Why Do Icelandic Names Stand out From the Crowd?

October 28, 2021

Why Do Icelandic Names Stand out From the Crowd?

October 28, 2021

Iceland is a country with a rich and unique history, from Vikings to the influence of Norse mythology of nearby Nordic countries, many wars and conquests, and other geopolitical, religious and cultural peculiarities. Iceland was historically isolated from the rest of Scandinavia, which led to a certain heterogeneity and kept Icelandic culture somewhat uninfluenced by developments that were taking place in other parts of the region. With the shift from paganism to Christianity, the common names changed in Iceland but many of the names of old times are still in use today. Coupled with the fact that the Icelandic people take a lot of pride in their history and have been dedicated to keeping some of their time-honored traditions alive, these factors help us get a deeper look into why Icelandic names are so unique.

For outsiders, even the most common Icelandic names are often a source of intrigue and maybe some confusion. This is partly because although the Icelandic alphabet looks deceptively similar to English, it follows different rules. Certain alphabets of the Icelandic language, such as “á”, “ð” and “é” do not exist in the English language at all. Although they might look the same as “a”, “o” and “e”, they are in fact entirely distinctive in sound and pronunciation. This is one of the reasons why Icelandic names are difficult for people of other countries to use since there will be complications registering a name with an alphabet that isn’t a part of the English language.

The Icelandic Naming Committee

In Iceland, parents cannot simply name their child whatever they wish. In fact, names that have not been used in Iceland before have to be pre-approved by the Icelandic naming committee. This is a way for the country to keep a check on the names that are being used and passed on to the next generation. Every year, people send in names for approval, which are approved or banned by this committee. Both lists are announced publicly, to either the joy or disappointment of hopeful parents. This committee checks these names for their compatibility for integration into Icelandic tradition. Secondly, names that can possibly cause embarrassment to their bearers are also banned. Middle names aren’t very common in Iceland but the registry that keeps track of approved names lists approved first names separate from approved middle names, which cannot be used interchangeably.

If the child has a parent who is not an Icelander, they are allowed to have one name that might not be on the approved list of names.

The continued existence of this committee is seen by some as a necessary measure to ensure that Icelandic tradition is not lost in the tides of globalisation, whereas others go as far as to say that not being able to give your child the name you desire is against basic human rights. However, it can’t be said that this committee has not tried to evolve according to changing times. For example, the names approved by this committee used to be strictly segregated by gender, so that male names couldn’t be given to female children and vice versa. But now, since the gender autonomy law was passed in 2019, transgender and intersex individuals have been given the right to gender self-identification. After this law was passed, Icelandic names are no longer bound by the gender that was assigned at birth.

Further Peculiarities of the Icelandic Naming System

The concept of family names is pretty rare in Iceland. Instead, Icelanders stick to a patrilineal naming system that was previously used in all Scandinavian countries. According to this system, the child inherits the first name of the father as his/her last name, with the suffix -son for male children and -dóttir for girl children. So if the father is named Stefan Haraldson, his sons and daughters would have the surname Stefanson and Stefandóttir respectively. Some families choose to take this system along with a chosen family name in order to decide on their last names. In keeping with the changing times, people are no longer required to adhere to this system. Some choose to keep the name of both the mother and the father in their last name, while others proudly bear the names of two mothers or two fathers as well.

After the gender autonomy law was passed, individuals who identify as non-binary may choose to use the suffix -bur with their last names, which simply means child and is gender-neutral.

No Icelandic name is without meaning, whether someone is named after a feeling, an old goddess or a mountain. Among some of the most popular Icelandic girl names, Freyja comes from the name of a pagan deity of fertility and love, whereas the origin of Hekla and Katla are Icelandic volcano names. People tend to believe in the power of names as well. If the expecting mother sees a relative in her dreams, it is said that she should name her child after said relative. This is especially important if the relative is deceased since it’s seen as a request from the deceased and not complying with their wishes may result in harm to the unborn child.

Given the critical role that grandparents often play in the lives of Icelandic children, they are often named after their grandparents as well. Keeping the name of a grandparent alive in the name of the child helps to build a sense of community and honours the older family members.

After getting married, people don’t change their names in Iceland. This tradition has worked out well in modern times since it makes things easier if the couple was to get divorced.

Despite Christianity being the main religion of Iceland, Icelanders maintain their own traditions that are unheard of elsewhere. For example, instead of one jolly old Santa Claus, there are thirteen mischievous Yule Lads, and their Icelandic Santa names also have meanings that give away the ways in which they torment children, such as Hurðaskellir, who slams doors and Kertasnýkir, who steals candles.

People who are not from Iceland but wish to give their children Icelandic names can choose from a list of names that do not contain the particular Icelandic alphabet that is missing from the English alphabet so that they don’t face any problems with registering the child’s name. This list includes many beautiful and meaningful names such as Ari, Hilmir and Noi for boys and Lukka, Lind and Sunna for girls.

NORTHERN LIGHTS BLOG

A Few of our Favourite FAQs

Iceland is often described as magical, extreme and otherworldly. It makes sense then that our guests feel unsure about what to bring, how to prepare and what to expect. So, here are a few of our favourite frequently asked questions about Iceland.

