Icelandic names have a really long history that goes all the way back to the time of the Vikings, and some names are even older than that!
Many Icelandic names have direct connections to old Scandinavian and Germanic mythology, magic, and their often-warlike cultures. But names inspired by nature and animals are also popular.
There are newer names too, from medieval times, and some of them even connect to names from ancient Greece and Rome, as well as the Bible.
Coming in at number one is the long-standing classic name Jón (corresponding to John in English). Originally a name from ancient Hebrew and introduced to Iceland through the Bible in the middle ages, Jón has been the most popular boy’s name in Iceland for centuries.
In Iceland, a common tradition was to create last names using the father's name. As a result, the name Jón Jónsson is actually the most historically common name in Iceland.Sigurður
The name Sigurður has been around in Iceland since the island was settled in the late 800s A.D., and it goes back even earlier among other Germanic nations.
The literal meaning of the name means “guardian” or “protection in battle” which may have come in handy for the most famous Sigurður in history, Sigurður Fáfnisbani, the iconic hero and slayer of the evil dragon Fáfnir in the heroic epic Völsunga saga.Guðmundur
This name represents a combination of Christian and Pagan elements. The suffix -mundur is used in many Icelandic names. As a noun, it means “gift” or “protection”, and as a verb (að munda), it can mean “to wield”.
The second part, Guð, means “god”, most likely referring to the Christian God. The name then, once combined, is taken to mean “the gift of God” or even “the protector of God”.Gunnar
Gunnar is another very old name, brought to Iceland by the Scandinavian settlers of the Viking Age.
The name comes from the Old Norse word “gunnr” which means “battle”. The suffix -ar is added to form a sort of participle, “he who battles” or in other words “warrior” or “soldier”.
In the Njálssaga, one of the most famous and cherished Icelandic sagas, there is a hero named Gunnar frá Hlíðarenda, who is an epic warrior of unrivaled skill.Ólafur
A very old pan-Scandinavian name, Ólafur has no specific known meaning. It probably had a meaning in the past, but that meaning has been lost to us today.
Still, this name has remained well-liked throughout history. It was the name of a 10th-century Norwegian king, Ólafur helgi, as well as the longest-serving president of modern-day Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson.Kristján
The name Kristján comes from an Ancient Greek term that referred to “a Christian man”. Its popularity in Iceland is linked to it being the name of multiple successive kings of Denmark, during the time when Iceland was under Danish rule.Einar
Einar is an ancient Nordic name where the Ein- literally means “one”, but it is understood to mean “unique”, “amazing” or “exceptional”. Along with the suffix -ar the name carries the meaning of an “exceptional man and/or warrior”.
In Norse mythology, the exceptionally brave fallen human warriors were brought to Valhöll (Valhalla), Odin’s palace, to feast and fight. These brave warriors were known as the Einherjar.Magnús
The name Magnús has a long and storied history in its use amongst the Scandinavian peoples and has been popular since the Viking Age.
Its origin however is Latin and Roman, forming the cognomen of the famous Roman general Pompey Magnus and the early medieval Frankish king Charlemagne (in Icelandic, Karlamagnús). The name literally means “the great” or “the strong”.Arnar
Now for the first, but certainly not the last, animal-related name, is Arnar. The name is the genitive declension of the word örn, which literally means “eagle” and so Arnar carries the genitive meaning of one who is “of the eagle”.
The name Örn also exists but it is less popular than Arnar for reasons unknown. Similarly popular as Arnar is the name Árni, which also means “eagle”.Björn
The name Björn requires little explanation since it simply means “bear”.
It is worth noting, however, that the name is extremely old and goes back far earlier than the Viking Age, possibly as far back as the ancient Indo-Europeans of the Bronze Age, thousands of years ago. The name Bjarni is a direct derivation of Björn and also means “bear”.Halldór
The name Halldór is essentially a fusion of two separate names, Hallur and Þór. Hallur is an ancient word that means “stone”, while Þór is the name of the legendary thunder god (known as Thor in English).
The name can therefore be understood as “Stone-Thor” or in other words as an amplification of the strength of Thor with the strength of stone.
The combination of these two names exists in other names as well, such as Þórhallur. There the meaning is in reverse denoting “the stone of Thor”, which could be taken to mean “the guardian of Thor” or “the strength of Thor”.Ragnar
This name has been made famous as the name of the lead character, Ragnar Lothbrok, in the popular television series Vikings. The partly mythical, partly historical Viking king Ragnar had a rather silly-sounding cognomen, Lothbrok (Loðbrók in Icelandic) which means “hairy pants”.
But the man himself is famous for leading some of the earliest Viking raids on Britain and France. The name itself is equally impressive as the stem Ragn- comes from an old word, rögn, which means “higher power” or “god”.
In the ancient pagan Nordic religion, the term for the prophesied apocalypse is ragnarök, which directly translates to “the end of the gods”. The suffix -ar in Ragnar thus adds the complete meaning of “a warrior of the gods” or “divine warrior”, which is quite fitting for the man who began the Viking age.Gísli
On the opposite side of the spectrum from Ragnar’s intimidating name comes Gísli. The name has a very literal meaning: “hostage”. It may have become a name due to the common practice in the Viking age of either taking or exchanging hostages with fellow nobles to secure loyalty or form alliances.
