Iceland is famously known as the Land of Fire and Ice with picturesque landscapes and awe-inspiring natural wonders. The names of these monuments are equally unique because the Icelandic language has remained mostly unchanged from the original Norse settlers. Icelanders are very proud of their culture and they pass down this heritage through their names.
The most common Icelandic names all have meanings once you understand the language. Icelandic is a North Germanic Language and other Nordic countries have inspired many Icelandic names. Over the years, Icelanders have developed an interesting way of naming their children. Let’s learn more about the naming tradition and what are the top names for boys and girls.
How to Get The Approval of a New Name in Iceland?
Not only are Icelandic names unique in sound, but also the approval process of new names is very strict. In Iceland, there is a Personal Names Register and if the name does not appear on this register, you cannot use it. The only exception is to apply to the Icelandic Naming Committee for name approval and its addition to the register.
There are strict rules that Icelanders must follow. So it is not easy to guarantee the approval of the new name. The committee then evaluates the name for compatibility with traditional Icelandic names and for any potential embarrassment, it could create for the child. Assessing the name for potential embarrassment is very thoughtful since names are deeply important to their culture.
The new name must also follow the rules of Icelandic grammar and have letters using only the Icelandic alphabet. Icelandic words can contain unique letters such as Æ, Ð, Ý, Á, and Ú. In addition, the grammatical structure must match the gender of the person being named. The only exception is if enough Icelanders have used the name in the past then it can become gender-neutral. If the committee rejects the name it will not be added to the approved list. Then sadly, you cannot name your child the name you proposed.
Rejected Icelandic Names
You may be wondering if the Icelandic Naming Committee tracks the list of rejected names. They do. In fact, they not only track the rejected name, but they also track the month, day, and the year it was submitted. A few of the rejected female Icelandic names include Anya, Cleopatra, Grace, and Lady. Some of the rejected male Icelandic names include Bald, Karma, Lucifer, and Spartacus.
They rejected certain names submitted multiple times. For example, they rejected Anya three times. However, they can eventually accept a name if it is initially denied. After three tries the names Christa and Cesar were accepted on the fourth submission in 2014. Some names are even accepted in the same year it was rejected. For example, Emerald is a male and female name that was rejected in February 2009 and then accepted in May 2009. These instances should give future parents hope if their name request was initially rejected. If you are determined you just might get your request granted.
Common Icelandic Names
The top 5 most common Icelandic names for women are Guðrún, Anna, Kristín, Sigríður, and Margrét. The top 5 most common names for boys are Jón, Sigurður, Guðmundur, Gunnar, and Ólafur. An internationally friendly name for a boy is Ari, which means eagle and Karitas for a girl, which means love.
A few more of the approved Icelandic female names are: Anita, Baldína, Dagfríður, Elízabet, Gréta, and Hera. Some of the approved Icelandic male names are: Bjarnharður, Draupnir, Lótus, Móses, Rúdólf and Þangbrandur.
Icelandic Last Names
Icelandic last names did not become a trend until after the mid 18th century. Before that, Icelanders had one name. The naming structure derives from an old Scandinavian system. The father passes on his first name to his children as their last name. Then son or dóttir is added depending on the sex of the child. For example, Haraldur Freyr Hreinsson is the father and when he had a son the son’s last name became Haraldsson. Then when he had a daughter her last name became Haraldsdóttir.
Since last names can vary, only about 4% of Icelanders have a family name. In recent years, there has been a change. Instead of just the father’s name, some people use both names and then add son or dóttir. Or they even use just the mother’s name to challenge the original paternal system.
The Inspiration for Icelandic Names
Traditional Icelandic names have evolved overtime and have many inspirations. The original Norse Iceland settlers inspired some of the first names. Ingólfur Arnarson is still common today and is a significant name because he is, some say, the first settler in Iceland.
Most of the Icelandic names come from Scandinavian countries like Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Icelandic men predominantly have Nordic origins while the women mostly come from Celtic islands. Therefore some of the names have early Irish roots such as Dufgus, which is a male name meaning “the wealthy.”
After the early settlers arrived in Iceland they started to create new names. They used parts of existing names and drew inspiration from the Icelandic terrain. For example, a popular name like Jökull means glacier and Snælaug means snow-pool. Another wave of inspiration came from Icelanders who ventured abroad and returned with tales of royals like Elísabet for Elizabeth I.
Norse Mythology and Icelandic Names
Norse Gods heavily influenced names such as the thunder-god Þór, more commonly known as Thor. The god prefixes in Norse Mythology were regularly used when it was the main religion in 8th century Iceland A.D. For example, Þórsteinn means, The Rock of the Thunder God Thor. But when this worship became less popular people started to name their children the exact same names as the gods. For example, the Norse Gods such as Loki, Óðinn, Sif, Freyja, and of course Þór, are common names for children to this day.
Another factor that influenced the evolution of Icelandic names was the change of religion from Norse Mythology to Christianity. The shift from Paganism happened in 1000 AD when Thorgeir Thorkelsson made Christianity the official religion of Iceland. He famously threw his pagan idols into the Goðafoss Waterfall, which means Waterfall of the Gods. When Iceland changed from Paganism to Christianity, Guð the prefix for God originated new names. Names with this prefix were Guðleifur for men and Guðfinna for women. These names are still frequent in present day.
After visiting Iceland you will certainly have plenty of inspiration to name your child an Icelandic name because of the rich cultural history.