Category: Scandinavian names
Scandinavian names have been slow to enter the American stockpot of names. Maybe it’s because they’re not as romantic as the Italians, as genial as the Irish, as energetic as the Russians, or as instantly chic as the French.
But there are a lot of great, neglected Swedish, Norwegian and Danish names to be discovered, and those of internationally known Scandinavian celebrities have provided a pathway in. Here are the names of some such notables, both past and present, which are both appealing and accessible– and definitely worth considering.
Astrid—the prolific Swedish author Astrid Lindgren is best known as the creator of Pippi Longstocking. Her royal Scandinavian name has been neglected here in favor of the more familiar Ingrid, but is just as attractive.
Even if you haven’t hit the multiplex lately, you’ve probably heard that the hammer-wielding Thor is winning critical acclaim and drawing in crowds. Could the movie inspire parents to look north to Norse mythology names for baby name inspiration?
After all, we’ve borrowed from Greek and Roman mythology for generations. From classics like Diana to current favorites like Luna, there’s no shortage of appealing options. Pierce Brosnan has a son called Paris, and Chris Noth named his firstborn Orion.
Norse mythology names are not as well known, and many of them are awkward in English. (Frigg would be downright cruel, no matter how noble the figure.) Most of the list below comes from the Prose Edda and Poetic Edda, two compilations dating to the thirteenth century, but including much older oral traditions.
Whether you’re a fan of the comic or looking for a name that celebrates your Scandinavian heritage, there are some interesting possibilities to be found.
Astrilde – Invented in the sixteenth century invention as a Norse equivalent of Cupid, she’s not part of the original pantheon, but appears in plenty of poems.
Atla – A minor water goddess.
Edda – Several theories explain why Icelandic scholar Snorri Sturluson chose to name his collection the Prose Edda. One of the most popular theories is that it comes from a Latin phrase meaning “I compose.” The Edda Awards are Reykjavik’s answer to the Oscars.
Nameberry guest blogger Andrea, whom many of you may know for her intelligent and thoughtful advice on our message boards, and who most recently blogged for us on royal baby names, now focuses her attention closer to home, with this report on naming trends in the midwest.
On a recent Saturday somewhere in North Dakota, an athletic field was filled with fledgling 4-year-old soccer players, learning how to kick the ball and congratulate teammates when they did (or didn’t) make a goal. Behind them were their proud parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and volunteer coaches, all hollering at once:
“Maddox, where’s your soccer ball?” “Yay, Logan. Yay, Logan!” “Hustle, Camden, hustle!” “Chloe, take a time out.” “Go, Ethan!” After awhile the hard “C’s” and “an” ending names started to blend together. I could imagine next year’s preschool or kindergarten teacher mixing some of them up the way their soccer coach occasionally did.
The names of the kids on my nephew’s soccer team are a good example of some of the naming trends in North Dakota and elsewhere in the Midwest, which tend towards newer-sounding surnames, names with a western feel, and names that sound a lot like other names that are already popular. The differences seem more distinctive with boys than they do with names for girls. Many of the names are also common everywhere in the United States, but it seems like some of them are adopted here before they hit the southern or eastern U.S. William, at the top of the charts in much of the South, is far less common in North Dakota, where 60 little Ethans were born last year compared with 26 little Williams. Ryan, popular in the eastern U.S., was most popular in North Dakota well over a decade ago and has now lost steam. Likewise, Jayden and variants have been popular here for over a decade and some of the North Dakota Jaydens have started college. Now, even as the name hits the top of the charts in New York City, North Dakota parents seem bored with Jayden and have moved on to Brayden, ranked at No. 7; Aiden, ranked at No. 9, Caden, which probably doesn’t rank higher mainly because there are so many spelling variants, all listed separately on the popularity chart, and Hayden. Jayden itself is No. 51. All are used for girls occasionally as well as boys. Then there are the sound-alikes like Zayden, Tayden, Trayden, Grayden and others.
There are also distinctive trends that sometimes don’t show up on the top 100 charts. There are more Swedish or Norwegian names here, thanks to the Scandinavian-Americans who settled in the Midwest a century ago. Greta appears on the top 100 list for Minnesota in 2009 and is not as often used anywhere else in the country. Over the years I’ve interviewed young boys named Ole, Nels, Jens, Odin, Thor, Kjell, Christ, Haakon and Soren and young girls named Solveig, Signe, Dagny, Siri, Marit, Ingrid and Kaari. Some traditional Sioux, Chippewa or Three Affiliated Tribes parents give children native language names, like Spotted Eagle or Chaske or Mato or Chenoa.
