How Important Do You Think Language And Name-Calling Really Is The Icelandic Phone Book – A Study in Naming Conventions and Emergencies

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The Icelandic Phone Book – A Study in Naming Conventions and Emergencies

People from, you know, other countriescountries where they make proper family names and call each other Mr. and Mrs. and the like, they are usually quite aghast when they see the Icelandic phone book.

The Icelandic telephone directory lists everyone by name. Next comes your last name, then your address, then your occupation [to set you apart you from all the other Jón Jónssons, what else?] and finally your phone number[s].

Everyone is listed by their name in the phone book because here in Iceland we call everyone by their name. We don’t do Mr. or Mrs. Even when we are children. Your teacher is Gunna. Your friend’s father is Jón. Your president is Óli. Your Prime Minister is Geir. Your local pop star friend is Björk. And so on.

In addition to the base of the jovial first name, we operate on a system of patronymics, which means that you take your father’s name and only add the suffix -son. [if you’re a boy] or -dóttir [if you’re a girl]. Björk Gudmundsdóttir is the daughter of Gudmundur. Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson is the son of Grímur. And so on.

That being said, we have a few household names floating around that have seeped into culture through the ages, for various reasons. Names like Laxness, Gudjohnsen, Pedersen, Clausen, Mathiesen… come to mind, lots of -sens. Thanks to our Danish colonial masters, no doubt.

Our phone book contains a lot of useful information. In addition to the regular stuff like emergency phone numbers and such we also have useful information about things like the highest mountains and waterfalls in the world. [in case you want to plan your next vacation around that]the longest rivers in Iceland [for river rafting possibilities, perhaps]the solar system [YOU ARE HERE] and all the national flags in the world [good to know in case you accidentally wind up in, say, Iraq]. Not to forget EXTREMELY useful information on what to do in case of natural disasters: volcanic eruptions [put a helmet on]hurricanes [make sure your roofing material is secure]floods [clear your outdoor drains]mud flow [stay in the side of the house that is furthest from the mountain]snow avalanches [ditto] and earthquakes [dive under the nearest table].

Seriously, you could spend hours reading the Icelandic phone book. It’s eminently fun and totally rocks.

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