Sons and Dottirs

Linda Lou Burton posting from Center Hotels Plaza, Reykjavik, Iceland – It’s that foggy-brain time between waking up and getting up. Icelandic names are on my agenda today, as promised. I talked about the Horse Naming Commission yesterday. Well, there is a people naming group too — the Icelandic Naming Committee — and its duty is approving, or not, FIRST names not previously used in Iceland. Why? Protecting the Icelandic language is a primary reason; names must contain only letters found in the Icelandic alphabet. Okay, I get that. But why the emphasis on FIRST names? Icelanders operate on a first-name basis. It’s hard for Americans to grasp that notion, even with all its own informality. Browse the Icelandic phone book and you’ll find alphabetical listings by first name. So what about the last name, the surname? Iceland doesn’t follow the naming conventions you’ll find in much of the Western world; it uses a patronymic, and sometimes matronymic system. That mean a child’s surname is made up from a father’s first name with the child’s gender at the end of that. Example: my father’s name is Craig Burton. Had I been born in Iceland, my name would be Linda Craigsdottir, not Linda Burton. And my brothers surnames would be Craigsson. Sometimes the mother’s name makes up part of the surname — perhaps if Mother wishes to end ties to Father, or if Mother chooses to make a social statement about the issue. And in 2019, the laws were broadened so a child can be registered as “gender neutral” by adding the suffix “bur” (child of) to either parents first name instead of “son” or “dottir.” Got all of that?

I’m fully awake now, looking out my window and trying to sort this in my mind, so I googled some Icelandic names on the Government website; here are a few government officials, listed alphabetically by first name, including the Prime Minister, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, pictured right.

  • Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation
  • Gudlaugur Thór Thórdarson Minister of the Environment, Energy and Climate
  • Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson Minister of Social Affairs and the Labour Market / Minister for Nordic Cooperation
  • Katrín Jakobsdóttir Prime Minister
  • Thórdís Kolbrún Reykfjörd Gylfadóttir Minister for Foreign Affairs
  • Willum Þór Þórsson Minister of Health

Easy to pick out the boys and the girls just from the surnames! Speaking of gender, Iceland has once again been named the world’s “most gender equal country,” in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022. Of Iceland’s university undergraduates 60% are women; of Masters 70%. Forty-two percent of management positions are held by women; 45% of all parliamentarians are female. And in a professional setting, that “first-name” practice is the norm, regardless of rank or position or surname. Icelanders are independent; it’s why those Vikings fled Norway, remember? Sons and Dottirs are doing well here.

I have to admit to being gobswoggled by all the interesting and unique facts about this tiny county in the North Atlantic no bigger than the US state of Virginia, with a population about the same as St Louis, or Miami. I’ll be doing more studying when I get home. If I can reach my coat hanger that is, to pack. Was this coatrack put up here by a Viking? Stretch, stretch….

Iceland’s Parliament Building, which I haven’t seen yet. I’m coming back, I promise.

Government of Iceland

Center Hotels Plaza, Reykjavik, Iceland

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