Name Dropping in Icelandic

Iceland, as you may have heard, is a pretty egalitarian place. No, things aren’t perfect, but compared to many countries, people are pretty happy and, for the most part, don’t feel like they are somehow more important than other people. As a rule, if you want to interview a famous person, you just call them up on the phone—everyone is pretty much listed in the phone book (with a few exceptions, of course). The prime minister’s office is situated on a very busy, central corner downtown, and, if you want, you can just walk right up to the door, with your horse even.

What I’m getting at is that name dropping, as far as I can tell, is not really a done thing. This might also have something to do with the fact that besides people being relatively down to earth, it’s harder to name drop in a small country where familial connections are both close and well known. “I’m best friends with (FILL IN YOUR ICELANDIC CELEB OF CHOICE)” is, perhaps, less awe-inspiring if the person you’re talking to can reply, “Yeah? S/he is my second cousin,” or “Yeah? I dated his/her sister” or “Yeah? Her mom is my godmother.”

Nevertheless, I can now tell you, dear readers, how name dropping can be done in Icelandic—should the situation arise where you might like to show off about all the super famous people that you know really, really well.

When, in Icelandic, you are speaking about someone with whom you are very close, it is common to insert a pronoun in front of their given name. So, let’s say you’re talking to Þóra and she’s telling you a story about her friend Jón. And then it turns out—because it’s Iceland, after all—that you know Jón. In fact, he’s one of your best friends. So you interrupt to say:

Ó! Ég þekki hann Jón! (Oh! I know Jón!)

Thereby swiftly explaining, by virtue of the well-placed pronoun “hann,” that you and Jón go way back and are, like, BFF.

Some more examples, from my grammar textbook:

Hún Sigrún borðar ekki svona mikið – (My good friend) Sigrún doesn’t eat so much.

Þetta er hann Helgi – That’s (my good friend) Helgi.

Þau gefa honum Bjarna myndina – They gave (their good friend) Bjarni the picture.

It came up in class that this is common in Norwegian, too, except that it’s used for famous people that one is familiar with, as well as intimate acquaintances. So, in Norwegian, you could say, “I know [him] David Bowie,” to mean that you are familiar with a super famous musician, not that you exchange fruit cakes at Christmas. But if you do that in Icelandic, “Ég þekki hann Bowie,” you’d be implying a rather close and personal relationship.

So, in conclusion: if you do want to imply deep and personal relationships with famous people in Iceland, all you have to do is throw in a well placed (and well-declined, of course) pronoun. Let’s put on a few airs, shall we?

Ég borðaði matinn við hann Halldór Laxness – I ate dinner with (my good friend) Halldór Laxness.

Ég sá hana Björk á strætónum – I saw (my BFF) Björk on the bus.

Ég seldi hjólinu mínu hann Jónsa* – I sold my bike to (my good friend) Jónsi.

So there you have it: Name dropping in Icelandic!

*I might have made some errors with the prepositions in that last example, but prepositions are my own personal Icelandic Everest right now and a mountain for another post…

2 thoughts on “Name Dropping in Icelandic

  1. Eli and I were talking a couple days ago about how you, like, KNOW Icelandic! It’s just so cool. I know when I’m in Iceland I’ll be putting on all the airs and name-dropping “Larissa” all over town!

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