Icelandic last names

Icelandic Last Names and their meaning

Traveling in Iceland you will be surprised to find how informal people are, everyone from the bus driver to the highest government official will be addressed by his or her first name and never their last names.
Icelandic singer and actress Björk does not use a stage name but simply her first name (her full name is Björk Guðmundsdóttir). Björk is how any Icelander would address her, whether formally or casually.

This is because Icelandic last names differ from most current Western family name systems by being patronymic and occasionally matronymic. This means that they reflect the immediate father or mother of the child and not the historic family lineage, Icelanders do not have last names as most of the world understands them. This also means that the telephone directory is alphabetized by first name rather than surname.

Iceland shares a common cultural heritage with the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Icelanders, however, unlike these other Scandinavians, have continued to use their traditional patronymic name system, which was formerly used in all of Scandinavia. The Icelandic naming system simply does not use family names. Rather, a person’s surname indicates the first name of the person’s father (patronymic) or in some cases mother (matronymic).
The vast majority of Icelandic surnames carry the name of the father, but occasionally the mother’s name is used: e.g., in cases where the child or mother wishes to end social ties with the biological father. Some women use it as a social statement while others simply choose it as a matter of style.

This is not to say that last names, as they are understood by most people in the western world, do not exist in Iceland, they do, although they are mostly inherited from parents of foreign origin or were created and adopted by people wishing to do so.
Notable Icelanders who have an inherited family name include former prime minister Geir Haarde, football star Eiður Smári Guðjohnsen, actor Magnús Scheving, film director Baltasar Kormákur Samper, actress Anita Briem and news reporter Elín Hirst.
Before 1925, it was legal to adopt new family names almost on a whim, you could make one up as it were. One well known Icelander to do so was the Nobel Prize-winning author Halldór Laxness. Since 1925, however, one cannot adopt a family name unless one explicitly has a legal right to do so through lines of inheritance.

Example of the Patronymic naming system:
A man named Jón Einarsson and his wife Brindís Magnúsdóttir have a son named Ólafur and a daughter named Edda.
Ólafur’s last name will not be Einarsson like his father’s; it will become Jónsson, literally indicating that Ólafur is the son of Jón (Jóns + son).
The same practice is used for daughters.
Jón Einarsson’s daughter Edda would not have the last name Einarsson; she would have the name Jónsdóttir. Again, the name literally meaning „Jón’s daughter“ (Jóns + dóttir).

Example of the matronymic naming system:

Ólafur and Edda, the children of Bryndís, wish to carry their mothers name and not their fathers. Ólafur’s last name will therefore be Bryndísarson („the son of Bryndís“) and his sister will be Bryndísardóttir („the daughter of Bryndís“).
An Icelander whose father’s identity is uncertain may also carry a matronymic name. Some people have both a matronymic and a patronymic last name: for example, Dagur Bergþóruson Eggertsson („the son of Bergþóra and Eggert“), a former mayor of Reykjavík.

Complications: Using the fathers middle name:
In some cases, an individual’s surname is derived from a parent’s middle name instead of the first name. For example, if Jón is the son of Hjálmar Arnar Vilhjálmsson he may either be named Jón Hjálmarsson (Jón, son of Hjálmar) or Jón Arnarsson (Jón, son of Arnar). The reason for this may be that the parent prefers to be called by the middle name instead of the first name; this is fairly common. It may also be that the parent’s middle name seems to fit the child’s first name better.

Complications: People having the same names.
In cases where two people in the same social circle bear the same first name and the same father’s name, they may be socially distinguished by their paternal grandfather’s name, e.g. Jón Þórsson Bjarnarsonar (Jón, son of Þór, son of Bjarni) and Jón Þórsson Hallssonar (Jón, son of Þór, son of Hallur). Although this method is uncommon (as middle names are normally used), such tracing of lineages can easily be seen in the Sagas.
Another way to resolve this is to use nicknames, make family references or the classic senior – junior addition which works in most cultures.

Complications: traveling or living abroad.
This rather special Icelandic naming system occasionally causes problems for families travelling abroad, especially with young children, since non-Icelandic customs staff (apart from those of other Nordic countries) are usually unfamiliar with the practice and therefore expect children to have the surnames of their parents. However, as a result of each person using patronymics, a family will normally have a variety of last names: Jón Einarsson and his wife Brindís Magnúsdóttir have separate last names as do their children Ólafur Jónsson and Edda Jónsdóttir. Using matronymics, their names would be Ólafur Bryndísarson and Edda Bryndísardóttir.
People of Icelandic descent who live in foreign countries, such as the significant Icelandic community in the Canadian province of Manitoba, often do not follow the traditional Icelandic naming system. Instead, they generally adapt to the naming conventions of their country of residence—most commonly by retaining the patronymic of their first ancestor to immigrate to the new country as a permanent family surname. That is why many Americans carry the last name Jonsson – despite there being no family relation. Other Icelanders who choose to live or study abroad with their families may choose to temporarily take up the last name of the father as their own in an attempt to save confusion.

