Many Icelandic first names have a transparent meaning, i.e. they are not just harmonious syllables or cute sounds, they actually mean something. Björk is an Icelandic word that means “birch tree”. Tree names are quite popular as Icelandic first names. A boy may be be given the name Reynir (rowan tree) or Hlynur (maple tree).  Birds’ names are also quite common. Örn – an eagle – is a common masculine name, and so is Hrafn – raven, Haukur – hawk - and Svanur – swan. The girl name Ugla – owl - also exists. Fancy that. Meet my cousin Eagle, my brother Maple, and my niece Owl.

Among popular first names, there are also those that refer to mammals, warriors, weapons, gods and mythical entities. One of the most popular names among the mammals is Björn, bear, and its feminine form Birna for a girl. There are wolves among us: Úlfur, and Ylfa for the she-wolf. Among the gods, of course, there are the classical Óðinn, Þór and Baldur, Njörður, Freyr, Freyja etc… and then there is God himself – or the gods: Guð, but only in composed names.

Now, that’s where the fun begins, when you start composing names. Thus you get Hrafnhildur – battle of ravens – Þorbjörn – a daring bear, Guðlaug – pool of gods or God, Guðrún – godly secret, Kristrún being Christ’s secret. There are also ladies named Hugrún – mind’s secret – and Sigrún – victory’s secret… no, not Victoria ’s! Well, the general idea is that most names have an obvious meaning, a bit like native American names.

Icelandic names are patronymic (as they contain the first name of the father of the person, rather than the historic family lineage. In other words, family names are not the rule in Iceland. For instance, our favourite singer’s name is Björk, and she is the daughter of Guðmundur – indeed she is Guðmundsdóttir. Björk could also have chosen to use her mother’s name rather than her father’s. Some family names do exist in Iceland . They are either well-established, foreign names (Danish, for instance Möller or Briem), or “latinized” versions of Icelandic names: Thorlacius, Thoroddsen).

First names that have not been used as such in Iceland have to be approved by the Icelandic Naming Committee. There are countries where a name has to have a saint attached to it, or a day in the almanach. No such thing in Iceland , nothing but the Naming Committee. Needless to say, its rulings are often controversial.

When a name is chosen for a child, the obvious choice is traditionally the name of a grandfather or grandmother. There are also numerous instances of names being inspired by a parent’s dream during the pregnancy. An Icelandic urban legend has it that a pregnant woman had a recurring dream featuring a frozen apron. Accordingly, she named her daughter Freðsvunta, Frozen Apron. This must be why they set up the Naming Committee. Needless to say, Icelanders have also used Biblical names extensively throughout the centuries, like their neighbours in Europe and America .


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