What are some interesting last names

Rúnarsson and Snorradóttir - What is behind the Icelandic naming?

Have you ever wondered why the Icelandic national team all have such similar names on their shirts? Or why does it seem like some Icelanders have the same first and last name? Or have you ever read an Icelandic novel and wondered why the children have a different last name than their parents? Then you can find the answers to them in this blog article.

First of all: The “last names” in Iceland are actually not real last names at all. Very few families in Iceland have a real family name, as is common here in Germany. The typical Icelandic "surnames" are so-called patronyms. This means that a child is named after his father by his "last name". For example, if an Icelandic boy is called Dagur Rúnarsson, it translates as Dagur, son of Rúnar. The ending -son means son and the father's first name is Rúnar. For Icelandic girls, the "surname" is formed with the ending -dóttir ("daughter"). For example, Dagur Rúnarsson's sister would be called Ásta Rúnarsdóttir. As you can see from this, siblings in Iceland do not necessarily have the same “last name”.
Father and mother do not have the same “last name” either, as Icelanders do not take their partner's name when they get married. For example, a couple can be called Rúnar Einarsson ("Rúnar, son of Einar") and Freyja Snorradóttir ("Freyja, daughter of Snorri"). Their children would then be called Dagur Rúnarsson and Ásta Rúnarsdóttir. The “last name” alone does not necessarily mean that they are a family, but only that Dagur and Ásta are Rúnar's children. Family names are not absolutely necessary in Iceland, as many villages are quite small and most people there know each other anyway and also know who is talking about by their first name. That is why the names in the phone book are not sorted according to the "surname", but rather according to the first name. In addition, everyone in Iceland uses their name on their terms (really everyone, including the president!) And therefore you don't have to address anyone with Ms. / Mr. + surname.
In the course of equality, it has become more and more common in Iceland that the children are no longer named after the father, but after the mother. When forming the so-called matronyms, the mother's first name is then taken and -son for a son and -dóttir for a daughter is added to the name. The daughter of Freyja and Rúnar could also be called Ásta Freyjudóttir. However, this is mainly the case with children of single mothers.
Another peculiarity of the Icelandic naming is that children are often named after their grandparents. This then occasionally leads to first names and “surnames” being repeated in every second generation. Here is an example: Alfreð Þórsson has a son and names him after his own father Þór. So the boy is called Þór Alfreðsson ("Þór, son of Alfreð"). If he gets a son and also names him after his own father, the boy is called Alfreð Þórsson. Just like his grandfather. Name inheritance is seldom carried out so strictly. It is more common that the children get the first name of one of their grandparents as their middle name.
In some cases the children are even named after their parents. Then it comes to the fact that it appears as if the child has almost the same first and last name. For example Jón Jónsson ("Jón, son of Jón").
Even without the “surname”, Icelandic names are fascinating because they sometimes have very interesting meanings. Dagur means “day”, Rúnar “runes” and Eiður “oath”. There are also some names with interesting meanings for women. For example, Harpa means “harp”, Sóley “buttercup” and Perla “pearl”. In addition, there are still many in Iceland today who were named after gods of Norse mythology. For example Þór, Freyr and Freya.
Are you now interested in experiencing the Icelandic naming system up close? Then take a look at our projects in Iceland! Maybe our au pair or work and travel program is something for you!

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