A primer on Icelandic names

Though I don’t have a huge Icelandic connection in my writing to date, there is a minor one, and I wanted to do another post on Scandinavian names. In all likelihood, I won’t be doing posts on Danish or Swedish names, in spite of my writing connections to those cultures, since there’s far too great of an overlap between Norwegian, Danish, and Swedish names. At least there were some differences in my posts on Slovakian and Czech names. Since Iceland is geographically isolated from the other main three Scandinavian countries, they’ve maintained a bigger store of unique names, with more names of older origin.

My fictional School of Atlantic City has a very extensive language program, thanks to the wide-ranging interests of principal Mr. Robinson. One of those languages is Icelandic, which is the primary foreign language chosen by Cinnimin and Levon’s seventh-born child Serop. Serop is quite good at Icelandic, and continues studying it at college. Later on, Serop’s third-born daughter Dora also studies the language, and debates between Icelandic and Hungarian as one of her two bachelor’s degrees at the City University of London. She ultimately chooses Hungarian, since she doesn’t want to do her study abroad year in a country without a real Jewish community.

I also have a handful of minor characters of Icelandic descent scattered about, including the Hudson Falls kindergarten teacher in Little Ragdoll, Ms. Sigurdsson.

Icelandic alphabet:

Icelandic uses the Roman alphabet, with a few non-native letters. Most of the letters are pronounced the same way as in English, including the letters with accent marks. However, there are some differences. The Icelandic B is pronounced like a P; Á is pronounced like the “ow” in “cow”; D is pronounced like a T; J is of course pronounced like a Y; R is rolled; U is like the I in pin with the lips rounded; X is like a guttural CH; Z is pronounced like a soft S; Ð ð is pronounced like TH and never falls out at the start of a word or name; Þ is also a TH sound; Ö is like the E  in “mend” while rounding the lips; and Æ is like “eye.”

The pronunciation of G is perhaps the trickiest, since it changes depending upon which letters it’s between. Between vowels and at the end of a word, it’s a soft guttural CH, like the German ich. Between accented vowels, it’s silent. Between a vowel and a J, it’s said like a Y. After a vowel and before S or T, it’s like the CH in loch.

There are also special letter combinations—HV (like the KF in “thankful”), LL (usually TL), NN (like TN after a diphthong or accented vowel), FND (MT), FNT (like the MPT in “unkempt”), AU (ÖJ), and EI/EY (like the A in “case”). KK, PP, and TT are aspirated.

Icelandic surnames and acceptable names:

With the exception of names of foreign origin, there aren’t any family names in Iceland. One takes one’s surname from the name of one’s father, or, occasionally, one’s mother. Thus, Óskar’s son will have the surname Óskarsson, and his daughter will have the surname Óskarsdóttir. A surname may be derived from the parent’s middle name if that’s the name s/he chooses to go by. Though this is less common now, it used to be the custom for people with the same first and last name in the same circle to go by the paternal grandfather’s name to distinguish themselves.

Because of this naming system, Icelanders use their first names for formal address, and phonebooks are alphabetized by forenames. Generally, when Icelanders have immigrated, they’ve adopted their existing surnames as their family names, and ceased the practice of using patronymical or matronymical surnames for their children.

Like many other countries, Iceland also has a list of acceptable names, and a naming committee to approve or disapprove of potential new names. I really wish the English-speaking world would do this, to cut down on ridiculous names like My’Unique Destiny, Secret, Treasure, Precious, Princess, and Nevaeh-it’s-Heaven-spelt-backwards-TEEHEEHEE!

Common Icelandic names:


Arnbjörg (Eagle help)
Ásdís (God and goddess)
Ástríður (Ásta)
Aðalbjörg (Noble help)
Bergljót (Protection and light)
Björg (Help)
Björk (Birch tree)
Borghildur (Battle fortification)
Brynhildur (Battle protection)
Brynja (Armor)
Dagmar (Day maid)
Dagný (New day)
Edda (Great-grandmother)
Eir (Mercy)
Elfa, Elva, Ylfa (Elf)
Erna (Brisk)
Eydís (Island goddess or Goddess of good fortune)
Fríða (Beautiful; Belovèd)
Guðlaug (Betrothed woman)
Guðrún (God’s secret lore)
Halldóra (Thor’s rock)
Heiðrún (Bright secret)
Hildur (Battle)
Hjördís (Sword goddess)
Hulda (Secrecy)
Kristín, Kristjana
María (Mæja)
Nanna (Brave)
Pála (Paula)
Ragnheiður (Ragna) (Bright advice)
Ragnhildur (Ragna) (Battle advice)
Saga (Seeing one)
Sigrún (Secret victory)
Svanhildur (Svana)
Þordís (Thor’s goddess)
Unnur (To billow or To love)
Úrsúla, Yrsa
Valdís (Goddess of the dead)
Vigdís (War goddess)
Yrja (Drizzling rain)


