Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Iceland Place Names Explained

Having blogged samples of my books on English place names and also examined the etymologies of the nations of the world and their respective capitals I thought it time I cast my net a little wider. As English place names share some links to other tongues it would be interesting to see if any of the elements contributing to our place names could be found elsewhere. Continuing an alphabetical tour of the world and a look at the largest Icelandic places.


Reykjavik is the Icelandic for 'smoke cove' and refers to the steam from hot springs synonymous with the island.

Kopavogur translates as 'seal pup inlet' and a seal pup can be found on the town's coat of arms.

Hafnarfjordur means simply 'harbour fjord'.

Keflavik describes itself as 'driftwood bay'.

Selfoss is an oddity as the suffix is Iceland for 'waterfall' and yet there are no waterfalls to be found here today.

Isafjord can still be seen as 'ice fjord'.

Saudarkrokur takes its name from the small river running through here, this the Sauda. The name refers to where it hits the coast and means 'hook of the sheep river'.


Egilsstadir has hardly changed since it was first known as Egilsstadir's farmstead'.

Husavik is held to be the first place ever settled in Iceland, this by Gardar Svavarsson around 870. When he left, Gardar's farmstead consisted of a man named Nattfari and a male and female slave. As the only signs of human habitation on the island, it is easy to see why the name meant 'bay of houses'.

Hofn is an Icelandic word meaning simply 'harbour'.

Thorlakshofn is named after Saint Thorlak who was bishop here and thus the name means 'Thorlak's harbour'.

Gardur refers to this as 'garden'.

Neskaupstadur refers to itself as 'the headland (or ness) of Egill the red'..

Dalvik can be translated to 'valley bay'.

Stykkisholmur takes its name from the small island at the mouth of the harbour describing 'the piece of dry land'.

Hvolsvollur translates as 'hill field'.


Hella comes from the caves near the river, where Irish monks lived in the first settlement.

Patreksfjordur is further evidence of Irish influence for it means 'Patrick's fjord'.

Vopnafjordur translates as 'weapon bay', itself named from a nickname of one of the early settlers, Eyvindur vopni.

Note the majority of Icelandic names were coined to be recognisable from the sea, not the land. Just as the names of Greenland were in my earlier post.

Note the spellings of the places are English as the piece is written in English.

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