Naming trends in Denmark

by Katrine Kehlet Bechsgaard & Birgit Eggert

When reviewing the name fashions of the past few decades in Denmark, several trends catch the eye. Like Norwegian parents, Danish parents have a large number of names (over 43,000) to choose from, and this number is continuously growing, especially since a new and more liberal name law came along in 2006. So, what characterizes the first names that are trending in Denmark in the beginning of the 21st century? We will give a brief overview of some of the dominant trends.

Preferred sounds in Danish first names

In Denmark, the girl name Emma and the boy name William have been among the most used first names for newborns for a long time, and these two names contain several of the qualities that characterize today’s Danish first name fashions.

Illustration: The ranking of Emma and William in the annual top 50 of names for children born 1993-2019. Source: Statistics Denmark

Common for both girl and boy names is that certain sounds are popular. Especially sounds that are represented by l and m in writing, and both Emma and William are good examples of this. Also, girl names like Alma, Clara, Karla, Ella, Mathilde, and Maja as well as boy names like William, Alfred, Karl, Lucas, Malthe, and Emil are among the most popular names. The top 50 of names for children born in 1995 features 27 girl names and 25 boy names containing an l and/or an m, while the corresponding number for children born in 2019 is 29 girl names and 31 boy names. So, we are seeing a slight increase in this trend.

Another striking sound phenomenon in the name fashion is hiatus, i.e. when two vowels are directly next to each other, but each belongs to its own syllable, such as Liam, Noah, Sofia, and Olivia. Hiatus is very rare in the Danish language, which makes its relative frequency in first names for newborns quite remarkable. In the top 50 for children born in 1995, four girl names and four boy names contain hiatus, while in the 2019 top 50, seven girl names and 10 boy names contain hiatus. So, there has been a small rise in this trend in Denmark.

Additionally, we are seeing a number of names – especially boy names – beginning with Vi-/Wi (v and w have the same pronunciation in Danish). Among these are names like William, Victor, Viggo, Villads, and Villum, which are all on the top 50 for boys born in 2019. In the corresponding list for boys born in 1995, there is only Victor, but maybe – at least partly – Kevin and David can be counted as belonging to this trend even though –vi– does not appear initially. The vi-trend might also be relevant for girl names, at least Victoria and Vilma (and Olivia) are in the top 50 for girls born in 2019, while no names of this type were among the 50 most common for girls born in 1995. Also, names like Vigga and Viola have become popular during the past couple of decades.

Two-syllable girl names ending with an -a

Since around 2000, two-syllable names ending with an –a, such as Alma, Clara, and Liva, have been dominating the lists of popular girl names. For instance, in 1995, there were 19 girl names with an –a ending on the top 50, 13 of which had two syllables. In 2019, this number had grown to 30 girl names with an –a ending, and 24 of these had two syllables. During the same time, there has been a decline in three- and four-syllable girl names ending in –e, which were trending in the 1980’s and 1990’s, including Sofie, Louise, Pernille, and Caroline. The 1995 top 50 included 17 three- and four-syllable names with an –e ending, whereas the 2019 top 50 included only four names with these characteristics.

The many short –a names on the popularity charts illustrate the pattern of names returning approximately 100 years after their last peak. Names like Karla, Ella, and Rosa had their latest peak in the beginning of the 20th century and therefore, their current popularity makes perfect sense. However, even though short –a names were popular in the early 1900s, it is sometimes unpredictable exactly which names will return with a strength similar to that of its previous peak. For example, we see a lot more Emmas and Fridas now than we did 100 years ago, whereas there were many more girls named Gerda and Erna 100 years ago than there are today.

Two-syllable boy names ending with a consonant

For a long time, it has been common for the most frequent boy names to – in contrast to the girl names – end with a consonant. In 1995, as many as 46 of the top 50 names had a consonant ending, and 30 of these had two syllables. In the latest top 50 from 2019, there were 41 boy names with a consonant ending, of which 27 were two-syllable names. This means that even though the trend remains very dominant, it seems to be declining slightly.

Among the boy names with a consonant ending, some letters seem to be particularly common. For instance, eight names in the latest top 50 end with an -s (or in Felix’ case, an -s sound), including Lucas, Magnus, Villads, and Milas, while 10 names end with an -r, half of which end in -er, including Oliver, Anker, Asger, and Walther.

Winds of change

In recent years, we are seeing new trends emerging. Among these is a development toward girl names ending with a consonant; in 2019, Agnes, Astrid, Ellen, and Esther were all in the top 30. Other names ending in consonants, such as Ingrid, Edith, and Elin, are on the rise as well. It is worth noting that these names all have a vowel as the first letter, and it seems that E– is a particularly popular first letter in girl names ending with a consonant.

And girls are not the only ones getting names with new endings. In the boys’ top 50 from 2019, there are five boy names ending with an –o: Hugo, Viggo, Theo, Otto, and Matheo. Other names with an –o ending have been on the rise for the past couple of decades as well, including Milo and Leo. Also trending for boys are one-syllable names, which have never been in use in Denmark before, such as Storm and Nohr. Furthermore, we are seeing a rise in popularity for other one-syllable boy names that had their latest peak in the first half of the 20th century, such as Svend, Knud, and Finn. These will probably soon be followed by even more one-syllable boy names like Per, Kurt, and Jan, which peaked in the middle of the 20th century and are likely to become more popular over the next few decades, if they follow the pattern of names coming back after 100 years.

Yet another trend involves both girl and boy names. Names ending in –y and –ie that are originally English short forms are trending, and it is remarkable that we are seeing similar developments for boys and girls. In the girls’ top 50 from 2019, Ellie, Lily, Emily, and Molly represent this trend. This name type is not represented in the boys’ top 50, but names like Eddie, Henry, and Villy have all been on the rise for the past decade. Some of these names are unisex names, for example Billie, which is used for both boys and girls, however with Billy as the most common spelling for boys. This trend gives parents – at least to some extent – the chance to give their children a less gendered name in line with today’s focus and discussions on gender.

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