Information

22.1.2002

Information on Icelandic Surnames


      1. The common and traditional rule of surnames in Iceland.

      The Icelandic law on names is based on a traditional principle regarding surnames, as follows:

      Every person who does not have a family name shall call himself by a patronymic or matronymic so that following his/her given name or names, one of the given names of his/her father or/and his/her mother shall appear in the genetive case, with the suffix "son" in the case of a man or "dóttir" in the case of a woman. A person who has a family name can use either his/her father}s or his/her mother}s given name in the genitive case with the suffix as described above in addition to his/her family name.

      The Icelandic word for a surname actually means an identification name, traditionally these names are meant to identify daughter (dóttir) of whom, or son af whom, a person is. Using the given names (first names) of the parents, instead of the surnames, is in accordance with the traditional common practice of the use of names in Iceland, namely using given names in all circumstances, with the addition of the surname for more distance or for clarification. Accordingly, all listing of persons in alphabetical order, e.g. the telephone directory and the National Registry, goes by first names.

      Given the structure of the system, gender differences are bound to appear, since only a woman can be a daughter and only a man can be a son. People can identify their children with a surname derived from a given name of the mother or a given name of the father or from one given name of each of the parents, or the family names of either the father or the mother. No differences exist between children born in or out of wedlock.

      People are allowed to bear two surnames, but the majority of the Icelandic population in fact bears one surname, in accordance with the traditional rules.

      2. Icelandic citizens are not allowed to take their spouses} family names or surnames.

      This provision is a part of the current names act, which came into effect in 1997. This was allowed before but was never commonly used. An exception from this provision is made for foreigners as follows:

      A foreign national who marries an Icelander may use his/her spouse}s family name or use the given names of his/her father- or mother in law, with the suffix son if it}s a man, but dóttir if it}s a woman. This does not apply to Icelandic citizens.

      An exception is also made for those Icelanders who under previous law or lack of regulating provisions have adopted their spouses} family names, to continue to bear those names, but bearing a family name is in general the exception in Iceland. On the other hand, if a couple has jointly adopted the patronymic or matronymic of either during residence abroad, the one who changed his or her surname shall be obligated to discontinue the use of the adopted name on return to Iceland.

      3. Adopting new family names has been forbidden according to Icelandic law since 1925.

      The Names Acts from 1925, 1991 and 1997 have all, along with the prohibition of new family names, contained provisions to preserve the rights of Icelandic citizens, who bore family names when the law came into force, and the rights of foreign nationals, to keep their family names and to pass them on to their descendants. Since The Names Act 1991, it has been positively provided, that those family names can be passed on to the descendants equally through the male and the female line.