Birnir Most Popular Baby Name in Iceland

baby swimming

Birnir was the most popular name given to newborns in Iceland in 2023. Emilía was the most popular name given to girls. The data on the most popular baby names of 2023 was published by Registers Iceland today.

Thirty newborns were given the name Birnir last year in Iceland, more individuals than any other name. Emil and Elmar were the next most popular boys’ names, followed by Jón and Óliver. Emilía was the most popular girl’s name given to newborns last year and sixth most popular name overall. Sara, Sóley, Embla, and Aþena (Athena) were the next most popular girls’ names given to babies last year.

Nameless newborns

Naming culture in Iceland differs from that of many other countries. Newborns are not typically named at birth, but at their baptism or a non-religious naming ceremony around two months later. It is quite common for Icelandic children to be named after their grandparents, although, as the data from Registers Iceland shows, naming trends do change over time.

All names given in Iceland must be pre-approved by the country’s Naming Committee. The committee maintains a register of approved Icelandic given names and governs the introduction of new names into Icelandic culture. Its existence has been a topic of debate in recent years, with former Minister of Justice Áslaug Arna Sigurbjörnsdóttir proposing its abolishment.

Anna and Jón most common

But what are the most common names in Iceland overall? The two most popular names in the country are Anna (6,272 individuals) and Jón (5,599 individuals). They are followed by Guðrún (4,923), Sigurður (4,445), and Guðmundur (4,208), which round up the top five spots.

From the Archive: The First Day of Summer

bee flower summer spring

From the archive: In this 1972 article from Iceland Review magazine, Folklorist Árni Björnsson delves into the superstitions surrounding the First Day of Summer, a holiday unique to Iceland. Note that this archival content may not necessarily reflect the current editorial standards of Iceland Review.

Since olden times the First Day of Summer has been a day of celebration in Iceland – and it is not surprising that Summer should be warmly welcomed in the far north, for a good summer and national prosperity often go together. Formerly, when the Icelanders lived mainly by farming, their well-being was directly dependent on a good summer. But although the national economy nowadays is not greatly dependent on the number of hours of sunshine as before, a fine summer is very important to everyone – young and old alike. Although winter is often good, exhilarating and beautiful – and people enjoy it in their own ways – the Icelanders long for the summer (at any rate in their subconscious) during the whole of the dark period of winter. Today the First Day of Summer is primarily a holiday for the children, yet the adults are no less joyful when the grass begins to turn green and the summer birds make their voices heard. Nowadays, it is mainly the awakening of nature, the light and the fine weather that appeal to people. But the echo of bygone days still contains something of the customs and superstitions that were associated with this turning-point in the year. Most of this has vanished from the modern world; it is retained in the childhood memories of the generation now leaving us and in books, for the future. The following article describes some of the things formerly connected with the First Day of Summer in Iceland.

tjörnin pond reykjavík

Old Icelandic time reckoning is, in some respects, unusual. The year was divided into two half-years, summer and winter. Normally the weeks were counted, not the months. Thus winter was usually 25 weeks and 5 days, and summer 26 weeks and 2 days. This made only 364 days, and after an interval of some years a week had to be added to summer for correction. These rules were established already in the 10th and rectified in the 12th century.

Among the common people, especially in the country, this method existed side by side with the official Christian time reckoning, and is still practised by old farmers. The months, January, February, etc., were no part of time reckoning among the ordinary people in Iceland until the 18th century.

In old time reckoning summer begins on the first Thurs­day after April 18th; in the Julian calendar, which was valid in Iceland till the year 1700, it began on the first Thursday after April 8th. There is no proof that this system was used elsewhere in the world, but we must suppose that at least certain elements of it were in use in Northern Europe before the introduction of Christianity and the settlement of Iceland. The term ’’First Day of Summer” appears in Norwegian documents from the 14th century. In Iceland we see this expression in the law manuscripts from the middle and the second half of the 13th century onwards. It is also used in all printed calendars from the 16th till the 20th century. However, in the older sources there are no signs of any festivity in this connexion, and this was also not to be expected, but in a well-known description of Iceland from the middle of the 18th century it is said to be the duty of each house-master to give his people the best food available on this day. In folk tales and memoirs from the 19th century the day always appears as a traditional popular feast, usually next in importance to Christmas. Actually this day is the Ice­ landic counterpart to European Spring Festivals.

