Don't Call Me Mr. Indriðason

Perhaps this has happened to you:  you’re looking for the latest Inspector Erlendur novel. You know the author is Arnaldur Indriðason, and you know that it’s in the mystery section. You head to the section and search for M Indridason. But it’s not there! You know that it’s available. You check again. Just in case. Nothing. What’s more, you can’t find *any* of his titles!

Finally, you head for the Information Desk in defeat. You ask, and someone disappears into the mystery section for a moment and returns with your book. You are mystified. Then you notice the call number:  M Arnaldur. You think there must be some error:  the Library has mistakenly used the author’s given name instead of his family name. You again approach the Information Desk. And then, you learn:  Icelanders are weird. At least they seem weird to us Westerners.

Here’s the deal with Icelandic names:  in Iceland, people go by their given name, even in formal situations. They don’t traditionally have “family names” like Smith or Jones. Their second name is actually just a reflection of their father’s given name, with the addition of “son” or “dóttir” at the end of the name, indicating that he or she is the “son of” or “daughter of” so-and-so. The name Indriðason lets you know that Arnaldur is the son of Indriði. This type of naming system is called patronymic. Occasionally, Icelanders will follow a matronymic naming system, using their mother’s given name instead of their father’s (or use both).

Icelanders go even farther:  when naming a new child, they must stick to a list of names that has been pre-approved by the government in order to protect their cultural heritage. Parents can petition to have a name added to the list, but it may or may not be rejected.

All of that explination is to say:  if you are a lover of Icelandic authors like Arnaldur Indriðason, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, or Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson, you will find their titles under Arnaldur, Yrsa, and Viktor. A notable exception is Halldór Laxness, whose titles *are* under Laxness. Some Icelanders take a “family” name, though they are only allowed to do so for inheritance purposes. So, the next time you’re searching for your favorite Icelandic author, you won’t be fooled. As an added bonus, you’ll be able to impress your friends with your wealth of knowledge on Icelandic naming practices.

 

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