Icelandic Baby Names: And the name is…

International Baby Names

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 (http://icelandreview.com), 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.

And remember–if you haven’t already done so– become a fan of nameberry on Facebook!

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18 Responses to “Icelandic Baby Names: And the name is…”

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Kate Says:

February 25th, 2010 at 5:46 am

Fascinating post! I am going through a similar thing as an American living in Germany with a German husband. No naming ceremony though, thank goodness! Good luck to you all!

Kelsey Rose Says:

February 25th, 2010 at 9:41 am

That is amazing. Thanks for the insight. I really enjoyed it! Good luck and I can’t wait to hear the name you have chosen!

UrbanAngel Says:

February 25th, 2010 at 10:32 am

Wow! That is amazing ! I’d love to know what the ‘common’ surnames are like there! This was very interesting and enjoyable to read

vikki Says:

February 25th, 2010 at 10:38 am

Ooooh, I”m interested in what is on the baby name list.

www.legitbabenames.wordpress.com Says:

February 25th, 2010 at 11:46 am

I love Icelandic names! My favorites are Drifa and Sumarlina. Congratulations on the little one and can’t hear about what you have chosen.

susan Says:

February 25th, 2010 at 12:08 pm

Fascinating! I would have a very hard time keeping my baby’s name a secret after it was born. You must have a lot of self control! I think it’s great that you have adapted so well to the Icelandic culture. It sounds like you are really enjoying your life in Iceland! I love it when people move somewhere and love their new home. When I moved away, I was unhappy. I ended up moving back home. So I am in awe of you!
I have always loved the name Gudrun since I read D.H. Lawrence’s “Women in Love”.

Filipa Says:

February 25th, 2010 at 1:16 pm

What an amazing post, specially the son or dóttir part, that reminded me of medieval books! oh, and i’m dying to know the name!!

Jill Says:

February 25th, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Wow! I loved reading about naming practices in Iceland, and I can’t wait to hear what you named your baby! 🙂

Take care! 🙂

Kathleen Says:

February 25th, 2010 at 3:41 pm

fascinating! thanks for sharing.

jotadito Says:

February 25th, 2010 at 5:19 pm

I have to say I’m surprised that Iceland requires its citizens to choose a name off a government-sanctioned list. I don’t know much about Iceland, but I did think it was the kind of country that esteemed the individual (and individual freedoms). I’d love to know the reasoning behind an “official names” list.

babynamesrule Says:

February 25th, 2010 at 6:19 pm

How interesting! I love that idea, but I don’t know if I could hold out that long. I’d probably ruin the surprise! Best of luck!

Christina Fonseca Says:

February 25th, 2010 at 9:32 pm

Wow – this was a great read! I love learning about naming customs around the world.

British American Says:

February 25th, 2010 at 10:16 pm

Very interesting read! I like that you’re going along with the customs of your husband and where you live. And I’m very curious to hear the name now too! 🙂

Dove14 Says:

March 7th, 2010 at 9:20 am

Fascinating! I didn’t realize how last names were determined there! Thank you for the post, and I look forward to hearing your baby’s name! 🙂

itsallthere Says:

March 23rd, 2010 at 11:25 pm

Wow, talk about a culture shock! So the parents don’t have the same last name as the child? I can see how that would work in Iceland, but what about if you move back to Canada with your family?
My father lived in Iceland for a few years while in the Navy and said that it was the most amazing country he had ever lived in. Everyone was friendly and open, but that their culture was different than North Americans were used to, now I can see what he meant.

I am glad you are asimilating so nicely with your husband and I can’t wait to find out what you have named your bundle of joy, even if you have more self control then I do!

Sunshinetina Says:

July 8th, 2010 at 12:24 am

Jo- often the “Official Names List” is a way of ensuring that you can denote the gender of the child on paper simply by looking at it. Many European countries have a list though it’s not heavily enforced in some areas. If you want a name not on the list, you often have to petition the courts and in some countries it’s easier said then done.

Belona Says:

March 18th, 2011 at 10:34 am

Do you have a link to the list issued by the Icelandic government Naming Committee?

Namesy Says:

March 31st, 2011 at 7:22 pm

Jotadito~ yes, that is actually true for many countries though I can’t think of any off the top of my head. I did a report about baby naming laws for school, a followup to a report on baby naming traditions. Interesting stuff!

Legitbabenames~ those are lovely!

Aaahhh!!! I agree w/ everyone how the freak can you WAIT SO LONG????!!!!!!! I am also very curious to see what you named the baby! Congratdulations! (did I spell that right? If I didn’t I feel like an idiot…
(:-o )

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