Interesting Facts About Iceland

By | July 18, 2022

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Vik i Myrdal, Southern Iceland. Fields of lupins in bloom and the town church. (Marco Bottigelli/Getty Images)

It Was Uninhabited For A Long Time

It may be impossible to know when Iceland was first discovered, as it has no indigenous population, but the oldest recorded discovery was by a Viking named Naddod in 861 C.E. Naddod was sailing from Norway to the nearby Faroe Islands but got lost and wound up on the shores of Iceland instead. It didn't receive its name until years later, and settlements began popping up in 874 C.E. This makes Iceland the second-to-last place on earth to be inhabited by humans, New Zealand being the very last.

Its Name Is A Little Confusing

Many note the oddity of Iceland's name, given its lush landscape, when compared to neighboring Greenland, which is in fact very icy. Some claim this was a gimmick to either get more people to move to Greenland or stay away from their settlements in Iceland, depending on the tale. However, in reality, Greenland's actual name was Kalaallit Nunaat, meaning "the land of the people." The Vikings simply called it Greenland because, at the time of their first contact in the 980s, it was indeed green. It wasn't until the 14th century that the Little Ice Age hit Europe, dropping temperatures and forcing the Vikings out of their increasingly icy villages on the land. As for Iceland, a Viking by the name of Hrafna-Flóki simply saw a bunch of icebergs while climbing a mountain and thought the name was good enough.

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Norsemen landing in Iceland – a 19th-century depiction. (Oscar Wergeland/Wikimedia Commons)

Icelanders Don't Have Family Names

Foreigners may be surprised to find entire families in Iceland who may very well all have different last names. That's because, instead of taking a family name, Icelanders' last names are a combination of their father's first names and the Icelandic word for either "son" or "daughter." For example, the child of a man named Jon would be given the last name "Jonsson" or "Jonsdottir." Of course, with a population of only 366,000 and naming customs that make it easy, losing track of who's related can have dire consequences, which is why apps have been developed specifically to help Icelanders avoid accidentally dating their cousins.