Popular Scandinavian names – trends and meanings explored
TEXT: SIGNE HANSEN | PHOTOS: SEE CREDITS
Alma, Noah, and Ella – Like Scandinavian design, popular Scandinavian names reflect an affinity for timeless and simple elegance. We take a look at the meaning and thoughts behind some of the most popular names of recent years – and at the trends predicted to shape future name choices.
A reverence for tradition and a wish for international transcendence have both shaped the name choices of Scandinavian parents in recent years. However, the most prominent trend in Norway, Denmark, and Sweden seems to be a reignited affinity for traditional Nordic names and an inherent partiality for short and rhythmic names. Often the names carry with them a sense of tradition and connection between the Nordic countries, with the popularity of names seemingly spreading across borders. Thus, as we delve into the enchanting world of Scandinavian nomenclature, we discover that the most popular names are not merely reflections of parental whims but windows into the cultural heritage of the region.
As such, unlike other countries, few of the most popular names in Scandinavia seem to be inspired by popular TV shows and celebrities. However, a bit further down on the list of names, renowned Nordic TV successes have had some sway on parents. For instance, the name Saga saw a sudden rise in popularity, especially in Sweden and Denmark, after the notoriously strong-willed and hugely popular character from The Bridge brought it an air of modern feminism. Still, sometimes such effects can be deceptive as scriptwriters may also be inspired by already existing trends when naming their characters.
With all of that in mind, let’s embark on a journey through the most popular Scandinavian names and unveil the fascinating stories and meanings they carry.
ALMA – THE CARING MOTHER
Alma is a perfect example of the type of girl name that has quickly increased in popularity all over Scandinavia. In Denmark, the name has grown steadily in popularity since the 1990s, and since 2020, Alma has been on the top-five list of popular names for girls. The name has also caught traction with Swedish and Norwegian parents, with the name making it to the top five most popular names in Sweden in 2021. In Norway, it is among the 15 most popular girl’s names, and it is predicted to continue to grow in popularity.
The name reflects one of the most predominant trends when it comes to girl names in Scandinavia, namely, to choose short names ending in an “a” with a long history and cultural significance. Indeed, the name, which originates from Italy, has many meanings. The original Latin word is probably best known from the expression Alma Mater, which means nourishing mother, and consequently the name is broadly associated with nourishing, warmth, and generosity. Having been dormant for almost a century, unlike Saga, however, the revival of the name does not seem to have been spurred by any particular event or popular phenomenon, but rather by a general rekindled affection for traditional and meaningful names.
ELLA – THE BEARER OF LIGHT
Having recently stolen the top spot as the most popular female name in Denmark, like Alma, Ella proves the Scandinavian affinity for short, simple, and rhythmic names. In Norway, the name reached fourth place among the most popular names in 2022, with its popularity very likely fuelled by its background in the old Norse language. Increasingly, the country has moved away from biblical names and towards names rooted in Nordic history and tradition.
While Ella has roots in various European languages, in a Scandinavian context, it is often interpreted as a variation of the Old Norse name “Elína,” meaning “light” or “torch.” Indeed, symbolising light, hope, and warmth, it is no wonder it has become a popular choice in a region renowned for its long and dark winters. As Ella has been a steady name on Sweden’s top ten list of most popular names for almost a decade, it looks likely that parents in the two neighbouring countries may also have found some inspiration there.
WILLIAM – THE CONQUEROR
When it comes to boy names, the Scandinavian countries seem to be slightly less inspired by Nordic tradition and more inclined towards an international future and past. In Denmark, rather remarkably, William has taken the top spot among popular boy names for eight of the last ten years. The trend has also dominated Sweden where the name has also been on the top-five list for the last decade with several years, including 2022, as the number one. This is such an unusual feat that the names’ popularity has spurred a number of more or less factual analyses of the cause of its popularity. Among the explanations is the thesis that boy names beginning with “Wi” or “Vi” and comprised of two connected vocals have somehow spellbound new parents all over Scandinavia. On a more practical level, many parents are attracted by the international transcendence of the name.
Moreover, in Norway, where the name has enjoyed a similar popularity, its popularity has by some been attributed to the fact that it is the name of one of the characters in the hugely popular teen drama Skam.Whatever the reason, there can be no doubt that the name William has lived up to the reputation of one of its most famous bearers William the Conqueror – it has indeed conquered in Scandinavian.
NOAH/NOA – TIMELESS ELEGANCE
Proving that Scandinavians have not moved entirely away from names with a biblical origin, Noa – in both its spellings – has had a steady spot on the top-five list of popular boy names in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark for the last five-plus years. Thus Noah proves that while one trend might make one name popular, it does not mean that other popular names need to follow the same trend. Just like Willian, however, the popularity of the name Noah does reflect a broader trend of international naming influences, cultural shifts, and a desire for names that transcend borders. As such, Noah’s popularity is not unique to Scandinavia; it’s part of a global trend. Moreover, with its biblical origins, being associated with the well-known story of Noah’s Ark, the name has struck a chord with the Scandinavian affinity for names with historical and cultural significance. Finally, of course, the name aligns well with the fondness for timeless and simple elegance, which seems to saturate all layers of Scandinavian society from design to children’s names.
When it comes to the names predicted to win the hearts of parents in the coming years, Scandinavian parents seem to have much less in common than in past years. Either that or the name search engines used to predict the names are not entirely indicative of actual future name choices. In Sweden, the name search website hittaettnamn predicts that girl names ending in a short é will become the most popular next year. More specifically, the top hits on the websites indicate that Anne-cécile, Chloé and Adèle will be the most popular names for newborn girls next. According to the searches made by expecting parents, short boy names are also predicted to make a leap next year, with Björn, Gösta and Matteo set to become the most popular choices.
Of course, it is fair to assume that parents might be slightly more adventurous when searching and exploring names than when actually choosing names. However, the most prominent trend in Scandinavian countries when it comes to names, seems to indicate that parents are indeed getting more and more adventurous. How? Well, the overall trend is that all countries are seeing a greater diversity in baby names, with fewer children sharing the same names. This shift is part of a broader trend seen in many Western countries, where parents are increasingly opting for unique names to reflect individuality and originality. The main difference is where parents find their inspiration for their unique names – In Scandinavia, it seems to be the past.
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