Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

February 3, 2013

So what's in a first name?

For the Daily Telegraph

— Let’s play the name game. Except in Iceland and a few other countries, there are rules parents must abide before signing a birth certificate. According to an article by the Associated Press, names such as Carolina and Christa aren’t allowed because the letter “c” is not part of Iceland’s alphabet. The name “Blaer” for a girl is also forbidden because it not on the approved list for girls’ names and it is a masculine name in the Icelandic language. There are only 1,853 approved names on the list for female babies.


Blaer is a real teenager who recently won the right to use her given name. Fifteen years ago, her mother didn’t know the name was on the forbidden list for girls. The government and official authorities refused to acknowledge the name and referred to her as “girl.” The mother and daughter team finally won a court case to legalize her name in Iceland. Now other parents can use the name, which means “light breeze.”

But names that are common in U.S. — Ben, Chris, Christiana, Diana and even Jamie — are on the forbidden list of names in Iceland. The story about Blaer’s fight for her name caught my attention. Coincidentally, I have been coming up with baby names ever since my friend Erica and her husband announced they were expecting a baby. At the gender reveal party, the expecting parents put balloons in a box and wrapped it up in shiny paper. Together, with their toddler’s assistance, they opened the box and let the blue balloons float to the ceiling.

Guests wrote down name suggestions on a posterboard. Some went with traditional names like John Michael. A few wrote down more modern names like Easton. There were biblical names as well. One girl pulled up a list of boys’ names on her phone and started going through the list. A few odd names — like Thor — also ended up on the posterboard. I am positive the superhero name won’t make it on the birth certificate.

Last week, we walked around the track at Princeton Senior High School. The conversation began with possible boy names for the new baby. There was no mention of Thor. I like names, always have. The task of selecting a name has always been a challenge — from pets to dolls. I can’t image the responsibility of naming a child. Maybe one day.


Why are names so important to our society? An article by states many parents believe a name holds the power to shape a child’s self-esteem and identity. Plus, our culture has created a society where first names hold power. Hello Madonna, Gwyneth and Oprah. Furthermore, the article also states that many parents are afraid their children will be stereotyped by their name or teased by others. (That didn’t stop Gwyneth from naming her daughter Apple.) The importance of a name puts parents on a nine-month mission to find the best possible name for their baby. There are plenty of ways to find new names, or revisit the familiar names of the past. There are books, magazines, name games at baby showers and one of the most reliable sources — the U.S. Social Security Administration’s website. You can search popular names by year or decade. In 2011, the most popular names were Sophia and Jacob. But if you’re a child of the ’80s, you might remember another way to pick out baby names. My friends and I would play a version of the old-school fortune teller game M.A.S.H. We followed the same rules, but at the end, we picked out the names for our future children. I was only in the third or fourth grade, but I recognized the importance of a first name. Of course, I picked out names that were popular back then — Brittany, Amber, Jennifer and Amanda. Names that might be outlawed in other countries.


In the U.S., we have the freedom to select a child’s name without any resistance from the government. (The opinion of your family is a different matter). It is a tiny freedom compared to others, but nevertheless, I appreciate my name even more now. On page two of the Lifestyles is a regular feature I love to read every week. It is the listing of area births in the two Virginias. In today’s society — where Facebook announces a baby’s arrival — there is still something comforting about reading the names of new residents of the two Virginias in the local paper. It is the first time those tiny babies get their name in the newspaper. To baby Troy, Dalton, Linda, Jeremiah, and Eli in today’s edition of Lifestyles and to all new babies, I hope you make the most out of your name.

Jamie Parsell is the Lifestyle editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at or follow on Twitter @BDTParsell.