The name Iceland may conjure mental images of frozen wastelands, but the country actually has a temperate climate. (Photo: Visitreykjavik.is)
REYKJAVIK, Iceland -- What to do after a financial collapse, a
grass-roots revolt against the government and a volcanic cloud that
disrupted cross-Atlantic air travel for weeks?
Change your name.
is holding a contest for a new name, and people in this, one of the
smallest countries in Europe, are not sure whether it's a gag.
entries include Niceland, Rockland, Catch-A-Cloud-Land. Given the
country's recent calamities natural and unnatural, some say a better
idea is "Restartland."
"Foreigners that come here say that there
is nothing consistent with the name Iceland," said Sigridur Bjorg, 43,
an information desk worker from Reykjavik. "But isn't it a bit
far-fetched to change the name of the country?"
Iceland, a land of
smoldering volcanoes and lava fields and, yes, arctic ice, got its name
more than 1,000 years ago from a Viking explorer. But it has a
temperate climate thanks to the Gulf Stream.
In modern times, it
has been one of the most prosperous of European nations, albeit one of
the smallest, with a population of about 320,000.
Then in 2008,
its banking system collapsed, inflation and unemployment jumped, many
young people left for better horizons and others orchestrated angry
street protests that brought down the government.
news worldwide in 2010 and 2011 when huge ash clouds from a pair of
volcanoes canceled thousands of flights to and from Europe.
name change began as a promotion by the Iceland tourism office. After it
prompted a storm of discussion on social media, the Iceland government
announced in September it would welcome submissions of an alternative
The contest ends March 21, 2013, and the winner will be
selected by a committee of the Promote Iceland office. The winner will
get prizes, possibly including being invited to Iceland. What happens
after a winner is selected seems unclear, though the office plans to
submit the new name to the government for consideration.
Some Icelanders say the whole idea is a bad joke.
not just [keep] Iceland?" asked Magnus Jonsson, 71, a retiree from
Mosfellsbaer who was not getting into the spirit of things (Spiritland
being another entry). "There is no need to change the name."
include names that refer to Iceland's natural surroundings, such as
"Birdsland" and "Volcanicland." Some have referred to recent disasters
in the country that have made it infamous, such as "Eyjafjlakojland,"
after the volcano that blew up in 2010.
"Iceland is just about the
only known brand name the country has, [and] the name is known," said
Ingjaldur Hannibalsson, dean of the University of Iceland's business
Hannibalsson says he could not think of any other country
where the name actually reflected its topography or national
characteristics. "The idea of changing the name is ridiculous," he said.
claim the name was an intentional mischaracterization anyway, a Middle
Age marketing campaign that was designed to drive people away rather
than encourage them to visit.
Norwegian explorer Floki
Vilgeradarson, who arrived here in the ninth century and dubbed it
Iceland, damned the island as a frozen wasteland not worthy of visiting.
Yet he later relocated to Iceland - prompting rumors he lied about the
island's allure to keep the land to himself.
Many Icelanders want to remain as such.
may have a lower opinion of ourselves than others - Iceland as a nation
has such a low self-esteem," said Leon Petrursson, 35, an insurance
salesman from Gardabaer in south Reykjavik. "But I still think Iceland
is good and strong name."