Here follow some results of a research, which was under­ taken in 1969 to find out how the First Day of Summer was celebrated throughout the country. Taken as a whole, the outcome ought to give a fairly good survey of the cus­toms around and just after 1900. The purpose was, among other things, to find out, whether there were any major differences between the various regions in this field. A priori this was not particularly likely, since isolated areas are really very few. People also used to move not a little from one place to another, for instance for seasonal work such as fishing, etc.

reykjavík botanical garden

Dreams

Most people did not pay any great attention to the dreams they had on the first summer night, and the few who consider this night remarkable in this respect are almost all from the eastern part of the country. Many more people took notice of the dreams they had in the last weeks of winter. They were thought to be meaningful as to the weather in the coming summer. For instance, red animals meant heat or rain, white ones snow or even pack ice.

Forebodings

The first migratory birds were given close attention. Most people believed that winter’s hardships were over when the song of the whimbrel was heard. With the snipe it was important in which direction it was first heard. From east and south it promised good, from west and north the opposite. The attitude towards the golden plover varies greatly. In the south and west of the country it was considered a bad omen if it arrived early, but in the north and east it is a welcome guest, no matter how early it arrives. It was considered undesirable if grassfields showed signs of becoming green early, for instance as early as March. Such early growth was not expected to be long-lived.

Summer presents

The custom to give presents on theFirst Day of Summer seems to have been more common than the custom of Christmas presents. Most summer presents were home-made things. On the south-west coast fishermen used to give their wives all the fish they caught on that day, for their private use.

Spring storms

Generally people expected bad weather near or just before the beginning of summer. Snowstorms at this time had different names. One was called the Ravenstorm, 9 days before First Summer Day, because by this time the raven was thought to have laid its eggs. Some people believed that if they could see that the raven had eaten its own eggs, extremely bad weather was to be expected. If Easter was late, i.e. near or after First Summer Day, it was feared that the Easter storm might unite with the Summer Day storm. Most people hoped for better weather when such a storm was over, except in the north-east, where they seem to have been more pessi­mistic in this respect.

Summer moon

People observed the ’’summer moon” in the following way: The first time you saw the new moon after the First Day of Summer, you should keep your mouth shut until somebody addressed you. What then was said to you, was a sort of an oracle. An engaged girl had seen the summer moon. She went indoors and sat down on a chair. Somebody said to her: ’’Beware, he (the chair) is shaky”. The boy betrayed the girl that very summer. This was called ”to get an answer in the summer moon”.

reykjavík botanical garden

Food and drink

House-wives tried their best to mark the day with something special in food and drink, but too often there was not much left of the winter supply. In the northernmost part of the north-west people used to put aside some delicacies in the autumn and keep them in a closed barrel till the First Day of Summer. These were smoked lamb and other sheep products which had either been smoked or conserved in sour milk. Fresh meat was rare, except veal now and then. Choice parts of halibut were also coveted. Also coffee and sweet cakes, when such luxuries were available. Summer Day cakes made of rye were a speciality in the north-west of the country. They were up to 30 cm in diameter and 1-2 cm thick. Each person on the farm got such a cake, and on the top of it meat, butter and other things. People used to eat a small part of it every day while it lasted. Strong drinks seem to have been most usual in the central regions of the north and east. On the south and west coast the skipper used to give a party for his crew, including alcoholic refreshments.

First summer night

Almost everywhere people observed whether the temperature fell below zero on the first summer night, i.e. whether summer and winter ’’froze together”. This was considered a good omen, most commonly because the sheep milk then would be rich and fat during the summer. Since thermometers were rare, people used to put out a plate or some other container with water in it, and then made their observations early in the morning. Another method, mentioned in folk tales, was to walk bare-footed around the farm houses in order to find out if the grass was frozen. This was not confirmed by any of the informants.

Dedication

In most parts of the country the day was dedicated to young people, but it varies from area to area whether it belongs to boys or girls. In the west and north­west it belongs to young men, but in other parts of the country it is dedicated to young girls. Those, to whom the day belonged, were to help prepare the feast and, in the boys’ districts, they were to be the first to get out of bed in the morning and the first to go out and welcome summer. But it was considered wise for everyone to get up early that morning. This predicted the same habit for the rest of the summer.

Leave from work

In most parts of the country the day was a holiday, apart from feeding and milking animals. Fishermen used to go out fishing, but not as far as usual. At noon people usually put on their best clothes. Many people in various regions preferred to start some work, even if merely symbolically. Quite often they started fertilizing the home field. On many farms it was customary that the housewife visited the sheep cot on this day and inspected the sheep. This is explained by the fact that in olden times the sheep were milked and the farmer’s wife was responsible for the dairy work.

Entertainment

 It was usual for the children on neigh­bouring farms to come together and play. Also grown-up people used the day for visits. Dances or other organized forms of entertainment were rare until after 1890, but after 1900 the newly founded Young People’s League made this day a sort of festival for whole districts with speeches, poetry-reading, singing, theatrical performances, sport and dancing. Today it is actually Children’s Day.

