miðvikudagur, október 12, 2005

the name game

Iceland has some very unique, beautiful, and old names for its inhabitants. Before coming here, I had never heard of many of the first names I now use every day. But recently I have become entranced with the even older and more obscure Icelandic names, no longer in wide circulation. For example, since my first name appears to be difficult to say for many people here (the English "J" sound at the beginning, especially) I have started using the name Játvarður in casual use. When putting in an order for a couple of burgers at Hamborgara Búllan, and they ask for my name, I'll throw out a "Játvarður". (This is not unlike the Shoonesque practice of using the name "Billy" to request a table at any Boston-area chain restaurant.)

Játvarður (pronounced roughly Yowt-varth-er) is funny to Icelanders because it's a name that is barely used these days. There are only a handful of Játvarðar in the national registry. I think it's a name associated more with country farmers from the 1800s than American-accented financial-services immigrants from the 2000s.

Since I am George's son, I decided that Játvarður Georgsson would be a good full version of the name. (I won't get into the well-worn territory of explaining Icelandic patronymic names, you can read more about them here.)

E and I had been looking for what mouth-twisting Icelandic name might make a good companion for Játvarður and saw it on the side of a bus: Tyrfingur! So I could be Játvarður Tyrfingur Georgsson. That's a pretty good handle.

Then the other day, the entire universe of Icelandic names finally opened up to me. I discovered the government's registry of all legal names. There is a list for men, a list for women, and a special list of names that can only be used as middle names, a category of which I was previously unaware. (Middle names are not, however, limited to this; any first name can also be a middle name.)

So now the Icelandic naming world is my oyster. There are so many colorful names, many of which I had never heard of before. Here are some handles that we came up with at work, using the official lists. (I should point out here that these names are far more colorful than the average Icelander-on-the-street these days. We were trying to revive some of the old names on the list, ones that have dropped out of circulation.)

For the men:

Hrollaugur Haffjörð Hjörvarsson
Sigtýr Vémundur Þórhallsson
Geirtryggur Ásröður Guðvarsson

And the ladies:

Snjófríður Grélöð Jörmundsdóttir
Blædís Miðdal Runólfsdóttir
Ingimunda Friðbjört Muggsdóttir

...and finally:

Snæþór Norðland Jökulsson (Snow-Thor Northland Glacier's-Son!)

That last name is so beautiful and rich that I just may have to rethink this whole Játvarður business.


Anonymous Nafnlaus said...

The commitee that deceides which names are on the list resigned just the other day after a dispute over a name.

Anonymous Nafnlaus said...

Just few years ago that was in law that people who wanted to have icelandic citizenship had to change their name to a Icelandic name! Not just the first name but last name as well! The artist Baltasar wanted to change is name to Egill Skallgrímsson when he got his citizenship but he wasn´t allowed to do that! The law was changed about 10 years ago!

Blogger Pétur said...

I believe Játvarður is the Icelandic version of Edward.

Blogger JB said...

Yeah, and when I found out that Edward bidness it sorta took away the magic for me. I'm thinking about making the switch over to Snæþór for that reason.

Anonymous Nafnlaus said...

My grandfather´s first name was Edward B. Cl... and because he lived in the city he was a resident and therefore he had one of those wonderful silly translated names.
His Icelandic name was ... Játvarður (I can´t remember his dad´s first name)but the translation of his last name is ridiculous Kjötöxi!
The way to find out your name is to look for the translation and then you should be able to figure it out. All names have a translation somewhere. Possibly in the old testament...seek out the religous person and they´d know :D

Blogger JB said...

My first name is in the Icelandic Old Testament, spelled exactly the way it is spelled in the English-language Old Testament. People didn't believe this here so I printed out the relevant chapters, highlighted my name in green highlighter, and taped up the whole mess on the front of my desk at work. The People were stunned.

Blogger JB said...

A reader says:

"Snæþór is actually a very new name. My grandfather was the first Snæþór
and now there are some 12-15 of us."

I'm a big fan of the name, myself.

Blogger Ms. Meander said...

but WHY are certain names only allowed as middle names?

Blogger JB said...

Looking through the list, lots of the middle names appear to be geographical in nature. My favorite is probably "Norðland" - "Northland". This wouldn't really be suitable as a first name, but would make a nice differentiator as a second name.

Anonymous Nafnlaus said...

If everything goes according to plan, I'll move to Iceland this year. I also want to have a real Icelandic name.

Did you change your name officially? Do you have a passport with your new Icelandic name in it or do you just use an Icelandic name while maintaining your original name in official documents like your passport?

I just want to change my name the moment I'm going to apply for a kennitala. I'm wondering how to do this.

Blogger JB said...

Hi Nafnlaus,

When I took Icelandic citizenship I decided to keep my name as it was.

I am not sure the legal implications of changing one's name in one country but not another. In any case it might cause some complications.

When you apply for a kennitala, it will be with your current name. You only have the opportunity to change to another name on acquisition of citizenship or thereafter.

Best of luck with your move.

Blogger JB said...

By the way, I do use the Icelandic pronunciation of my first name when I introduce myself, as it is easier that way.

You can always go by an assumed Icelandic name without changing your name officially. No worries there!

Anonymous Nafnlaus said...

Hi JB,

Thanks for the very fast reply and for answering my questions.


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