Iceland at a Glance
Living in Iceland
The People and Society
Iceland’s society was greatly shaped by the cold climate and natural disasters. Before modern transportation allowed European countries to move closer together, Iceland had been rather isolated. Life in Iceland also lets you experience a whole new level of solitude. The small island is the most sparsely populated country in Europe. However, although there are less than three inhabitants for every square kilometer, Iceland is a modern nation which keeps on occupying the top ranks of the UN Human Development Index.
Until the financial crisis in 2008, which still continues to have major effects on life in Iceland, the economy was among the most productive in the world. But even though the economy has suffered in recent years, the country uses many renewable energy resources. However, the cultural aspect Icelanders are most proud of is their language and their literary tradition. This tradition continues to this day, although writers often turn to more contemporary topics than the Sagas of blood feuds and family ties of old.
All in all, living in Iceland lets you experience a people and society which has learned to thrive and survive in an unforgiving environment. Ancient traditions, the heritage of their language, and pagan beliefs are upheld in this fascinating country, where tales of ghosts, elves, and trolls merge with a modern society.
Although it may seem rather mundane, Icelandic names follow a specific pattern which deserves to be mentioned. While spending your life in Iceland, you may often read or hear the suffix –son (son) or –dottir (daughter) attached to a last name. The Icelandic laws of how last names come about follow an old tradition: the last name is derived from the father’s name, to which one of the two suffixes is added.
Thus, if a man named Erikur has a son called Sven, his name would be Sven Eriksson (the son of Erikur). However, these last names are not considered a major point of reference. When speaking of the president, for instance, Icelanders would call him by his full name but never by his last name only. There is only a small percentage of Icelanders with “regular” family names.
Different Regions of Iceland
Historically, people living in Iceland settled in one of the four farthings (landsfjórðungar) which received their names from the Cardinal directions. Farthings were administrative divisions which, in the early years of settlement, served the purpose of a local government in organizing regional assemblies and regional courts. Later, municipalities, counties, and independent cities replaced the farthings.
In the 1990s, not only the traditional division of the farthings but also the municipalities lost significance. Instead, one local government was implemented which is in charge of different aspects of life. Whenever a municipal division is required, mostly for statistical purposes, Icelanders fall back on the eight administrative regions of Iceland:
- Nordhurland Eystra
- Nordhurland Vestra