Icelandic alphabet

The Unique Icelandic Letters

Traveling to Iceland will leave you in awe of the spectacular nature, the clean air, the fresh water, the lack of insects and perhaps also the Icelandic Language.
Most Western European languages such as Spanish, Portuguese, English, Italian, French, and so on have greatly reduced levels of inflection, particularly noun declension. In contrast, Icelandic retains a four-case synthetic grammar comparable to, but considerably more conservative and synthetic than, German. It is inappropriate to compare the grammar of Icelandic to that of the more conservative Baltic, Slavic, and Indic languages of the Indo-European family, many of which retain six or more cases, except to note that Icelandic utilizes a wide assortment of irregular declensions. Icelandic also possesses many instances of oblique cases without any governing word, as does Latin. For example, many of the various Latin ablatives have a corresponding Icelandic dative. However, despite its arguable baggage, the remarkable conservatism of the Icelandic language and its resultant near-isomorphism to Old Norse (which is equivalently termed Old Icelandic by linguists) means that, to their delight, modern Icelanders can easily read the Eddas, sagas, and other classic Old Norse literary works created in the tenth through thirteenth centuries.
Icelandic may, at first glance, look very formidable to an outsider. The Icelandic language has strange characters such as „Æ“ or „þ“ and „ð“ in addition to the many accented vowels which can leave a native English speaker at a loss. However, once some of the basic rules have been cleared up, pronunciation is fairly straightforward.
What follows is a crash course in Icelandic pronunciation. The individual letters have been paired up with sounds from common English words. When speaking Icelandic it is important to remember that stress always falls on the first syllable of any word.

Some vowels in Icelandic can have accent marks which modify the sound of that particular vowel, these are not just accent marks, but are actually distinct letters, for example, „a“ and „á“ are not the same thing.
Also, vowels can come in long or short forms. In Icelandic, all vowels can be long or short. Vowels are long when they are in single syllable words, or when they form the penultimate syllable in two syllable words.

A a
(Short) like „a“ in „land“, (long) like „a“ in „car“; or like „ow“ in „now“ when followed by „ng“ or „nk“.
Á á
Like „ow“ in „now“.
E e
(Short) like „e“ in „met“, (long) like „ea“ in „bear“.
É é
Like „ye“ in „yes“.
I i
(Short) like „i“ in „bit“, (long) same „i“ but lengthened; or like „ee“ in „meet“ when followed by „ng“ or „nk“.
Í í
Like „ee“ in „meet“.
O o
(Short) like „o“ in „hot“, (long) like „or“ in „door“.
Ó ó
Like „o“ in „snow“.
U u
(Short) like „u“ in „put“, (long) the same short „u“ but lengthened; or like „oo“ in „moon“ when followed by „ng“ or „nk“.
Ú ú
Like „oo“ in „moon“.
Y y
Same as Icelandic „i“: (short) like „i“ in „bit“, (long) same „i“ but lengthened; or like „ee“ in „meet“ when followed by „ng“ or „nk“.
Ý ý
Same as Icelandic „í“: like „ee“ in „meet“.
Æ æ
Like „i“ in „mile“.
Ö ö
(Short) like „ur“ in „fur“ but shorter, (long) like „ur“ in „fur“; (do not pronouce the „r“).
B b
Always like „p“ in „speak“.
D d
Always like „t“ in „sting“.
Ð ð
Like „th“ in „that“, (only occurs in word middle and word end).
F f
Like „f“ in „fish“, or like „v“ in „van“ when between vowels; or when before „l“ or „n“, like „p“ in „speak“.
G g
Like „k“ in „skill“, but similar to Hungarian „ty“ when before e, i, æ, j, or y; it is lost after „á“, „ó“, „u“ when followed by „a“ or „u“ in the next syllable or when at word end.
H h
Like „h“ in „hat“, or like „k“ when before a consonant; (never silent like „honour“).
J j
Like „y“ in „yes“.
K k
Like „k“ in „kill“ when word-initial, but similar to Hungarian „ty“ with a puff of air when before e, i, æ, j, or y as word-initial; otherwise like the usual case for „g“.
L l
Like „l“ in „like“.
M m
Like „m“ in „me“.
N n
Like „n“ in „nurse“.
P p
Like „p“ in „push“ when word-initial, or like „f“ in „far“ when before „s“, „k“, or „t“; otherwise pronounced like „b“
R r
Rolled, like Scottish „r“.
S s
Like „s“ in „sun“; (never like „z“ in „zero“).
T t
Like „t“ in „take“.
V v
Like „v“ in „value“.
X x
Like „x“ in „axe“.
Þ þ
Like „th“ in „thing“ (never occurs at the end of a word).
[edit]Common diphthongs and letter combinations
Like „ur“ in „fur“ (do not prononce the r) followed by „ee“ in „see“ but with no intervening „r“ – „u(r)-ee“, similar to „oy“ in „boy“.
ei, ey
Like „ay“ in „say“.
gi, gj
Like „gy“ in „drag-you“ at word start; like „y“ in „yes“ in word middle or at word end.
Like „kv“ in „lock vent“.
Like „chk“ in Scottish „Loch Carron“.
Like „tl“ in „settle“. Similar to Welsh „ll“ (double L) but more aspirated (has more air to it).
Like „nk“ in „thinker“, not „ng“ in „finger“.
Like „dn“ in „hard-nosed“ when after „á“, „é“, „í“, „ó“, „ú“, „ý“, „æ“, „au“, „ei“, or „ey“; or like „nn“ in „tunnel“ after „a“, „e“, „i“, „o“, „u“, „y“ or „ö“.
Like „h“ and „p“ fused together, similar to „hop“ without the „o“.
Like „dl“ in „riddle“ similar in form to Welsh „ll“ (double L) but said harder.
Like „dn“ in „hard-nosed“ when after „á“, „é“, „í“, „ó“, „ú“, „ý“, „æ“, „au“, „ei“, or „ey“.
Like „h“ and „t“ fused together, similar to „hut“ without the „u“.

