Icelandic personal name

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A simple family tree that illustrates the Icelandic patronymic naming system.

Icelandic personal names , like all North Germanic personal names , but unlike in other western countries , mostly do not consist of the first name and a family name , but of the first name and a patronymic (less often a mother's name), which is not the historical origin of a family, but the First name of the father (or mother) of the child reflects. A well-known example of this traditional Scandinavian naming system is the Icelandic explorer Leif Eriksson ( Old Norse Leifr Eiríksson , Icelandic : Leifur Eiríksson ): Leif, son of Erik . This form of naming is continued in Iceland to this day. While Norway and Sweden switched to the family name system, the paternal name system has been used again as an alternative to the family name system for Faroese personal names (in the Faroe Islands, which belongs to Denmark ) since 1992. In Denmark itself, the use of patronymic names has been allowed again since 2006.

Examples of typical Icelandic naming

A man named Jón Einarsson has a son named Ólafur . Ólafur's last name is not Einarsson like his father's, but Jónsson , which literally means Jón's son (Jóns + son). The naming of daughters works in the same way. Jón Einarsson's daughter Sigríður would be called Jónsdóttir , literally Jón's daughter (Jóns + dóttir).

Sometimes the surname is also formed from the middle name of the father or mother, because this is the preferred name or because the parents find that the middle name goes better with the child's first name. Páll Arnar Guðmundsson's son Gunnar can be called both Gunnar Pálsson (Gunnar, Páll's son) and Gunnar Arnarsson (Gunnar, Arnar's son).

If two people within a circle of acquaintances have the same first and last name, they are differentiated by the name of the paternal grandfather: Gunnar Kristjánsson Bjarnasonar (Gunnar, Kristján's son, Bjarni's son) and Gunnar Kristjánsson Hallssonar (Gunnar, Kristján's son, Hallur's son). This method is not very widespread due to the frequency of middle names, but this type of ancestry identification is found in the Icelandic Sagas .

Matronymic naming as an alternative

Most of the Icelandic surnames are derived from the father's name, but there are also cases where the mother's name is used. There are various reasons for this: on the one hand, sometimes the child or parent no longer wants to be associated with the father; on the other hand, some women use the naming as a political symbol or choose such a name for reasons of style.

The name formation remains the same: Magnús, Bryndís 'son, is then called Magnús Bryndísarson ( Bryndís' son ). Well-known Icelanders with matronymic names are the footballer Heiðar Helguson , Helga's son Heiðar , and Guðrún Eva Mínervudóttir , Minerva's daughter Guðrún Eva . An example from the Middle Ages is the poet Eilífr Goðrúnarson . Some Icelanders have both a matronymic and a patronymic name, e.g. B. Dagur Bergþóruson Eggertsson , the Mayor of Reykjavík .


There are few family names in Iceland, mostly inherited or adopted by parents of foreign origin. Well-known carriers of inherited family names are, for example, the former Prime Minister Geir Haarde , the soccer player Eiður Smári Guðjohnsen , the singer Emilíana Torrini and the film director Baltasar Kormákur Samper . Before 1925, it was also allowed to take a family name, which for example the Nobel Prize winner Halldór Laxness did. Since the Icelandic naming law of 1925, this has only been possible if the family name to be adopted is inherited.

First names

First names that have not yet been used in Iceland must be approved by the Icelandic Naming Committee before they can be used. The most important criterion for the recognition of a name is the integration into the Icelandic language . The name may only use letters from the Icelandic alphabet and must be declinable .

See also: List of the most common first names in Iceland

Effects in everyday life

In Iceland, directories of persons like telephone books are sorted by first name. To avoid ambiguity, a person's occupation is often given in addition to the patronymic or family name. Since Iceland has a relatively small population, this procedure hardly poses any problems. A more populous country like Russia , which uses patronyms as intermediate names (e.g. Ivan Petrovich ), however, needs additional family names to avoid confusion.

Icelanders use their first name as a formal salutation. For example, former Prime Minister Halldór Ásgrímsson would not be addressed by another Icelander as Mr Ásgrímsson, but either by his first name or his full name. In Icelandic culture, the last name is not part of the name, but rather a brief description of recent family history.

If two people in a circle of acquaintances are called Jón, e.g. B. Jón Einarsson and Jón Þorláksson, one would address Jón Einarsson as Jón Einars and Jón Þorláksson as Jón Þorláks . In a conversation with these two people, you could leave out the “son” tag; the father's name acts as a kind of nickname here.

Another example of a formal salutation is the Icelandic singer and actress Björk . Björk is often mistaken for a stage name, as with Sting and Bono . However, Björk is simply Björk Guðmundsdóttir's first name and hence the name they would use to address all Icelanders, formally or informally. In English she could e.g. B. be formally addressed as Miss Björk .

The variety of possible names even within the same family can lead to problems. The parents Jón Einarsson and Bryndís Atladóttir can have children named Ólafur Jónsson and Sigríður Jónsdóttir, or with matronymics also Ólafur Bryndísarson and Sigríður Bryndísardóttir. Therefore, the Icelandic naming system occasionally causes problems when traveling abroad, especially with young children, as non-Icelandic border staff (outside the other Nordic countries) often do not know the system and therefore do not assume a family relationship.

Reform 2019

In June 2019 the Icelandic parliament Althing passed a law on “gender autonomy ” ( Lög um kynrænt sjálfræði ). On the one hand, this stipulates that names are no longer assigned to any gender. For example, the name Sigríður , which was previously considered female, can in future be given regardless of the gender of the name bearer. On the other hand, a third option is introduced for the (patro- and matronymic) surnames with -bur in addition to the endings -son and -dóttir . This ending can only be used by people who have officially registered as neither female nor male. Bur is a poetic word for "son", which has now been used as a neologism for this purpose.

Individual evidence

  1. Naming Committee accepts Asía, rejects Magnus . Iceland Review Online , September 12, 2006 (accessed May 23, 2009)
  2. Dagmar Trodler: Icelandic first names no longer have a gender . In: Iceland Review . June 24, 2019. Retrieved June 25, 2019.
  3. Lög um kynrænt sjálfræði ( Icelandic ) Þjóðskrá Íslands. June 19, 2019. Retrieved June 25, 2019.
  4. a b Sólveig Klara Ragnarsdóttir: Stúlkur mega nú heita Ari og drengir Anna ( Icelandic ) In: . Ríkisútvarpið . June 21, 2019. Retrieved June 25, 2019.
  5. bur ( Icelandic ) In: Íslensk nútímamálsorðabók . Stofnun Árna Magnússonar í íslenskum fræðum. Retrieved June 25, 2019.
  6. ^ Hans Ulrich Schmid: Dictionary Icelandic-German . 2nd, revised edition. Buske, Hamburg 2011, ISBN 978-3-87548-596-7 , p. 33 .
  7. bur . In: . Retrieved June 25, 2019.


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