Scandinavia--Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Finland--is blessed with five distinct, yet related, cultures.

Learn about the stories behind the legends, about the countries, and most of all about the people.


"We sailed our ships to any shore that offered the best hope of booty; we feared no fellow on earth..."
Saga of Arrow-Odd

What is Gjetost?
A town in Sweden.
Brown goat cheese.
The word for "hello" in

Roasted fish.
The word for ghost in

Correct answer?
OSLO - Norway

Clustered around the head of the 68-mile-long Oslofjord, Oslo is probably the most spacious city in the world. Its 175-square-mile metropolitan area consists of over 75 percent forests and five percent water. Its fine deep harbor, Pipervika, stretches into the heart of the city and from it leave ferries to Denmark and Germany.

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Feature: Stavanger
Featured City: Oslo
Food: The Great NordicDiet
          Swedish Semla
          Norwegian Cuisine
          Canned Sardines
History: The Round Tower
Arts:   Vigeland Park, Oslo
          Georg Jensen
People: Henrik Ibsen    
News: Happiest Countries          

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What's in an Icelandic Name?
by Bob Brooke

Icelandic girl.Only in Iceland has the centuries-old Scandinavian pattern of naming continued down to the present. A person’s given name is his or her primary name. The telephone directory lists individuals by their Christian name such as Jon.

Icelanders have also retained the old system of patronymics. Thus by adding son or dottir to the possessive of a person’s father’s name, the son of Sigurd becomes Jon Sigurdsson and his son Sveinn becomes Sveinn Jonsson and his daughter Helga, Helga Jonsdottir. And so on. Women also don’t change their names when they marry.

Everywhere else in Scandinavia family names became legally necessary in the 19th and early 20th century. In 1913, Iceland’s Assembly, the Althing, passed legislation that required citizens to petition the government in order to adopt a family name. By 1915, the law added that the family name must be a suitable one, therefore, official lists of suitable family names had to be created. The Althing adopted this legislation to prevent names of foreign origin from being adopted.

In 1855, there were 108 different family names in Iceland. By 1910, the number had increased to 297. By 1925, additional legislation prohibited the adoption of family names altogether, although it allowed those who already had them to keep them. The law also made the adoption of an Icelandic family name and patronymic a pre-requisite for obtaining Icelandic citizenship. As time goes on, fewer individuals will have family names as more and more individuals drop them in favor of the traditional naming system.

While the most popular male name in Saga Times was Thor, it’s now, and has been for the last four centuries, Jón. The most popular female name since 1100 A.D. has been Guđrún. No such continuity characterizes Anglo-Saxon names in use a millennium ago.

In spite of the continuity of Icelandic names over the 11 centuries of Icelandic history, there have been some trends. For instance, there has been a decline in the number of persons named after Thor. In pre-Christian times, about 25 percent of all names honored this most vital of all Viking gods. But after the establishment of Christianity, the number of Thor names began to decline.

From the beginning of Christianity, there has been a continual increase in the use of biblical and Christian names among the Icelandic people. Names such as Jón, Pétur, Páll, and Margrét are common. Still the great majority of Icelanders down to the present have borne Old Norse names.

Until the 18th century, virtually no Icelanders had more than one name. In the 1703 census, only two individuals, a brother and sister, had two given names. In the 1950 census, 52 percent of the population had two or more given names.

From the beginning of their history, Icelanders have continually made up new names by compounding names. This process increased tremendously during the 19th century. And since the 19th century, there has been an increasing tendency toward using foreign names–a few such as Kristinn and Hulda have become common–a trend distressing to some Icelanders. Most of the leading names in Iceland have come to the island by way of Denmark.

The use of non-intimate nicknames has nearly disappeared. Before Christianity, 25 percent of the males listed in the Book of Settlements had nicknames, not counting those names compounded with an occupation or a place name or those referring to age–that is, the elder or the younger. The same trend applies to women’s names. However, women have been less likely than men to have nicknames. The old nicknames often were graphically descriptive or derogatory–Auđun the Stutterer, Eystein Foul-Fart, Ulf the Squint-eyed, Thorberg Ship-Breast, or Ljótur the Unwashed.

Throughout Icelandic history, the majority of the population used relatively few names. For instance, 25 percent of the males since the 13th century have been names Jón. Over half the males in the 1703 census held the 10 most frequently used male names. The same held true for women. The most popular name among them was Guđrún. The greatest increase in the number of different names for both men and women occurred from 1921 to 1950.

Several patterns in naming children have persisted since Saga Times and earlier. Though sons have often been named after their fathers, this has never been a common pattern either among Old Norse or modern Icelanders. Rarely have daughters been named after their mothers.

Three naming patterns have been commonly used–alliteration, variation, and commemoration. Today, Icelandic parents continue to name their children with alliterative combinations, such as Gunnar or Gunnilla.

More commonly used has been the variation concept. Here names with similar beginnings or endings have been used to show family relationships. In Iceland, variations of the first element of name rather than the last element have been much more common. The helpful brothers in Hrafnkel’s Saga were named Thorgeir and Thorbjörn.

Far more common than either of these naming patterns has been commemoration, particularly the naming of a son after an ancestor, especially a paternal grandfather. Ari Thorgilsson, the father of Icelandic history, has a son named Thorgils Arason, who in turn, had a son named Ari Thorgilsson. It has always been common in Iceland to have name reversals such as this. Thus a high percentage of Icelandic males have the same names as their paternal grandfathers.

< Back to Iceland Basics                                                           Go to Iceland's Sagas >

Every year about 95 000 people die in Sweden and, according to the law, everyone must be buried. There must be room for everyone in the cemeteries, therefore the future needs of space have to be predicted. Because of this funerals must be part of the planning process.

Read more about Swedish burials

News from Norway
from Aftenposten
News from Denmark
News from Sweden
from the SR International 
News from Finland
from Finnish News Agency STT
News from Iceland
from The Iceland Review
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In the early Middle Ages, driven by famine at home and the promise of wealth to be had in other lands, the Vikings set out from Scandinavia to conquer parts of England, Ireland, France, Russia, and even Turkey. Bolstered by their successes, the Vikings pushed westward, eventually crossing the North Atlantic and founding settlements in Iceland, Greenland, and Newfoundland in Canada.
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