March 6, 2006

Icelandic Baby Names

Do you remember in The Player when studio honcho Griffin (Tim Robbins) takes the Icelandic girlfriend (Greta Scacchi) of the screenwriter he killed to a museum party? The Hollywood people don't know her, and someone goes "Whose daughter did he say she was?" Funny because true.

A friend from Iceland and his wife just had a baby (congratulations, Snorri & Lydia!), and he's posted an short explanation of the Icelandic naming system. It's patronymic (and sometimes matronymic), which means that a kid's surname isn't a family name, but a "son of whoever" and "daughter of whoever" indicator.

All of Scandinavia used to use a similar system, but they stopped at some point, which is why Minnesota is full of so many Gustafsons, and why Utah is freaking with Christensens. Iceland, meanwhile, is still mixing it up.

Icelandic last names
[sturluson.com/snorrason]
Icelandic name system [wikipedia]

[update: while looking around for the official book of names for Iceland, I found NordicNames.de.]

7 Comments

When we were in Iceland we were talking to this Pakistani guy who became a naturalized citizen, nad he said that up until a few years ago, they used to make you take a traditional Icelandic name when you became a citizen. So this guy would have become Thor Gudmundson or whatever, which he thought was hilarious. Oh, and Iceland phonebooks are apparently sorted by first name instead of last name.

Lived in Iceland for 3 years. Great country. I would love to visit again.

All children born in Iceland must be given a traditional Icelandic name as published in the book of names, called the Nafnabokin (name book). If the name you want to give your child isn't in The Book you have to petition the name commitee, which meets quarterly to review and approve name petitions.

Amanda, that book sounds pretty good... I think we need something like that here in the U.S., only it shall say that people must give their children a name that a human can live with and it MUST be spelled correctly. No more adding y's and i's where they don't belong! And NO fruits or beverages allowed (though I'm still considering Jack Daniel for a boy *wink*)... heck the list could go on and on!

I was born Uma Halgrimmsdottir, which means daughter of the half ugly!!
Thank goodness my mother married again, and again actually.......yeah mom!

As long as it is not offensive, harmful to the child, or an attempt to do something illegal people should be able to name their children and themselves whatever they choose. If the child doesn't like it he/she will have the opportunity to change his/her name when they become an adult. I especially believe it should be this way for U.S. citizens considering that this country's population is from all parts of the world most of whom came here for FREEDOM. I was thinking of changing my last name and read the laws. The only other thing it mentioned is that you can't name your child with a number or character included. There may not be a *9 Smith, but there could be an Asterisk Nine Smith. I wouldn't name my kid that but who am I to judge? I'm tired of people admonishing unusual names and spellings. How do you know if it was made up? Have you heard every name that ever was? How do you know it's a "crazy" spelling? Singer Ciara pronounces her name Sierra. Some say it's spelled funny but it is actually an Irish name that is usually pronounced like Keira. Does that mean she pronounces it funny? No, It's her name. You can't tell people how to say their names or spell them. You have to ask.

Iceland is commited to preserving their heritage and their language. Without this commitment it would easily be lost forever. It is a small island of roughly 300,000 people who are constantly exposed to outside cultural influences. Icelandic first names while restricted to an official list allow prefixes, suffixes and combo names. So there is at least some room for creativity. Although they almost all end up being called by a nickname anyway. You can also petition to name your child something not on the list. Surnames in Iceland really don't exist. You would never ask in Icelandic "What is your last name?" You would ask "Who's son/daughter are you?" You would never address a person as Mr.Jónsson or Mrs.Þorsdottir. You would use there first name or whatever name they introduced themselves as and possibly their middle name either due to their request or to identify one Jón from another. I appreciate this naming convention as it considers people individuals and does not connect them directly to their family. It seems that the less a society revere's individuality more importance is given to a family or group name. For example in China the family name is listed before the individual's name.

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