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

High Holy Days (Helvetica)

Font: Helvetica

Year created: 1957

Personal experience: Used from the time I began typing my stories on the old ’84 Mac, probably around 1987 or 1988, until September 1993. I never particularly liked it, but I was too young to realize that I wasn’t bound to the default font. That, and I heard that publishers preferred something that looked like it came from a typewriter. (Yeah, that book had some outdated advice!)

Chapter: “High Holy Days”

Book: Cinnimin

Written: 7 April-14 September 2010


I actually have two chapters with this title, one in The Very First and the other in my magnum opus. This post is about Part LV (55) of Cinnimin. It’s set from 20 September-18 October 1998, in Israel, Hawaii, New York City, and of course Atlantic City. It’s also one of the longer Parts, possibly able to stand alone.

So much happens here. Cinni’s daughter-in-law Ophelia finally snaps regarding her spoilt twins (her youngest children and only boys out of ten kids), a family vacation to Hawaii for a bar mitzvah turns into chaos, Ophelia’s marriage heads for the rocks, typical catfighting between longtime rivals Gavrilla (Sparky’s rabbi daughter) and her cousin by marriage Leah, and Cinni’s granddaughter Mancika starts her junior year of studying abroad in Israel with her beatnik best friend Ammiel.

Some of the many highlights:

Ammiel cringed at the applause. “Why do people always applaud when an El Al plane lands? It sounds so silly. People don’t clap when their boat docks.”

“I didn’t know your mom’s family spoke Polish,” Ammiel said. “I thought they used that hideous ghetto language Yiddish.”

[Ophelia’s Yom Kippur outfit; she’s almost a size 20 at this point, a sharp contrast to how slim and sexy she was in youth] Several buttons had popped on her blouse, so she’d wrapped a white silk shawl around her midsection. Her skirt was just several yards of fabric from the crafts store, a black background with ringed planets, sewn together into a semblance of a real skirt and held together with safety pins. For footwear she had frog slippers, not even having realized she’d left the house still wearing them.

Balázs let out a very loud scream and flung himself down on the asphalt before running back towards the building. “You suck, Mommy! You know I can do whatever I want because I have a penis!” [This earns him a public spanking in front of the synagogue.]

Serop gunned the car, desperate to get away from Zeevie, only to find the cop trailing after him again. He was furious when he was handed a second ticket and told he’d lose his license if he committed another traffic violation.

“What kind of a face is that on the eve of your only child’s special day?” Gavrilla asked, full well knowing Leah hadn’t been expecting her.

“Oh, Leah, are you so cynical you can’t grasp your own child’s father doing something nice for her and even putting in a personal appearance out of his own motivation?” Gavrilla asked. “Tisk, tisk, tisk.”

“We took the liberty of looking for disposables, and instead found some stuff you hadn’t even taken out of the box,” Gavrilla said. “Who buys nice tableware and then never uses it or even unpacks it? Maybe that’s why your pre-existing dishes look so worn-out, because you keep using them over and over again.”

Ammiel ambled down wearing black gaucho pants and a Roswell 50th anniversary T-shirt. Mancika was embarrassed by his casual wear but knew he wouldn’t change it.

Ammiel held up a few shirts. “Which one, Mants? The ‘Re-elect Clinton’ one, the ‘Legalize Cannabis’ one, or the ‘Celebrating 25 Years of Roe vs. Wade’ one?”

“I bet you have a stomach ache from eating too many of those candies you stash in your room,” Shafar said. “Your bat mitzvah project should be Weight Watchers.”

Alice stared. With every step Yasmin took, a drop of blood fell on the floor. Pointing, she loudly alerted everyone, “Look, Yasmin’s having her period!”

“Oh, look!” Skye laughed. “Yasmin stuck the tampon up her butt! No wonder you can’t find it!” [And she cut off the string!]

[Praying with Nashot HaKotel, the Women of the Wall] Mancika and Raina just rolled their eyes at the ultras who started yelling, unfazed. Raina had seen the Prime Minister assassinated; a few angry, self-righteous, self-proclaimed mullahs were nothing to her. Toni tried to concentrate on her prayers and block out the noise. These people’s opinions meant nothing to her; after all, they probably wouldn’t consider her de facto Orthodox conversion in Paris ten years ago to be valid anyway. They were with people peacefully praying for peace and unity, not divisive, hate-filled bigots who didn’t live in the real world.