Icelandic Last Names – Why aren’t there many Icelandic Surnames?
If you didn’t already know, Icelandic last names and the laws around them, are weird. The Icelandic naming law passed in 1925, completely forbids the use of surnames in there entirety. The only way you are allowed to keep a last name, is if you had a family surname before the law was passed in 1925. Those families are allowed to keep using a surname.
So what about those who didn’t already have a surname? Well, knowing what you know now, it will come as no surprise to hear that a mere 10% of the Icelandic population have a hereditary last name. This is a stark difference from the other Nordic countries and their naming practices.
How Do Icelandic Last Names Work?
In this case, what do Icelanders use instead of surnames? Instead of a surname, it is common to use a patronymic (fathers name). This means that the first name of the father is taken to form part of the “surname” of the child. This is then followed with a suffix to indicate whether the child is the son (-son) or daughter (-dottir) of the aforementioned. This leads a given name followed by daughter/son of whomever.
An example would be that if the fathers name is Helgi, the variation for a son or daughter would be Helgason or Helgadóttir. This would be the child’s “surname.” A simple way to remember this is:
Fathers Name + Gender Specific Suffix = Last Name.
So, now you know why the majority of Icelandic surnames end in dottir or son.
Do Icelandic Surnames Change After Marriage?
Short answer is no. When a man and woman get married, they keep their name. Whilst the father will pass on his name to his children, it was not common for the woman to do the same. This is why the few family last names that do exist in Iceland are so rare. The mother will not pass on her family name, if she had one, so the family name will die out. Of course, the son may pass on his name.
However, in today’s society, it is much more acceptable for Icelandic women to pass on their name, giving their children matronymic last names. This however, does not happen too often.
Common Icelandic Names
So, if there aren’t common Icelandic last names as such, the next best thing would be to list the most common Icelandic male and female names. Using that information, you can figure out which of those given names are more commonly used as patronymic last names.
Common Icelandic Male Names
If you take a look at this list, you will see the most common male names in Iceland. Therefore, you can deduce that the most common surnames will be these given names with the addition of -son or -dottir.
Common Icelandic Female Names
The most popular Icelandic girls names are as follows:
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