Individual Freedom and National Culture: on Names and Icelandic Nationalism


  • Birgir Hermannsson



Names, nationalism, culture, individual freedom, cultural heritage.


The aim of this article is first, to trace the development of the Icelandic legislation on names; second to analyze the nationalism behind the legislation and third to contextualize this debate in a wider discourse within political philosophy about the relationship between culture and freedom. The purpose of the first legislation on names in 1913 was to secure standardization, but in 1925 a new legislation was passed with the explicit aim to defend Icelandic names, Icelandic surnames, and the Icelandic language. The rationale behind the legislation was infused with nationalism which emphasized cultural continuity and the importance of unspoiled culture and language for national independence. The most important criticism of the law concerned its infringement on individual freedom and later that the conservation of the Icelandic language and Icelandic names generally were separate aims. When names and surnames are cut off from the preservation of the language and nationality, their conservation as separate cultural heritage becomes an option. The Icelandic discourse is related to philosophical discourses that emphasize authentic and unique national cultures, which the state can or should support. These ideas are tied to freedom in various ways, like the importance of belonging to a culture or that different cultures are prerequisites of freedom and different ways of life. Critical voices are related to ideas about individual autonomy, which emphasize individual choice and state neutrality on cultural issues. It is difficult to resolve the tension between these two traditions since the question is about opposing values.

Author Biography

Birgir Hermannsson

Political scientist.



How to Cite

Hermannsson, B. (2021). Individual Freedom and National Culture: on Names and Icelandic Nationalism. Icelandic Review of Politics & Administration, 17(2), 153–174.



Peer Reviewed Articles