History of Language in Iceland

History of language in Iceland

Icelandic is, and has been, spoken in Iceland since the time of the first settlers. It is a North Germanic language, related to Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian, but unlike them retains the full set of conjugations and declensions that Old Norse had. Its stubborn resistance to change and its lack of Latinate words make it a difficult language for English speakers to comprehend and learn. On the other hand, speaker of German will find many elements of Icelandic grammar familiar, as both languages retain various conjugations and declensions from Proto-Germanic, which have been lost in other Germanic languages.

Iceland has been a very isolated and linguistically homogeneous island historically, but a case could be made that it has nevertheless beheld several languages. According to ancient texts Irish monks settled on the island sometime in the 8th century, they sought the isolation which made it a perfect place for their hermit lifestyles. Because of this Gaelic could be argued to have been the first language spoken in Iceland, however, these monks had no intention of settling in Iceland to make a life for themselves and future generations, they were not permanent settlers. Amongst the first permanent settlers were some Irish slaves who spoke Gaelic but the Icelandic or Norse language of the Vikings prevailed absorbing only a few of the distinctly Gaelic features.

Close contact was always maintained with the Danish and Norwegian kingdoms resulting in the union of Iceland under Denmark in 1380 which lasted to 1918 when Iceland achieved self-rule.
However Icelandic remained the spoken and written language of Icelanders throughout this period none the less.
The Danish rule of Iceland had very little effect on the evolution of Icelandic, which remained in daily use among the general population except for a period between about 1700 and 1900 where the use of Danish by common Icelanders became popular. The same applied to the Allied occupation of Iceland during World War II when English became widely known.

Icelandic Vocabulary

Icelandic is constantly evolving as a language and new words are invented to cover technological developments and slang. The Icelandic vocabulary is extensive, it contains many words and personal names that have been adapted to the languages linguistic parameters throughout the ages.
As Iceland became Christian in the year 1000, a decision made by the contemporary parliament of Iceland, this had an effect on the religious vocabulary of the Icelandic language and new words were absorbed.

By the 13th and 14th centuries northern trade routes brought the German, English, Dutch, French and Basque languages into Iceland. Some merchants and clergymen from these countries settled in Iceland throughout the centuries, leaving their mark on culture, but linguistically their effect was mainly felt through the addition of trade, nautical or religious terms to the Icelandic language.

Excluding the specialized trade and craft related words which have been incorporated into the language through communication with Western Europe and the few Latin theological and religious based words, Icelandic vocabulary has altered remarkably little since settlement.

Icelandic Sagas

Icelanders have always been proud of their native tongue and literacy has been high on the island since the early middle ages. The oldest preserved texts in Icelandic were written around 1100 AD though they may not have been the first written, only the oldest to survive. Manuscripts continued to be made in Icelandic from then on and with the advent of the printing press Iceland became a nation closely connected to books. Much of the material preserved in the oldest, medieval texts are based on Viking age poetry and laws such as those governing Althingi which were traditionally preserved orally.
The most famous of the texts written in Iceland in the late 12th century is the Prose Edda and the Icelandic Sagas. They comprise historical works recounting the first 300 years of the history if Iceland from the settlement to the time of the books author and the enigmatic Eddic poems.

The language of the Icelandic Sagas is Old Icelandic, a western dialect of Old Norse and written Icelandic has changed little since the 13th century. Modern speakers can understand the original sagas and Eddas with the merest modicum of training though this ability is sometimes overstated. The Sagas which are taught in the Icelandic primary schools are usually read with updated modernized spelling and footnotes but are otherwise intact similar to the modern English works of Shakespeare.

Modern Icelandic

The modern Icelandic alphabet has developed from a standard established in the 19th century primarily by the Danish linguist Rasmus Rask.
It is ultimately based heavily on an orthography laid out in the early 12th century by a mysterious document referred to as The First Grammatical Treatise by an anonymous author who has later been referred to as the First Grammarian. The later Rasmus Rask standard was a re-creation of the old treatise, with some changes to fit concurrent Germanic conventions, such as the exclusive use of k rather than c.
Various archaic features, as the letter ð, had not been used much in later centuries. Later 20th century changes include the use of é instead of je and the removal of z from the alphabet in 1973.