MAN, WE’VE GOT A PROBLEM: Svalbard’s governor needs new name due to Norway’s new gender-neutral job title rule

The official title in English is “The Governor of Svalbard.” But the official title in Norwegian – the one that actually matters – is “Sysselmannen” and that’s suddenly a problem.

Norway’s government has jumped on the “renaming” bandwagon by decreeing all official job job titles be gender-neutral in order to convey the message of inclusivity for men and women in all occupations, rather than whatever old-fashioned stereotypes mind linger in some people’s minds. Setting aside the fact Svalbard’s current governor is a woman and the fact the name also refers to the entire governing agency under her control, it means a new name needs to be in place by Jan. 1, 2021.

“We need the very best heads to work in the state – whether they are women or men,” Nikolai Astrup, Norway’s minister of municipal and modernization, in a prepared statement. “It is both old-fashioned and outdated that the title of the position is linked to what gender one has.”

Literally, the obvious replacement might seem to be “Guvernør på Svalbard,” except that translation of “governor” refers to a political type who is the head of a colony, state, province or other non-sovereign political entity, which doesn’t exist in Norway. Put more simply, the literal translation of that word is “county governor” in English.

Svalbard’s governor, contrary to an elected or political appointee, is essentially administrative position that oversees legal and police functions under the authority of the archipelago’s true “ruler” – Norway’s Ministry of Justice and Public Security, which determines all-important things like the area’s budget and regulations.

The statement by Norway’s government does site some examples of changes that have already occurred. A “rådmann” (councilor) is now a “kommunedirektør” (municipal director). A“helsesøster” (heath sister) is now a “helsesykepleier” (health nurse). A “kontordame” (office lady) is now a “sekretær” (secretary) – although, perhaps looking ahead, it’s worth noting that in places like the U.S. the supposedly sexist “secretary” title has been replaced with “administrative assistant.”

So does “Direktør på Svalbard” work as a replacement? Apparently not as well as Norwegian language experts like – nor does anything else simplistically.

Suggestions for replacement names are being solicited from the pubic by Svalbardposten via e-mail at david@svalbardposten.no.