I was answering some correspondence the other day from a client in Iceland of all places, and it got me to thinking, “What is it with these names?” I think in most countries – modern, third-world or otherwise, there’s no big secret to naming your child. In many countries, the son or daughter would use the name or the father or mother, or the grandfather or grandmother as a name. But only Iceland has staunchly continued its age-old tradition of using the Scandinavian pattern of naming children. This unique naming process is responsible for some very off-the-wall Icelandic names.
So get ready for an exercise in Icelandic phonetics and general confusion, not necessarily in that order. This may be a bit confusing, but try to follow me here. Brace yourself for some strange (well, strange to me anyway) Icelandic names along the way. Here we go!
Let’s say I’m married, and have a son or daughter. I will – by law and tradition – add the word “son” or “dottir” (daughter) to my first name! So if my name is Thor, my son’s last name will be Jon Thorsson (Thor’s Son…get it?) and my daughter Anna will be Anna Jonsdottir (dottir…”Jon’s daughter”). Talk about strange Icelandic names! Are you still following me? I told you this would be confusing! I haven’t quite figured out where the name “Jon” comes from. Those crazy Icelandics. Five million names floating around and every male has the name Jon stuck in their family tree somewhere.
Yes, this is confusing! In Iceland, referring to a family by their “surnames” is a lesson in futility because everyone seems to go by their first name! Apparently women will not take the husband’s surname when they marry as it will only screw up the lineage of the family.
Continuing on about off-the-wall Icelandic names, believe it or not, the most popular male name in Iceland and Scandinavia used to be “Thor”. However, since the inception of Christianity several centuries ago, the top name on the list is now “Jon”. I imagine it’s pretty amusing being in a crowded bar and hearing someone yell “Hey Jon!”Especially if 25 individuals turn around in unison and respond, “What is it?” Meanwhile, the most popular female name – at least since about 1100 AD – has been Guðrún. And that would be pronounced how? Yet another great name that ranks right up there with a few from the Ukraine and Russia that I cannot for the life of me imagine screaming at the top of my lungs while I’m having sex.
But I digress. You can insert virtually any name to create some strange Icelandic names. Let’s give it a try. Let’s say your name is Joel Burns. And you have a son named Tom. So your son’s name will Tom Joelson! And your daughter Jasmin will be Jasmin Joelsdottir! AAaak! Strange Icelandic names to be sure! At least there’s no confusion over ownership here. It’s actually quite simple the more i think of it: “Hey, who’s child is that..?” “Why that’s Joel’s Son “Joelson”! What are these people thinking! And there are laws in Iceland that make this kind of thing mandatory! The only saving grace is that you won’t find people named Tom or Jasmin in Iceland. In terms of off-the-wall Icelandic names, apparently names like Tom or Jasmin aren’t strange enough!
Well, if the names of sons and daughters wasn’t tough enough for you, wait until we talk about some Icelandic baby names. What’s interesting is that according to Scandinavian tradition, Icelandics shouldn’t have any unique Icelandic baby names. Based on the fact that most families name their kids after their parents or grandparents. However, that apparently is changing. LAST names incorporate the father’s FIRST name, but there is some flexibility for the first name of a baby. As if that wasn’t confusing enough.
A little research revealed that many baby names are also names of objects or names from some obscure mythical past. For example “Reifer”, Dögun, and Árdís. And when I say “obscure” I mean it. Because none of those names rings a bell with me when it comes to mythology. But the more popular baby names are again, just variations of their parents: Gunnar, Sigrún, Bjarni and Sigríður being some of the most popular.
Well, to each is own! I’m sure more common names like Gary and Mary Jane seem just as strange to someone in Iceland! In the meantime, could you help me? I’m looking for an individual by the name of Jon…..