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  • Writer's pictureScandinavian Travel

Why Is Iceland Called Iceland?

Iceland, an island of striking contrasts and breathtaking landscapes, has a name that evokes images of a cold, icy wilderness. However, the story behind why Iceland is called Iceland is rooted in both legend and historical facts. This article delves into the fascinating origins of Iceland’s name, exploring various theories and the historical context that led to this unique name.

Why Is Iceland Called Iceland?

Historical background

The most widely accepted story of how Iceland got its name dates back to the 9th century. A Norseman named Hrafna-Flóki Vilgerðarson is often credited with naming Iceland. Hrafna-Flóki set sail from Norway to find a new land. He brought along three ravens to help guide his way, which is why he earned the name Hrafna (Raven) Flóki. After a grueling journey, he arrived at a fjord in the northwest part of the island, now known as the Westfjords.

Hrafna-Flóki’s Journey

Hrafna-Flóki spent his first winter in Iceland, which was particularly harsh. The fjord was filled with ice, and he lost all his livestock. When he climbed a mountain and saw the surrounding ice-filled waters, he decided to name the land “Ísland,” which means “land of ice” in Old Norse. This name was a reflection of his initial impression of the island’s harsh conditions and icy landscape.


Alternative theories and legends

While Hrafna-Flóki’s story is the most well-documented, other theories suggest different reasons why Iceland was named Iceland. One popular legend proposes that the early Norse settlers, after discovering the lush green landscape of Iceland, wanted to keep this paradise for themselves. To discourage others from settling there, they named it Iceland, hoping to create the impression of a desolate, icy wasteland.

Another theory posits that the name was meant to highlight the contrast between Iceland and its neighboring island, Greenland. According to this version, Greenland was named to attract settlers with the promise of fertile land, while Iceland’s name served to deter them.

Geographical and climatic influences

The name Iceland might also reflect the island’s geographic and climatic features. Although the name suggests a land dominated by ice, only about 11% of Iceland is covered by glaciers. The island does experience cold winters and has significant ice formations, but it also boasts geothermal springs, volcanoes, and lush valleys. This dichotomy makes the name Iceland both fitting and misleading.

Hrafna-Flóki’s Legacy

Hrafna-Flóki’s journey and the subsequent naming of Iceland have left a lasting legacy. His story is an integral part of Icelandic history and culture. The tale of his naming the island is not just about the physical ice he saw but also about the resilience and adventurous spirit of the early settlers who braved the harsh conditions to make Iceland their home.

How did Iceland get its name

The impact of Iceland’s name on modern perception

Iceland’s name has significantly influenced how the island is perceived internationally. Despite its cold-sounding name, Iceland has become known for its stunning natural beauty, including geysers, hot springs, waterfalls, and the Northern Lights. The contrast between its name and its actual landscape has added to its allure as a travel destination.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do they call Iceland Iceland and Greenland Greenland?

The names Iceland and Greenland are believed to have been chosen to mislead potential settlers. Greenland was named to sound inviting and fertile, despite its icy landscape, to encourage settlement. In contrast, Iceland’s name was intended to deter settlers by highlighting its cold and icy environment, even though it has many lush areas.

How did Iceland get its name?

Iceland got its name from Hrafna-Flóki Vilgerðarson, a Norse explorer who named it after seeing a fjord filled with ice during a particularly harsh winter. The name reflects his initial impression of the island’s cold conditions.

Why is the country called Iceland?

The country is called Iceland because early settlers, particularly Hrafna-Flóki, experienced harsh winters and saw ice-filled fjords. The name was intended to reflect the challenging climate conditions they encountered.

What does Iceland call itself?

In Icelandic, Iceland is called “Ísland,” which directly translates to “land of ice.”

The story of why Iceland is called Iceland is a fascinating blend of history, legend, and nature. From Hrafna-Flóki’s icy first impression to the strategic naming to deter settlers, the name encapsulates the island’s unique history and character. While the name suggests a land dominated by ice, Iceland’s diverse landscapes and geothermal wonders tell a story of a country that is as warm and welcoming as it is cold and formidable. This rich history and the contrast between name and reality continue to make Iceland an intriguing and captivating destination.

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