The Norwegian Name Game

Wednesday 22 January 2014

Typical Norwegian Countryside

I have the most terrible time pronouncing and differentiating between male and female names in Norway.  Joe laughs at me when his phone rings and I call out the name and completely misuse my pronouns.  I would hear a name and be certain it was female only to find out it was male.  It turns out, I'm not the only one having trouble in the name department.

One of my friends here used to organize field trip activities with the women's group and often, she was in contact with different people through email.  As we were waiting in the car outside the War Museum in Stavanger one day, she abashedly admitted that she didn't know who we were looking for.  She had never encountered the name in the email before and therefore, had no idea if we should be seeking out a man or a woman.

Another friend of mine told me how her company had organized a team building trip outside of Norway in which they were asked to share rooms.  A list was posted in the office and she found herself having to ask for help because wouldn't it be awkward if she accidentally signed herself up to bunk with a man?

Apparently, this is a common enough issue for foreigners as the very first exercise in one of Joe's Norsk workbooks is distinguishing the common gender of a name.  While there are certainly variations that one sees for either male and female (hello, my name is Jay,) I'm curious as to how you'd do on a little quiz.  Let me know in the comments which names you'd peg as male and which names you assume are female.












I'll leave the answers in the comments later on so check back and see how you did.

Other interesting notes on the topic of Norwegian names:

+The concept of a middle name (which most people outside of your family don't know) is not used here.  If you see a first name and a second name, Inger Tone Bjelland, you would refer to that person as Inger Tone.

+There is a certain amount of government control when it comes to naming your baby.  Apparently this is to look out for the child's wellbeing so likelihood of finding a Rainbow Pony Starchild here is quite slim.  (Norway is not the only country that does this!)


  1. hahha i know the answers to all of these. but prior to moving to norway? NOT A FREAKING CHANCE lol.

    i used to work with statoil here and give presentations to people with kids moving to the US and abroad. And most often, the parents had a major concern about how their kids names would be pronounced and taken in different cultures. I had to tell the father of 'Odd' that his sons name may be a bit of a struggle for children age 7 to understand. he laughed and thought so too. :) thankfully it was all in good humor ;)

    i didnt realize norway still had that govt have a say-so in naming kids??? i thought they abolished that in the 70s or 80s when a lot of immigrants (particularly from muslim cultures) started coming here during the oil boom for jobs. i know iceland still does it...but i had no idea norway was still doing that?? crazyyyy! and im fairly certain that some of my norwegian friends who are married to guys from all over the world have broken that when they have named their children names from those other countries. hm! :) cool post, jay!

    1. In my research I came across a name "Stinke" and wondered how that poor kid would do in North America?

      I also read that the government is more lenient with names when it comes to foreigners - especially if they haven't permanently immigrated to Norway.

    2. you should have seen me spit the water out of my mouth when i read the name 'stinke'. shoot, if i, as a 30 year old, cant contain my laughter with that name, how would any 7 year old north american kid stand a chance!? LOLLL.

      that is good the government is lenient with names!

  2. Wow, those names have me totally stumped. I'm battling with some German names even - somebody called Torsten emailed me so I went onto facebook to search the name and see if males or females came up in the results ;)

    1. Facebook is a great resource - I hadn't thought of that!

  3. Oh boy, this is very tricky. Okay, here's how I'd guess....
    Svein- female
    Stine- male
    Torstein- male
    Torhild- female
    Tone- female
    Kåre- female
    Bente- male
    Tore- female
    Sigve- male
    Gunn- male
    Sturle- female

    Also, I found that article about restrictions on baby names really interesting. I had no idea that practice was still upheld. I have to say, I'm not a fan... but I guess that's symptomatic of growing up in Canada. ;-)

    1. I'll admit - I still have to refer to my cheat-sheet to correct your answers. You have 4 correct - not bad for a first timer!

  4. Wow- that photo is incredible! PS: What a fun game!

  5. I am terrible at pronouncing Icelandic names as well and I can see why you have a hard time figuring out if it is a male or female name! The government controls the name you can choose here as well which is a crazy thing to me.

  6. It gets really tricky when a female name and a male name i combined.

    Kjell = mail
    Bjørg = female

    Kjellbjørg = female

    Few newborn have these names, many choose more "international" names these days and I only know one Kjellbjørg.

    1. Oh my, that would be really difficult!

  7. I'm inclined to say Torhild and Sigve are female names, but I really have no clue. WOW do these names appear genderless to the English eye!

  8. Svein - male
    Stine - male
    Torstein - male
    Torhild - female
    Tone - female
    Kåre - female
    Bente - male
    Tore - female
    Sigve - male
    Gunn - female
    Sturle - male
    i know a fewww are right but the others... i could be completely off! i see what you mean-- not easy!

    1. You did pretty good, Cynthia! 6 right!

  9. Haha, this is a fun challenge :)
    Svein - male
    Stine - female
    Torstein - male
    Torhild - female
    Tone - female
    Kare - female
    Bente - male
    Tore - female
    Sigve - female
    Gunn - male
    Sturle - male

    The only one I'm pretty sure about is the first one, hehe. I could be completely wrong on the others!

  10. Oh man, your other comment leavers are much braver than I am--I don't think I could begin to decipher this name puzzle :) That being said, I would totally board the next plane to Norway just to see more of all its beauty!

  11. And the correct answers are…

    Male: Svein, Torstein, Kåre, Sigve, Tore, Sturle
    Female: Stine, Torhild, Tone, Bente, Gunn

  12. I was just getting ready to answer when I noticed comment #18. I have a cousin named Svein (male) and my uncle's name is Kare. So I definitely knew two of them. :)

  13. I'm not even going to try and guess!
    There are a handful of French names that I get confused with too. Fun fact about names in France, here you get two middle names :)

  14. I really had to laugh about this post! As a Norwegian myself, I know all the names, so I am not going to put up my answers. I am lucky, having a pretty international name (Rebekka), but I have a couple of friends that struggles abroad. My mom's name is "Vanja" though it is not a typical Norwegian name, Americans had a hard time writing/pronouncing it. When I was studying in Canada, some of my Norwegians friends had to give themselves some new names, where "Birgitte" and "Siril" came across as hard to pronounce as well. Some of my other friends, like "Silje", "Henriette" og "Anine" is other examples.

    My dad's name is Kim, and that have been fun as well, since that is usual a girl's name in America, and some even refused to use his first name, and went for his middle name (that he never uses) Richard.

    And about the middle name thing, I have a middle name, but that is my mom's maiden name, so I don't use it a lot, mostly because that's not her name anymore. Most of my friends with a first name as a middle name doesn't use it as a "surname" but I guess it just depends from person to person.

    And okay, I had to do the name-game just because I can :)

    Svein - Male
    Stine - Female
    Torstein - Male
    Torhild - Female
    Tone - Female
    Kåre - Male
    Bente - Female
    Tore - Male
    Sigve - Male
    Gunn - Female
    Sturle - Male

  15. Haha the gender of the listed names all look really obvious to me, but I can see how foreign people could get confused. I find unisex names more frustrating, like Ashley and Hillary! They sound like girls names to me, why would you name a guy that? :P


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