Icelandingur (ees-lahn-deen-gyur)

Notable Icelanders

I spent nine days in Iceland about a decade ago. If you ever have the chance to go, you simply must. Icelanders are amazing and the country is beyond beautiful. Icelanders work very, very hard to preserve both the land and their heritage, which they feel makes them the wonderful people they are today. I’m inclined to agree. 

One way they do that is by proscribing what they are called. New parents select from an official list of first names, which sounds restrictive and often is perceived to be so even by Icelanders. But the upshot is that historic names are kept in circulation and nobody gets named Moon Unit Bergthorsson. I count this a plus.

A system also exists for last names. Baby boys are named for their father’s first name and then the added “son”—as in the previous case of Baby Boy Moon Unit—Bergthorsson (The only Icelandic guy I know is Bergthor, who indeed is father of fraternal twins so he’s a great example here.) Baby girls are named for their dad—Bergthor followed by “dottir” or the last name Bergthorsdottir. So in any nuclear family household you’ll have a father with his father’s name followed by son; in this real-life example: Juliansson. Then a mom with her father’s name followed dottir–again, my girlfriend’s last name is Borgvinsdottir. Then their children will be the father’s name followed by son for the boys–Bergthorsson, and the girls, father’s name followed by dottir, Bergthorsdottir–so they all have different last names. Confusing to us Americans, but Icelanders solve the puzzle of names by having the telephone directory listed by first name. It’s a small country so they can do that.

Another patronymic group is the Jews. Traditionally, boys were given a first name—traditionally that of a close deceased relative followed the word “ben” (son of) and then the dad’s first name, so David ben Joseph. Girls had “bat” (daughter of) so Miriam bat Aaron. At the naming ceremony, an explanation includes the desire for those traits or characteristics of the deceased person to be continued in the new life named for them.

I wish I could remember what I read that talked about our surroundings, including people and stuff, as “God appearing as ___,” but it really made me think. When you really get around that idea, the world suddenly takes on a different existence. If you look at anything in your life, like maybe this computer screen and consider that it’s God Appearing As the Computer Screen—how does that change life for you? In much the same patronymical fashion of Icelanders, could we refer to each other as Joanne Godsdottir or Marty Godsson, with an understanding of the inherited line implied? Or if it that seems too heretical, take it back to “God-Appearing-As Joanne,” or “God-Appearing-As Marty.” (How’s that for heretical!) How do you react to that thought as you move through your day, adding the mental G-A-A (forgive the shorthand) to everyone and everything? God Appearing As your dog. God Appearing As your spouse? God Appearing As your boss. (ouch!) Who would you be if that was actually the case?

(here’s a hint:  It is.)


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