When we found out we were moving to Iceland, one of my Houston friends made me a coffee mug as a going away present. It said “Dr. Buckleysdottir” on it with a picture of Iceland on it – helloooo, best present ever! (p.s. Buckley is my dad’s name!) I had been telling her that Icelanders seem to have a pattern to their names, but didn’t know much more about it.
When we arrived in Iceland I realized had a lot to learn about this naming system. At first I was confused and would get people mixed up, especially with seeing patients! Wait, didn’t that person have the same name? How do you keep them straight? Since then, I have learned a lot about these name traditions!
Have you ever wondered how Icelanders get names? Wonder no more. Here are five common naming rules used in Iceland.
Sons and Dottirs
I’m sure you’ve heard of some famous Icelanders: Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson (The Mountain in Game of Thrones), Katrín Tanja Davíðsdóttir (Fittest woman on Earth – Crossfit Athlete), Anníe Mist Þórisdóttir (two time Crossfit Games champion), Unnur Birna Vilhjálmsdóttir (Miss World 2005).
So how did all of these people end up with -son or -dottir in their last name?
Enter Icelandic tradition number 1.
A person’s last name indicates the first name of his/her father (or in some cases the mother.) For example, If Jón Einarsson has a baby boy, his name would be Baby Jónsson (son of Jón). However, if Jón has a baby girl, her name would be Baby Jónsdóttir (dóttir of Jón).
Occasionally a family name will be used, but this is less common. The family name would come from parents of foreign origin.
First Name Basis
When we first moved to Iceland my employer handed me my new business cards with my first and last name on it. Confused, I wondered, “what about the ‘Dr’ part?” You see, in the States, the moment I crossed the stage at my Chiropractic graduation I was excited to hear people call me “Dr. Jeannie”. Anytime a patient at work woucd call me “doc” was a reminder of all the hard work that goes into becoming a Chiropractor. All those years and countless hours of studies have to count for something!
Not in Iceland. In Iceland, everyone goes by their first name. Even medical doctors and government officials.
One Country, One Phonebook
There is one phonebook in Iceland and it is for the entire country. It’s two inches thick, and alphabetizes everyone by their first name. If there are multiple people with the same first middle and last name (a very common occurrence!) their profession is listed to distinguish between people.
Having a name picked out for your unborn child is not common practice in Iceland. It’s usually months after the birth that the baby is named. Parents legally have up to six months after the birth to name their baby, and during this time, it’s not uncommon for a child to be nameless.
Generally a baby’s name is not revealed until its official naming ceremony, even between family members. Until then, newborns are often called drengur (boy), stúlka (girl), or elskan (“my love” or “sweetheart”).
I had never heard of this system before moving to Iceland! I’ve heard of parents not wanting to reveal the gender or name before the child is born, but still having a name picked out between the parents. Although this is a different concept, I can kind of see the value in it. What if your child is born and the name you have picked out doesn’t match their look?! Smart Icelanders.
Traditional Names Only
There are strict rules to naming your newborn baby. Keeping with Icelandic tradition, if a name hasn’t previously been used, it has to be submitted to the Icelandic Naming Committee for approval. The name may contain only letters from the Icelandic alphabet, and must fit grammatically with the language.
So there you have it! Definitely different that what I’m used to in the States where people name their children whatever they want, like Apple and North.
Question: What do you think of the naming rules?