Ari (Eagle)
Arnþor, Arnór (Thor’s eagle)
Ásbjörn (Bear of God)
Ásgeir (God’s spear)
Ásmundur (Protection of God)
Aðalsteinn (Noble stone)
Baldur (Prince)
Birgir (Help)
Bjarní, Björn (Bear)
Bjartur (Bright)
Brynjar (Armor warrior)
Dagur (Day)
Egill (Terror; Awe)
Eiríkur (Erik)
Elvar (Elf warrior)
Erlendur (Foreigner)
Erlingur (Descendant of the jarl [chieftain])
Eysteinn (Stone of good fortune or Island stone)
Eyvindur (Island victor or Victor of good fortune)
Fannar (Snow drift)
Freyr (Lord)
Geir (Spear)
Hákon (High son)
Hallbjörn (Rock bear)
Halldór (Thor’s rock)
Haraldur (Harold)
Hinrik (Henry)
Hjörtur (Deer)
Hrafn (Raven)
Indriði (To ride alone)
Jóhann, Jóhannes, Jón
Lárus (Lawrence)
Lúðvík (Louis)
Ólafur (Ancestor’s descendant)
Páll (Paul)
Sigurður (Victory guardian)
Sindri (Trivial or Sparkling)
Snorri (Onslaught; Attack)
Sverrir (Wild; Swinging; Spinning)
Þór (Thor) (Thunder)
Tryggvi (Trustworthy)
Vilhjálmur (William)
Zakaría, Zakarías

Crossing the Point of No Return (Calisto MT)

My IWSG post is here.

Font: Calisto MT

Year created: 1986

Chapter: “Crossing the Point of No Return”

Book: Cinnimin

Written: 15 September 2010 onward (put on hiatus several times)


This is Part LVI (56) in my current table of contents for my magnum opus, and begins on 23 October 1998. I was writing up a storm on it, but I put it aside to write Little Ragdoll, and then had a whole host of other things I was writing and editing. I didn’t regularly get back to it for a long time. It’s hard to regain momentum after you’ve been away for so long, even if you still remember how the story was supposed to unfold. (I also have another chapter entitled “Crossing the Point of No Return,” in Justine Grown Up, but chose this one to spotlight.)

In Part LVI, a number of the teen couples leading the current generation get much more serious. Not all of them go all the way, but they all cross their own point of no return in regards to the path of their respective relationships. Leading couples include Oskar and Etke, Phoebe and Onan, Iósifa and Samson, Xena and Ollie, Randi and Perseus, Adah and Alyoshka, and Ivy and Chester.

And meanwhile back in Hawaii, Ophelia and Serop’s marriage is falling apart faster and faster. Though there’s been trouble in their household for a long time now, and their youngest children, their only boys, are brats with sky-high egos and attitudes, I never dreamt they might actually divorce or even separate someday. Ophelia chased Serop, four years her junior, for years, until finally, at age 16, he was won over. They were truly in love at one point. But having 10 kids, the first eight girls in a row, has its way of taking a toll on a relationship and one’s finances.

Some highlights so far:

“Don’t ask me why the rules changed.” Iósifa pulled down the front of her red halter dress to show more cleavage. “And I’m wearing strawberry-flavored lip gloss. I hear Samson loves strawberries.”

Phoebe didn’t own many sexy or even stylish, cute underwear. Vanilla had always bought all six of her daughters boring, utilitarian underwear, assuming they’d graduate to more adult styles when they were married and had someone to actually wear lingerie sets, lacy thongs, G-strings, or even cute patterned underwear for. Now Phoebe wanted to throw all those dull, old lady-style things in the rag pile or garbage and buy fashionable new ones.

Yehudah Barak came up to the door. “You can tell us, Onan. It’s just us guys here now. Are you masturbating?”

Isaac looked down at him in surprise. “Where’d a little sprout like you learn a pornographic word like that?”

“Yes, that was the logic thirty years ago, when everyone was married by twenty-one and the official stance was that only married people had sex.”

[Cinni’s 11-year-old granddaughter, who already knows she’s bi and polyamorous] “I hope you’re not jealous that I like Aviva more than you,” Dafna smiled. “You do know that when we’re old enough to date, both of you will have to share me.”

“What about classics?” Dora asked. “It’d be nice to watch an old film without the twins wrinkling their noses and saying, ‘Ew, a gray movie!'”

[Phoebe] “Don’t you think this stuff is disgusting, Liv? Old ladies and nerds wear this stuff, not high school or junior high girls. These should be cleaning rags.”

“Trust me, what we wear sucks. If Onan ever saw that stuff, he’d think I were a loser. I bet Liam would laugh at you too.”

“More than bland! Why make an effort to wear nice outfits and do your hair and makeup if you’re just going to wear bras and underwear suit for our great-grandmas? It’s like matching a baseball cap with a wedding dress.”

Rózsika laughed. “I”m sorry, but is this the same Onan who still plays with Legos? And he thinks kissing is babyish?”

“I didn’t even look for them,” Dora said. “And I might get in trouble if I let minors watch porn or erotica. Raspberry Ann says a lot of porn nowadays is unrealistic and boring anyway.”

“Nice turn signal, Grandma!” Dora shouted at an old lady going at least twenty miles below the speed limit. “You’re such a good driver!”

Dora glared back at someone belligerently honking. “Just for that I’m staying put till the light changes. We don’t have right of way.” She rolled her eyes as the car cut around them and made a turn dangerously close to oncoming traffic.