Icelandic Baby Names: And the name is…

Icelandic Baby Names: And the name is…

Today’s guest blogger ALANA ODEGARD describes the joys and unique challenges  of naming a baby in Iceland.

A version of this entry originally appeared on Iceland Review Online (, an online magazine that Alana contributes to weekly.

When I first came to Iceland from Canada nearly six years ago, little did I know that it would be here, on this little island in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, where I would not only meet the man who would become my husband, but that I would give birth to my first child.

Life is full of surprises, as they say, and I couldn’t be happier with the way things have turned out.

With my due date just around the corner, my husband and I are as prepared as any new parents can hope to be. We’ve taken the prenatal courses, set up the change table, the crib, the stroller, and have a drawer full of diapers at the ready.

So, what else do we need? Well, aside from the baby, of course, it would seem we need a name.

Naming your child may sound straightforward enough, but as it turns out, what should be simple tends to get complicated when one person is Icelandic and the other is, well, not.

Although I am pleased to say that my experience of being pregnant in a foreign land has been a positive one, certain restrictions, regulations, committees, ceremonies and language barriers have made choosing a name quite the eventful task.

Being from Canada, it’s not unheard of for parents to have chosen and announced the name of their baby months before it’s born. In the cases where the parents decide to keep the name to themselves until after birth, the name is among the very first bits of information that is passed along to friends and family.

But in Iceland, things are done quite differently. Generally a baby’s name is not revealed until its official naming ceremony (often accompanied by a baptism). Legally, parents have up to six months to name their baby and it’s not uncommon for a child to be “nameless” for this period of time.

Of course the parents may call their baby by its first name if they have chosen one, but it’s kept a secret from other people. Everyone including grandmas, grandpas, aunts, uncles, best friends, and even siblings must wait until the naming ceremony to find out the little one’s name.

So, what do you call a baby with no name? Up until the naming ceremony babies are often referred to as drengir (boy), stúlka (girl), and elskan (an affectionate term like “honey” or “sweetheart”). The baby may also be called by its last name which is determined according to the Old Norse naming system. For example, if the father’s first name is “Gunnar”, the child’s last name would either be Gunnarsson or Gunnarsdóttir depending on if it is a boy or a girl (the suffix “son” (son) is used if it is a boy and “dóttir” (daughter) if it is a girl).

I respect the tradition of a naming ceremony and when my husband told me that he wanted to have one for our baby, I was completely on-board. I thought it would be a special way to celebrate our child’s introduction. But, that’s not to say I’m without my reservations.

It will be interesting to say the least when I need to explain to my Canadian family and friends that they’re going to have to wait a while before they find out what we have named our baby. However, they won’t need to wait too terribly long. I’ve managed to “negotiate” with my husband and we’ve agreed on a waiting period of no more than one or two months until we have our ceremony.

And if explaining the “name waiting game” to my relatives won’t be confusing enough, then telling them that we were limited to the names that we could choose from, literally needing to select an accepted Icelandic name off of a list issued by the Icelandic government Naming Committee, is sure to leave them scratching their heads.

There are many Icelandic names to choose from, but the key is finding an Icelandic name that is pronounceable by non-Icelandic speakers. There is a growing trend here to ‘Icelandicize’ English names and many are being added to the list every year. You begin to see more and more children named “Viktória” or “Kristófer” along with the more traditional “Gudrún” or “Sigurdur”, but to each his own.

Despite the fact that in this day and age it’s not uncommon to hear names from all around the world, I think it’s only practical to consider a name for my baby that others will at least have the hope of wrapping their tongue around (myself included!). For example, Thor is much easier said than Ögmundur.

As a foreigner, I have the option of giving my child one foreign name (either the first or middle) but I am so taken with the Icelandic culture and my own Icelandic heritage that my husband and I have decided to limit our search to Icelandic names.

I am thrilled to report that we have picked out two beautiful names and as much as I would love to share them with you now, you will just have to wait, along with everyone else, to find out what our little bundle of joy will be called…

We’ve asked Alana to be sure to let us know her decision as soon as it’s released to the world.

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About the Author

Linda Rosenkrantz

Linda Rosenkrantz

Linda Rosenkrantz is the co-founder of Nameberry, and co-author with Pamela Redmond of the ten baby naming books acknowledged to have revolutionized American baby naming. You can follow her personally at InstagramTwitter and Facebook. She is also the author of the highly acclaimed New York Review Books Classics novel Talk and a number of other books.