Religious observance

Clergymen used to preach in many churches on the First Day of Summer until the first half of the 18th century, at least in the north of Iceland. This was forbidden by the Danish king in 1744. But in practically every home people used to gather and listen to reading from the Bible or some sermon. Hymns were also sung.

This research is not comprehensive enough to allow us to attempt any division of Iceland into ’’cultural areas” in former times. It seems clear, however, that people’s customs were not so uniform as might possibly be ex­pected, taking into account, for instance, the practical absence of dialects. On the whole, the difference between south and north is not so marked as between east and west.

‘It’s Mostly Foreigners Who Take an Interest in Turf Houses’

An engineer in East Iceland is passing down ancestral methods of turf construction, Austurfrétt reports. Þorvaldur P. Hjarðar has a great deal of experience with these ancient building techniques, having recently restored two turf outbuildings and one turf sheep shed on his farm, Hjarðarhagi í Jökudal.

“There aren’t a lot of folks who are up for such specialized courses, but seven people were interested in participating and so now we’re just about to finish rebuilding an old, turf smokehouse which must, of course, be consecrated by smoking some lamb and singing the old songs,” said Þorvaldur. His course focused on methods of building turf structures that are unique to the East Fjords.

Interior wall of restored turf house, Hjarðarhagi í Jökudal / Minjastofnun Íslands, Instagram

“Not many people know this, actually, but there were a number of unique things about the turf houses here in the East. Foremost that the masonry on most of them is cabled, as it’s termed. That’s to say that they alternated between layers of turf and stone. This isn’t unheard of elsewhere but it’s very prominent here in the East. It was done a lot here because there weren’t a lot of good stones in most places out here.”

Interior of restored turf sheepshed, Hjarðarhagi í Jökudal / Screenshot, RÚV

Þorvaldur says that Icelanders even have their own prosciutto, though it’s a luxury good that has yet to be capitalized on.

“So, the thing is, that in the old days, all hangikjöt [smoked lamb] was double-smoked in smokehouses made from turf and that hangikjöt is much different from the processed kind we get in Icelandic supermarkets today. The meat is much firmer and the flavour a lot milder. It is, to my mind, the only real Icelandic delicacy, but no one’s running with this historical tradition. We lose our minds over prosciutto in Italy or Jamón Ibérico in Spain. But we’d have an entirely comparable product here in this country, if we just smoked it in an old-fashioned turf house.”

Window of restored turfhouse, Hjarðarhagi í Jökudal / Screenshot, RÚV

Þorvaldur says he’s found there’s a growing interest in Icelandic turf houses, but this interest is by far the greatest among foreign tourists.

“There’s certainly a growing interest, but maybe least of all among Icelanders,” he mused. “It doesn’t make any sense because we tend to go see old buildings when we ourselves are traveling abroad, but we care almost nothing about our own remarkable history and houses. And no one should be in any doubt that Icelandic turf houses are magnificent in every way.”

Icelanders Buying More Locally-Grown Christmas Trees

Christmas tree santa Iceland

Though imported trees still make up the majority of Christmas tree sales in Iceland, locally grown trees are steadily growing in popularity, Bændablaðið reports. Imported Christmas trees decreased from 37,147 to 24,441 between 2019 and 2020, while local tree sales rose from 7,225 to 8,134. More families are buying their trees from local forestry associations, where they can pick and even cut down their own trees.

Ragnhildur Freysteinsdóttir, an environmental scientist at the Icelandic Forestry Association, told RÚV that cutting down your own tree has certain advantages. “Some people may want tall and thin, or short and fat [trees]. They maybe don’t want the totally standard trees that you get at the store. So it’s an opportunity for them.”

Buying local has benefits

As Bændablaðið points out, the benefits of buying local Christmas trees are many. Purchasing one tree enables local foresters to plant dozens more, with a net positive effect on carbon storage. The Reykjavík Forestry Association (Skógræktarfélag Reykjavíkur), for example, planted 50 trees for each one sold last year. Local trees also carry a smaller carbon footprint in other ways: due to Iceland’s climate and geography, local foresters rarely use pesticides in their cultivation. Furthermore, imported trees present a risk of bringing in pests that could potentially affect Icelandic vegetation.

See Also: Húsavík Residents Vote on Town Christmas Tree

Among local trees, the most popular species is the beach pine, accounting for 62.4% of local Christmas tree sales last year. The sitka spruce comes next with 14.3% of sales, followed by red spruce at 11.4%.

With More Icelanders at Home, Chocolate Easter Eggs Sell Out

Icelandic Easter eggs

Icelanders may be sheltering at home, avoiding travel and large family gatherings this Easter, but that hasn’t reduced demand for the country’s beloved chocolate Easter eggs – if anything, it’s only increased it, says Auðjón Guðmundsson, CEO of chocolate company Nói Síríus. Vísir reports that with more Icelanders in the country for the holiday this year, there has been a run on the chocolate egg supply the like of which hasn’t been seen in quite some time.

