What Is Your Name?


Every person is recognized by their name. Does your name influence your character or your life? Parents spend a lot of time choosing a name for their babies and even for their pets. You can spend a lot of time on the internet searching the Baby Name sites and read many articles claiming the importance of your name.

Of the Icelanders who emigrated to North America, quite a few changed their first names and/or their last names. Stories we have been told include:

  1. They changed their name at emigration because the English language did not include a Þ or a Ð.

  2. There were just too many people with the surname of Jónsson, Sigurdsson, Guðmundsson, etc.

  3. The mail kept getting mixed up. Our family chose another surname to help the postman deliver the mail to the correct farm.

  4. Our family wanted a more American / Canadian version of their surname so they would fit in better.

  5. Our family name was too long and they wanted a more simple name

  6. Our family took the last name of the fjord/mountain/district / farm they came from because they all had different last names and so they chose one they liked representing their home in Iceland.

  7. When the family emigrated, everyone in the family had to take the same surname, so they all took (……) as their last name.

At Icelandic Roots, we are chronicling the lives of all people of Icelandic descent and continue to share many types of reports as part of the database. A few of the reports help us to learn about names, naming practices, nicknames, surnames, and the many people who have changed their names. The surnames Jónsson, Jónsdóttir, Guðmundsson, Guðmundsdóttir, Sigurðsson, Sigurðardóttir are by far the most common.

Top (Most used) 30 Icelandic Names

Icelandic last names use a patronymic (or occasionally matronymic) system. You can read more about this system later in the article. There are so many interesting reports and features at Iceland Ancestry. One of them is called “Surnames” where we find almost 17,600 unique surnames and another report called “Also Known As (AKA)” which contains almost 1,500 people who completely changed their name.

The AKA report does not include people who merely dropped an “s,” changed a Þ to a Th, a Ð to a D, or dropped the accent over a vowel such as Ólafsson to Olafson, Sigurðsson to Sigurdson, or Þorláksson to Thorlakson. Women who change their surname when they marry are not included in the AKA report. Everyone is entered into the database with their given birth name.

In the AKA report, you will find many interesting surnames such as Austfjord, Austman, Axdal, Bardal, Beck, Bildfell, Borgfjord, Byron, Cahill, Christie, Clemens, Crawford, Dalman, Eastman, Edwards, Eyford, Feldsted, Freeman, Gauti, Gillies, Goodman, Hillman, Horgdal, Huskilson, Isfeld, Julius, Laxdal, Lindal, Maxon, Melsted, Myrdal, Nordal, Norman, Nupdal, Oliver, Phillips, Reykdal, Stone, Swanson, Thorson, Vatnsdal, Vestmann, Vopni, Walters, Westford, and Wolfe to name just a few.


The Icelandic Roots Database is not just names and dates. There is so much to explore. As of today, there are 578,425 people in the genealogy database at www.IcelandAncestry.com. Even if you do not want to join the genealogy database as a member, we want to preserve your family story, photos, documents, and history. We also want you to be part of the “Cousins Across the Ocean” project which connects people to their cousins in North America, Iceland, or wherever people of Icelandic descent live in the world. Just send us the information on how YOU connect to our shared story HERE. We will make sure you can be counted in the history of the Icelandic people.

Icelandic last names differ from North American naming practices where the children usually have a last name depending on the first name of their father and occasionally the first name of their mother using a patronymic (or occasionally matronymic) system. There are a few family surnames in Iceland. In the example below, you will see Jón Ólafsson has three children: Ólafur, Helga, and Jónas. Because Helga is a female (a daughter), she will have the last name of Jónsdóttir (Jón’s daughter). His son’s will be called Jónsson (Jón’s son). Each generation of children will continue with this naming system and you can see in the chart below, all of the children of a man named Ólafur will be called Ólafsson or Ólafsdóttir. All of the children of Jónas will be Jónasson or Jónasdóttir.

Patronymic Names

When a child is born in Iceland, they must be given a name on the approved list of the Naming Committee “Mannanafnanefnd” which was established in 1991. If the name is not on the approved list of names, the parents must submit the name for committee approval. According to the rules, the name must be compatible with Icelandic grammar, must only contain letters in the Icelandic alphabet, and must match the sex of the person bearing the name. A few other rules are noted as 1) The total number of a person’s forenames, plus his family name, may never be greater than three. 2) A child must be given a name within six months of its birth. You can read more in English by clicking on the Personal Names Act link.

What is YOUR surname? How are you connected to our shared Icelandic Story? Share your information in a comment or send us a private message. We would love to hear from you.


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

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