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Your name is what? Posted by on Apr 21, 2017 in Traditions, Vocabulary

Hva heter du? (What’s your name?) Jeg heter… (My name is…) Talking about navn (name/s) is important when making new friends. Let’s look at Norwegian naming traditions!

One of the most popular names in Norway. (Photo courtesy of emma.buckley at Flickr, CC License.)

Ola & Kari Nordmann are like the Norwegian versions of Uncle Sam – a man and a woman representing the ”typical” nordmann (Norwegian). Like all nordmenn, they have a fornavn (first name) followed by an etternavn (last name). The etternavn is the one to look for in a printed list – the Internet, of course, doesn’t really care which name you google! 🙂

When two people gifter seg [yeefter say] (marry) in Norway, the woman traditionally takes her husband’s etternavn. This is still very common in Norway, even if there are lots of other options now (the woman keeping her last name, the man taking hers, same-sex marriage etc.) Some people choose to keep their old family name as a mellomnavn (middle name). Let’s suppose Kari had the last name Fjell before marrying Ola Nordmann – it would then be possible for her to call herself Kari Fjell Nordmann.

The 10 most popular jentenavn (girls’ names) in 2016 were:

Nora, Emma, Sara, Sofie, Sofia, Maja, Olivia, Ella, Ingrid, Emilie

And the corresponding guttenavn (boys’ names) were:

William, Oskar, Lucas, Mathias, Filip, Oliver, Jakob, Emil, Noah, Aksel

Freestyle skier Kari Traa has a really stereotypical Norwegian name. (Photo courtesy of Jarvin at Wikimedia Commons, CC License.)

If those names were not as exotic as you had hoped for, there are still many, many traditional names in use, including Gro,  Guro, Gunnhild, Aslaug, Bjørg, Åsne, Ingvil, Hilde, Vilde, Jorunn, Siri, Silje, Rannveig, Solveig, Synnøve for women and Olav, Harald, Håkon, Guttorm, Gunnar, Aslak, Atle, Bjarne, Børge, Sverre, Sigurd, Finn, Geir, Stig, Stian, Kjetil, Øystein for men… Lots of these were used in vikingtida (the Viking Age), too!

Fun fact: Don’t be surprised if you meet a Norwegian called Per Olav or Anne Elisabeth! Double names are a very old ”trend”. Sometimes a child gets a name from each grandparent (of the same sex) – for example, maybe Per Olav’s two granddads were called Olav and Per Isak.

There are different kinds of etternavn in Norway:

  • Singers Sissel Kyrkjebø and Odd Nordstoga both have a ”Viking age” first name followed by a ”farm name” last name. Kyrkjebø = ”Church field”; Nordstoga = ”Northern Hut”. (Photo courtesy of Bjarne Thune at Wikimedia Commons, CC License.)

    nature names which mean things like ”Mountain”, ”Field”, ”Cottage” etc. Each of these was once taken from the name of the gård (farm) where the original family lived. Examples: Li, Fjell, Berg, Vik, Næss, Sørebø, Bondevik.

  • names taken from Germany (and a few other countries), like the last name of former PM Jens Stoltenberg.
  • the famous -sen names. They originally meant ”son of” and were later used for daughters as well. So, Torsen means ”son of T(h)or”, Kjellsen means ”son of Kjell” etc.

What is your favourite Norwegian name?

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About the Author:Bjørn A. Bojesen

I was born in Denmark, but spent large parts of my childhood and study years in Norway. I later returned to Denmark, where I finished my MA in Scandinavian Studies. Having relatives in Sweden as well, I feel very Scandinavian! I enjoy reading and travelling, and sharing stories with you! You’re always welcome to share your thoughts with me and the other readers.


  1. Cynthia Olga Sindall:

    My farmor was Ragna. Her mother was Josephina Jakobina. One of our cats is Siri. I like Kristin and Solveig.

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @Cynthia Olga Sindall Ragna is new to me – it sounds ”powerful”, somehow. 🙂 And I agree – Kristin and Solveig are really nice. PS Stupid Apple copied your cat’s name for their voice system! 😮

  2. corky:

    Do you know the origins on the fornavn ””Thorvan””?

    • Bjørn A. Bojesen:

      @corky @Corky – I have no idea. 🙁 I actually haven’t seen the name ”Thorvan” before. It’s quite nice. Where is it used? 🙂

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