The use of family names began in Iceland
in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and their
number increased considerably during the nineteenth century.
However, family names never came close to replacing the old
custom of patronymics, which is still predominant in Iceland
today: son (son) or dottir (daughter) is attached to the
father's (or mother's) Christian name, e.g. Jon Einarsson,
The Personal Names Act of 1913 gave
statutory approval to the use of family names of the
European model. However, 12 years later this policy was
reversed. By the 1925 Personal Names Act, the adoption of
new family names became illegal. However, those who had
family names before 1925 could keep them, and they passed
them on to their descendants, and wives can adopt their
husband's family name (wives of husbands with the ordinary
patronymic keep their own maiden patronymic; for practical
reasons it is, however, permitted to enter the husband's
patronymic in the wife's passport when going abroad).
People in Iceland with a family name are
a small minority. It should be noted that in Icelandic telephone directories
one should, as a rule, look for the name of a person under
the first letter of his Christian name. However, a person
with a family name may be listed under the first letter of
the family name.
According to present law (Personal Names
Act, No. 37/1991) every Icelandic national shall have "one
and up to three Icelandic first names". Foreign nationals
shall adopt an Icelandic first name when they acquire
Icelandic nationality and their descendants shall abide by
the rule on patronymics.