Nora and Jakob: What do Norway’s favourite baby names say about the country?

Nora and Jakob: What do Norway's favourite baby names say about the country?
Photo: Polina Tankilevitch / Pexels
In Norway, baby names are not just a matter of individual tastes or family tradition. In fact, they expose deep cultural and political trends and give insight into the times we live in.

Three years have passed since the airing of the final episode of the wildly popular Norwegian TV-show Skam. But Norwegians, it seems, are reluctant to say goodbye to the show’s main character Nora. The name was yet again the most popular name in Norway in 2020, according to data from Statistics Norway (SSB).

In total, 416 girls were given the name Nora, or Norah, in 2020. The name was also the most popular in 2017, 2016, 2014 and 2012.

TV crazed?

“Nora is a short form of Eleonore, and appeared in the wake of Ibsen’s (1879 play) A Doll’s House,” said name researcher Jørgen Ouren in the SSB press release.

“Nora was rarely used between 1940 and 1980, but then became popular alongside other short names for girls that end with an ‘a’,” he said.

Emma and Sarah have also risen to prominence since the turn of the 21st century. Norwegian newspaper VG speculates that the enduring popularity of Emma may be linked to another TV-megahit, the show Friends.

Biblical trend

But television is not the only important cultural influence in Norway. Ingrid, Leah and Linnea, names of the youngest generation of Norwegian royals, have become popular in the last decade.

For boys, Jakob or Jacob, the name of famous Norwegian runner Jakob Ingebrigtsen, was last year’s most common baby name.

Jakob, however, is also a name from the bible. And while most Norwegians are not excessively religious, biblical names are increasingly common.

“When we find Noah in third place, Filip in fifth and Lucas in seventh, we see that the wave of biblical boys’ names is still strong,” Ouren said.

“1.5 percent of new-borns were given these kinds of names around 1950, and in 2006 the share was 22.5 percent. Since then it’s receded somewhat and is now 20.4 percent,” he added.

Emil, Oliver and William are also on the list of last year’s most popular names for boys. William is another beloved Skam-character.

Generations of names

The names Norwegians choose for their babies come in waves, and vary between generations.

“First it becomes popular, and then even more popular, often because someone famous has the name,” Ouren told newspaper VG.

“Then, when it’s been on the list of top names for a while, it begins to fall in popularity. Eventually it almost completely disappears,” he continued.

Ouren points out that people consider the names of older people to be out of date. After that generation dies, the name might have a resurrection.

Examples of outdated names include Erna, the name of Prime Minister Erna Solberg, and Mette-Marit, the names of Norway’s Crown Princess.

“No celebrity in the world can make Mette or Marit popular again right now,” Ouren said.

Most popular names for girls in 2020

  1. Nora / Norah               
  2. Emma                         
  3. Ella                             
  4. Maja/Maia/Maya         
  5. Olivia                          
  6. Emilie                         
  7. Sofie/Sophie               
  8. Leah/Lea                    
  9. Sofia/Sophia              
  10. Ingrid                          

Most popular names for boys in 2020

  1. Jakob/Jacob               
  2. Emil                            
  3. Noah/Noa                  
  4. Oliver                         
  5. Filip/Fillip/Philip/Phillip         
  6. William                      
  7. Lucas/Lukas               
  8. Liam                           
  9. Henrik                        
  10. Oskar/Oscar               

Source: Statistics Norway


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