The practice was not necessarily a violent one, and some infant hostages would have been raised as part of the family, leading the term “hostage” to evolve into a name. Despite its somewhat somber origins, this name remains quite popular today.Andri
Andri is a relatively popular Icelandic name, but its meaning isn't entirely certain. It could mean either an “opponent” or, oddly enough, “a skier” – someone who skis.
In the cold and snowy regions of Iceland and wider Scandinavia, skiing was a widespread activity even in early medieval times. However, back then, skiing was less about leisure and more driven by necessity.Birgir
The name Birgir is thought to have been brought over to Iceland from Sweden, as far back as the Viking age and it has remained a popular Icelandic name since. Its translation is “he who saves” or “he who protects”.
The Nordic countries are infamously harsh in climate and so, more than a thousand years ago during the Viking age, they produced fierce people. It is no surprise then that this was reflected in their names. Icelandic boy names often have a strong connection to war, predators, physical traits, and the gods.Valgarður
This name is a combination of two words, valur which means “the fallen on the battlefield” and garður which means “protection” or “fortification”. Together they take on the meaning of “the one who guards the fallen on the battlefield”, a position of great importance and honor.Þorvaldur
Just like in the previously mentioned Halldór and Þórhallur, the prefix Þor- is referring to the thunder god Þór (Thor).
It takes on an even more powerful meaning however, as -valdur comes from the word “vald” which means “power”. So -valdur means “one who wields power”.
The epic fusion of the name Þorvaldur thus becomes “one who wields the power of Thor”.Ásgeir
Once again, following the pattern of many Icelandic names, this name is a fusion of words.
Ás- is the singular of Æsir which are the primary clan of the gods and alongside the Vanir (another such clan) form the ancient Nordic pantheon of gods.
The second part, Geir, is an ancient term that literally translates to “spear,” but it can also refer to a “weapon” in a broader sense. So, Ásgeir means “the spear of the gods” or “the weapon of the gods”.Aðalbjörn
Great power was also to be found in nature, especially in animals, as this name shows. Björn is a popular name in Iceland as was covered earlier, and means “bear”. Aðal- however is a word that denotes “nobility” or “grace” and so the boy who carries such a name would be known as a “noble bear”.Gunnólfur
Although rare nowadays, this name serves as a strong illustration of the mindset prevalent among the Scandinavian people during the Viking age, when it came to naming practices.
Gunn- as in the name Gunnar, means “battle” but -ólfur is a morphing of the word úlfur, which means “wolf”. It would be impressive enough to be named Úlfur, which is a common name still to this day, but Gunnólfur even more so as the meaning becomes “battle-wolf”.
Not all Icelandic boy names are so intimidating or war-oriented, many have beautiful deeper meanings that are connected to myth, magic, and nature.Völundur
Völundur was a character in Völundarkviða, one of the stories collected in the Poetic Edda. He was a smith of such magnificent skill and ingenuity that the name has become an adjective to describe something of incredible quality and beauty, völundarsmíð or “as if it were built by Völundur”.
The legend of Völundur also exists in Germanic and Anglo-Saxon legends where he is better known as Wayland the Smith. The name is quite beautiful in the Icelandic language and carries great meaning.Fróði
This name is based on the adjective fróður which means “he who knows much” and as a name it carries the meaning of someone who is “wise and knowledgeable”.Kári
Kári is an ancient Nordic name that denotes two separate things, “one who is curly-haired” and the name of the personification of the elemental spirit of the wind in ancient Nordic mythology.
Perhaps the two are connected, as the wind may have blown someone’s hair into curls, but regardless it is a simple but beautiful name with a deep connection to a fundamental element of nature, the wind.Angantýr
A very old Nordic name which literally means “favorite god”, but it is understood as being someone “who is the favorite of the gods”.
Angan- means “favorite” but in modern Icelandic it can also be understood as “a very pleasant or delightful smell”, whilst -týr is a general term for “the gods” and also the name of Týr, the god of war and order in the Nordic pantheon.
While not the name’s original meaning, it can be understood today as meaning “divine scent” or something to that effect. Either way, the name is quite beautiful to the Icelandic ear.Sæmundur
As with the name Guðmundur, the suffix -mundur carries the meaning of “gift” or “protection”. Sæ-, however, comes from the word sær or sjór, which both mean “the sea”.
The name is therefore interpreted as “the gift of the sea”, which in Icelandic culture has a deep resonance. The sea holds a central role not only in Iceland but also across other Scandinavian societies, and has for centuries.
The sea feeds us and keeps us alive and the sea is a dangerous beast that claims many lives as well. Sæmundur or “the gift of the sea” is therefore the gift of life and abundance.Conclusion
Choosing a name for your child is never going to be an easy task, but inspiration can certainly be found in Icelandic boy names which have a lot to offer with their deep and varied meanings, from the fearsome and powerful to the spiritual and elemental.
There is also an article by the same author which covers Icelandic girl names.
To learn more about Scandinavian male names, see this guide to Swedish boy’s names.