Norwegian first names have changed very much through history. You will also find marked regional variations or "name dialects". The Sámi people used other names than the Norwegians did, some of them related to Norwegian first names. This text will deal only with the Norwegian variants, or to be more precise: The first names used in Vesterålen, Nordland county, between 1700 and 1950.
Every name has a "meaning", and we can trace most of the names back to their semantic roots. However, it will take too much room here to explain the original meaning of every name.
Many names are derived from biblical originals, they are of course much changed to suit the Norwegian tongue. Other names have Nordic origins. Since many of the old Nordic names have meanings related to pre-Christian beliefs, the priests tried to avoid the use of the most "heathen" names, at least before 1850. After that these old names gained new popularity as a result of a strong national cultural movement, and they climbed very high in the statistics after 1900.
As mentioned above: There are very marked regional differences among Norwegian names. And to complicate matters a little more: There were no clear spelling rules before the 1890s, so you may find many different spellings of the same name. The last hundred years many of these spelling variants have been established by use as separate names.
In the tables below the names are "normalized", that is: I have used the simplest spelling I could find, or the one that's closest to the spoken form. (People from Southern Norway may not agree in my choices!) For some names more than one variant is noted with a slash between them. Every "Ch" or "C" has been replaced by "K", and "ph" with "f". For instance: Christopher is normalized to Kristoffer (the pronounciation is identical for both spellings).
During the 1800s many girls were given names that were made up of a mans name plus a "feminine" suffix, for instance Olufina (from Oluf) or Vilhelmina (from Vilhelm). Most of these names were written with an "e" as the last letter, but ended with an "a" in spoken form. The difference between spoken and written form applies to many other girl names. I have indicated this with an "a/-e" ending. (Some boy names can be written with "v" or "f" as the last letter, and some with "g" or "k". This is indicated in the same manner.)
One extra point about the immensely popular name Anna (or Anne, even Ane): So many girls were christened with this name (every eight girl in the 1700s!) that very often a second name was added to avoid confusing different girls named Anna - Anna Maria, Anna Sofie, Anne Lisbet and so on. A similar "solution" was used in connection with the very popular boy name Ole (or Ola).
You will find two tables below, one for each gender. A short explanation of the tables:
- I have made a "Top 25" in both cases, ranking the names according to their frequency. The percentage noted behind each name applies only to my own name base, but the ranking itself may be fairly typical for the Norwegian coast.
- If a child was given two or more names, only the first one is included in the statistics.
- In the 1700s relatively few names were used, that's why the percentages are very high.
- In the 1900s the supply of first names had increased very much, so each name get a lower percentage (but Anna is still at the top!).
- In every century more boy names than girl names were in use.
Remember that a name is more a combination of sounds than a collection of letters. It is important to say a name correctly. The names below should consequently be pronounced as it is done in Norway. English or American vowel sounds will usually give a "wrong" name!