son, she might consider the word for “fire hazard.”

The girl formally known as Girl could not persuade Icelandic officialdom to let her have her name, so she went to court. Yesterday, she won. The Associated Press reported that the Reykjavik District Court found that Blaer Bjarkardottir has the right to her name under Iceland’s constitution and Europe’s human rights conventions.

The AP also reported that Iceland’s naming officials have not decided whether to appeal. If they ask me, I will advise against taking the case any further. The only thing dumber than picking a fight with a girl over her name would be doing it twice.

I love the gentle breezes in my life. And if I’m going to tangle with them, it’s going to be over something much more important than a name.

Larry M. Elkin is the founder and president of Palisades Hudson, and is based out of Palisades Hudson’s Fort Lauderdale, Florida headquarters. He wrote several of the chapters in the firm’s recently updated book, Looking Ahead: Life, Family, Wealth and Business After 55. His contributions include Chapter 1, “Looking Ahead When Youth Is Behind Us,” and Chapter 4, “The Family Business.” Larry was also among the authors of the firm’s book The High Achiever’s Guide To Wealth.

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