Western-sounding names for boys like Brody and Wyatt also seem more popular in the Midwest than in some other parts of the country. I’ve seen more than one birth announcement for a little Rowdy or Maverick or Colt. It’s fun sometimes to see how often the roster of bull riders or barrel racers at a summer rodeo actually sound like they belong on a ranch roping cattle. The child sometimes grows up to fit the name. I know that when one of my former colleagues named his son Cooper two years ago, he commented that it’s the kind of name he could imagine being called out by a basketball announcer 15 years from now when his son runs into a gym in front of a cheering crowd. “Go, COOPER! COO-PER! COO-PER!” was echoing in his ears. Cooper, which is also coincidentally my newest nephew’s name, ranked at No. 27 in North Dakota last year. Nationally it was ranked No. 84. In a state where nearly every small town kid plays multiple sports, there are probably a lot of parents dreaming of cheering crowds!
When we think of Scandinavian names, what usually comes to mind are the familiar and accessible ones that have been imported from Norway, Denmark and Sweden, like Eric and Ingrid and Lars and Dagmar. But Finnish names, while still Scandinavian, are a world unto themselves, loaded with double vowels (and sometimes consonants) and tricky accents and pronunciations. Yet though this nomenclature includes clunkers like Hongatar and Kiputytto, there are many others that have a unique and quirky charm all their own. I remember that when we were researching the foreign variations of names for The Baby Name Bible, I always kind of looked forward to seeing what the Finnish take would be on a classic–like Viljo for William, Maiju for Mary.
One reason for the sparse representation of Finnish names here is the small number of Finnish-Americans in the US. There are currently about 700,000 people of that ethnicity, which is only 0.2% of the population. Nor have many celebrities publicized Finnish names–there has never been a Finnish movie star equivalent of Ingrid Bergman, for example–the only Finnish names people might recognize are Esa-Pekka Salonen, the contemporary classical conductor, or perhaps father-and-son architects Eliel and Eero Saarinen.
Another element that sets these names apart comes from the fact that the Finnish language is very different from that of the other Scandinavian countries, with their Norse roots; Finnish has more in common with Hungarian, Estonian, Turkish and the languages spoken in the Asian part of Russia. But–for you vowel lovers– double vowels are its most distinctive feature. Pronunciation can be a little tricky, but here are some simple rules: A is pronounced as in arm, E as in egg, I as in it, O as in on, U as in pull, J=Y, and W=V.
So, while the current most popular names in Finland are quite international in flavor–Maria, Olivia, Sofia, Amanda, Matilda, and Julia are all in the Top 10–here are some more traiditional choices that would be usable but still highly distinctive here:
Natalie and Taylor were combing through records on ancestry.com in search of a distinctive yet historic name when they hit upon Viggo, a Scandinavian name that means “war.”“It’s a strong name with a great sound and matches our Danish last name and we just loved it,” says Natalie.
The couple didn’t anticipate the celebrity reference of that Biblical place name.“People have been asking us, ‘Oh, like Mariah Carey?,’ and we didn’t even think of that,” says Natalie Hanson.“We were thinking of other Biblical names like Josiah and Jeremiah that to us sounded so masculine.”
“I’m such a name fan,” says Natalie, who was poring over name books long before she started her brood with the middle Hanson brother.With the world watching, how does she feel about the pressure to choose the perfect name?“The pressure is worse from my Mom and the in-laws,” she laughs.“But once they see the baby, he’s so precious, they say he looks like a Viggo.”
Taylor Hanson uses his middle name as his first, an informal tradition in the family, with grandpa Clarke Walker known as Walker and Taylor and Natalie’s oldest son using his middle name Ezra.Taylor will sometimes switch things up the other way and identify himself as Jordan – his actual first name – Hanson.Having a built-in alias can make life easier for a celebrity who likes to keep a low profile, says Natalie, as do the Oklahoma-centered Hansons.
Baby Viggo joins other celebrity babies and children who share their names with stars, including Ava (as in Gardner), daughters of Reese Witherspoon and Hugh Jackman,: Harlow (Jean), daughter of Nicole Ritchie, Audrey (Hepburn), daughter of Greg Kinnear;and Gable, (Clark) son of Kevin Nealon.Soleil Moon Frye’s daughter’s first name is Jagger, while Madonna is Geri Halliwell’s daughter Bluebell’s middle name.
As for Viggo Mortensen, the Lord of the Rings star is actually a junior—he inherited his name from his Danish father.It’s a Norse name meaning ‘warlike’ but its real-life image is one of energy and—well—vigor.This Viggo too has brothers with more ordinary names—Charles and Walter.Maybe that’s why they turned out to be geologists.