Indeed, in the lead-up to the holiday, the country’s chocolatiers anticipated that many of their popular páskaegg varieties would sell out this year and encouraged Icelanders to buy their favourite kind early to ensure they weren’t disappointed come Easter Sunday. “We’re working longer and…doing everything we can for Icelanders,” Auðjón told mbl.is last week. “It’s a shame when people don’t get their Easter egg.”

As a matter of fact, Nói Síríus produced more than 800,000 chocolate Easter eggs this year, including several new varieties with different kinds of candy fillings. Even so, several varieties have sold out, leading to the sense that there was a shortage of chocolate eggs this year.

“Neither we nor others were prepared for this situation. It didn’t help that production was a lot more difficult and slower due to the gathering ban,” explained Auðjón. “We tried everything and were pretty pleased with how much we managed to get out in the end. But of course, it’s just wishful thinking that everyone would get their favourite egg – that’s just how it is.”

Easter is usually a popular time for Icelanders to travel outside of the country, something that obviously wasn’t possible this year. Moreover, many Icelanders based abroad have recently returned to the country amidst the COVID-19 crisis. “Without having the exact figures, I would expect that it’s the increased number of Icelanders in the country that played a big part in this,” said Auðjón, referring to the perceived shortage.

The chocolatier also realises what a charmed position he and those in his industry are in right now. It’s difficult to complain about the enormous demand for Easter eggs, he says, at a time when income in so many other industries has evaporated. “We can only be grateful for this. Although, of course, we’d have wanted everyone to get the egg they wanted.”

Siglufjörður Residents Celebrate Sun’s Return

Siglufjörður, North Iceland.

Since November 15, the sun hasn’t risen above the mountains in Siglufjörður. Today, residents of the North Iceland town celebrate its return after a 74-day absence during the height of winter. Mbl.is reported first.

Celebrating the return of the sun is a yearly tradition in Siglufjörður. Tucked in a picturesque fjord, the mountains surrounding the town may shelter it from wind and storm, but they also block the sun at the height of winter, when its trajectory is lowest.

The sun’s return is one of the first signs that spring is on the way, and for decades Siglufjörður residents have marked the occasion by serving pancakes and attending a children’s choir performance on the town church’s steps.

The sun’s return is also celebrated annually in Ísafjörður, in the Westfjords, though on January 25, with coffee and pancakes.

A Third of Icelanders Eat Stinky Skate Today

December 23 is Saint Þorlákur’s Day in Iceland, and the holiday calls for a special meal which many eat only once a year: fermented or putrefied skate (a type of ray). A poll conducted earlier this month found 37% of Icelanders will indulge in the delicacy today – though the fish’s pungent aroma makes many opposed to even coming near homes where it is cooked.

More old than young eat skate

According to a poll conducted by MMR, the number of Icelanders who hold up the tradition of eating skate has been relatively steady over recent years. Perhaps unsurprisingly, older Icelanders were more likely to do so, with 58% of those 68 years and older saying they planned to eat the fish on Saint Þorlákur’s Day, as compared to 21% of those 18-29 years of age.

Considerate neighbours

The Director of Iceland’s Homeowner’s Association (Húseigendafélagið) says those living in apartment housing should think of their neighbours and avoid preparing skate at home. “It’s not considerate to force such a stench on innocent people. It’s like a terrorist attack on the taste buds, it’s not food, it’s putrefied and classified as waste according to all definitions. These are barbaric feasts and just horrible, the smell can sit in buildings until spring,” he told RÚV.

Luckily for skate lovers – and their neighbours – restaurants around the country offer the fermented fish on their menus today.

British Bake Off Contestants Attempt Icelandic Laufabrauð

laufabrauð the great british bake off

Making Icelandic laufabrauð, an intricately decorated Christmas treat, was the challenge contestants faced on a special Christmas edition of The Great British Bake Off. The episode was shown on Stöð 2 last Thursday.

The Great British Bakeoff, is a popular cooking show where baking enthusiasts compete to be crowned the UK’s Best Amateur Baker. Hosted by Sandi Toksvig and Noel Fielding, the episode in question, titled the Great Christmas Bake Off, pitted contestants against each other in baking Icelandic laufabrauð. Though each contestant received written instructions, there were no pictures to show them what the finished product should look like.

Laufabrauð.

Making laufabrauð is no easy feat: not only is the decorating process finicky and time-consuming but so is the frying process. The breads must be fried individually and heat maintained even so that the final result is uniform. That proved a challenge for some of the contestants of the show.

Vísir published a short video excerpt of the episode for curious readers.