Just Call Me Sunna

Updated: Jan 26


People ask me, “What is Sunna?” or “Why are you called Sunna?”

For a long time, I was trying to think of an Icelandic nickname. My work and passion are with Icelandic genealogy, history, and culture. It seems that everyone in Iceland has a nickname. I love that custom. It is perfectly acceptable in Iceland to have a given name but to always be called by a nickname. Even our ancestors that came to America had this custom.


In May of 2010, I was at the Icelandic National League of North America (INLNA) Convention in Toronto. A few friends were gathered around visiting and all of them had Icelandic names except Nelson Gerrard and me. I said, “I wish that I had an Icelandic name.” The friends all agreed and decided that we should decide on an Icelandic nickname before the end of the convention. I told them it had to be a name without any special Icelandic letters and it had to be easy for an English speaker.

The next day, we gathered again at the INL of NA convention. It was a wonderful time with Icelanders attending from all over Canada, Iceland, and the USA. I had just been newly elected as a Director on the Board for the INL that year and had recently started the Facebook page for the organization. I was meeting many people for the first time. We had corresponded over Facebook and email but meeting them in person was such a joy!

During one of the breaks, one of the Canadian friends, Nelson Gerrard, said that he had chosen an Icelandic nickname for me. Nelson is a highly regarded and eminent genealogist and the author of the awesome Icelandic River Saga plus many more books. He also works with numerous preservation and historical Icelandic related projects including the popular ‘Silent Flashes‘ exhibit in Hofsós. Here is a video about Nelson and Hofsós:

Nelson said, “I think your Icelandic nickname should be Sunna. It means sunshine. You are one of the brightest and happiest people that I know. You are always smiling and happy and bright like the sun.”

This nickname made me very happy. I have always associated myself with the sun. My favorite color is yellow. I love songs and poems about the sun. My husband of 30 years has always called me his sunshine.

I came home to North Dakota after the convention filled with stories of meeting all the wonderful people, the presentations, the food, the connections, and of course — my new nickname. I wondered what my engineer husband with his German roots would think. He is a great supporter of my Icelandic obsessions but sometimes, I tend to get a little too exuberant. Well, he loved the nickname. He said, “That is the perfect name for you. I love it.” Since that day, he always calls me “Sunna” unless he calls me “Amma” when we are with our grand-kids.

Sunna is an Old Norse word meaning sun. Old High German says that Sunna (the personified sun) is the sister of Sinthgunt (the night-walking one or the moon in some interpretations and in others interpreted to mean a star). To pronounce Sunna, think of the “u” as the “oo” in “good.”

It is a great nickname and I love it. Most of my friends easily adapted to calling me Sunna — especially those in Iceland. So, when you see, write, or call me …….

Please, just call me Sunna.


Icelandic Roots is a non-profit, educational, heritage organization specializing in genealogy, history & traditions of our Icelandic ancestors.

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