Lecture: Names and Migration: Female Icelandic Patronymics in the Manitoba Censuses
Icelandic naming customs generally eschew proper surnames in favour of patronymics or matronymics. An individual will carry their parent’s first name in combination with a suffix denoting gender – -son for men, -dóttir for women – instead of a family name. To this day this system has been kept in place in Iceland even as naming traditions in other European countries moved on to patrilineally inherited family names. However, when Icelanders joined the European migration westward, the differing cultural and linguistic environment they found themselves in had a significant impact on their names and naming practices.
From an onomastic point of view, the question whether the patronymic transition continued post-arrival in America or a continental European approach was adopted in the Icelandic emigrant communities merits further exploration. To answer it, I will investigate the presence of female patronymics in particular, using Canadian census data from the late 19th and early 20th century. The subsection of the census that forms the basis of my talk originates in Gimli, an almost exclusively Icelandic settlement in the province of Manitoba. I will briefly comment on the usefulness of census data for onomastic research before outlining the development of female patronymics in Gimli. While there are very few examples of -dóttir-patronymics in the 1881 and 1891 censuses, the Gimli section of the 1901 census appears to contain a surprisingly high number of them, painting a rather complex picture of systemic change.