Why Do Icelandic Names Stand out From the Crowd?

October 28, 2021

Why Do Icelandic Names Stand out From the Crowd?

October 28, 2021

Iceland is a country with a rich and unique history, from Vikings to the influence of Norse mythology of nearby Nordic countries, many wars and conquests, and other geopolitical, religious and cultural peculiarities. Iceland was historically isolated from the rest of Scandinavia, which led to a certain heterogeneity and kept Icelandic culture somewhat uninfluenced by developments that were taking place in other parts of the region. With the shift from paganism to Christianity, the common names changed in Iceland but many of the names of old times are still in use today. Coupled with the fact that the Icelandic people take a lot of pride in their history and have been dedicated to keeping some of their time-honored traditions alive, these factors help us get a deeper look into why Icelandic names are so unique.

For outsiders, even the most common Icelandic names are often a source of intrigue and maybe some confusion. This is partly because although the Icelandic alphabet looks deceptively similar to English, it follows different rules. Certain alphabets of the Icelandic language, such as “á”, “ð” and “é” do not exist in the English language at all. Although they might look the same as “a”, “o” and “e”, they are in fact entirely distinctive in sound and pronunciation. This is one of the reasons why Icelandic names are difficult for people of other countries to use since there will be complications registering a name with an alphabet that isn’t a part of the English language.

The Icelandic Naming Committee

In Iceland, parents cannot simply name their child whatever they wish. In fact, names that have not been used in Iceland before have to be pre-approved by the Icelandic naming committee. This is a way for the country to keep a check on the names that are being used and passed on to the next generation. Every year, people send in names for approval, which are approved or banned by this committee. Both lists are announced publicly, to either the joy or disappointment of hopeful parents. This committee checks these names for their compatibility for integration into Icelandic tradition. Secondly, names that can possibly cause embarrassment to their bearers are also banned. Middle names aren’t very common in Iceland but the registry that keeps track of approved names lists approved first names separate from approved middle names, which cannot be used interchangeably.

If the child has a parent who is not an Icelander, they are allowed to have one name that might not be on the approved list of names.

The continued existence of this committee is seen by some as a necessary measure to ensure that Icelandic tradition is not lost in the tides of globalisation, whereas others go as far as to say that not being able to give your child the name you desire is against basic human rights. However, it can’t be said that this committee has not tried to evolve according to changing times. For example, the names approved by this committee used to be strictly segregated by gender, so that male names couldn’t be given to female children and vice versa. But now, since the gender autonomy law was passed in 2019, transgender and intersex individuals have been given the right to gender self-identification. After this law was passed, Icelandic names are no longer bound by the gender that was assigned at birth.

Further Peculiarities of the Icelandic Naming System

The concept of family names is pretty rare in Iceland. Instead, Icelanders stick to a patrilineal naming system that was previously used in all Scandinavian countries. According to this system, the child inherits the first name of the father as his/her last name, with the suffix -son for male children and -dóttir for girl children. So if the father is named Stefan Haraldson, his sons and daughters would have the surname Stefanson and Stefandóttir respectively. Some families choose to take this system along with a chosen family name in order to decide on their last names. In keeping with the changing times, people are no longer required to adhere to this system. Some choose to keep the name of both the mother and the father in their last name, while others proudly bear the names of two mothers or two fathers as well.

After the gender autonomy law was passed, individuals who identify as non-binary may choose to use the suffix -bur with their last names, which simply means child and is gender-neutral.

No Icelandic name is without meaning, whether someone is named after a feeling, an old goddess or a mountain. Among some of the most popular Icelandic girl names, Freyja comes from the name of a pagan deity of fertility and love, whereas the origin of Hekla and Katla are Icelandic volcano names. People tend to believe in the power of names as well. If the expecting mother sees a relative in her dreams, it is said that she should name her child after said relative. This is especially important if the relative is deceased since it’s seen as a request from the deceased and not complying with their wishes may result in harm to the unborn child.

Given the critical role that grandparents often play in the lives of Icelandic children, they are often named after their grandparents as well. Keeping the name of a grandparent alive in the name of the child helps to build a sense of community and honours the older family members.

After getting married, people don’t change their names in Iceland. This tradition has worked out well in modern times since it makes things easier if the couple was to get divorced.

Despite Christianity being the main religion of Iceland, Icelanders maintain their own traditions that are unheard of elsewhere. For example, instead of one jolly old Santa Claus, there are thirteen mischievous Yule Lads, and their Icelandic Santa names also have meanings that give away the ways in which they torment children, such as Hurðaskellir, who slams doors and Kertasnýkir, who steals candles.

People who are not from Iceland but wish to give their children Icelandic names can choose from a list of names that do not contain the particular Icelandic alphabet that is missing from the English alphabet so that they don’t face any problems with registering the child’s name. This list includes many beautiful and meaningful names such as Ari, Hilmir and Noi for boys and Lukka, Lind and Sunna for girls.

NORTHERN LIGHTS BLOG

A Few of our Favourite FAQs

Iceland is often described as magical, extreme and otherworldly. It makes sense then that our guests feel unsure about what to bring, how to prepare and what to expect. So, here are a few of our favourite frequently asked questions about Iceland.