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

People from, you know, other countries, countries where they do proper family names and call each other Mr and Mrs and suchlike, are usually pretty aghast when they see the Icelandic phone book.

The Icelandic phone book lists everyone by their first names. Then 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 first names in the phone book because here in Iceland we call everyone by their first names. We don’t do Mr or Mrs. Not even when we’re kids. Your teacher is Gunna. Your friend’s dad is Jón. Your president is Óli. Your Prime Minister is Geir. Your friendly local pop star is Björk. And so on.

In addition to the jovial first-name basis, we operate on a system of patronyms, meaning that you take your father’s first name and simply 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 said, we do have a few family names floating around, that have infiltrated the culture throughout the ages, for various reasons. Names like Laxness, Gudjohnsen, Pedersen, Clausen, Mathiesen … come to think of it, a lot of -sens. Thanks to our Danish colonial masters, no doubt.

Our phone book contains a lot of useful information, as well. Apart from regular stuff like emergency phone numbers and so on we also have useful information about things like the tallest 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 mention EXTREMELY useful information about what to do in case of natural disasters: volcanic eruptions [put a helmet on], hurricanes [make sure your roofing material is secure], flooding [clear your outdoor drains], mud slides [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 just reading the Icelandic phone book. It’s eminently entertaining and totally rocks.