Why Is Iceland Green and Greenland Ice?

Iceland is greener than Greenland, but Greenland is icier than Iceland. So why are the names of these two places deceptive, and why is Iceland green and Greenland covered with ice?

Iceland is green, and Greenland is icy because of their locations. The Gulf Stream keeps Iceland warmer, making the temperature milder and the summer greener.

On the other hand, ice covers more than 80% of Greenland, making it colder than Iceland.

There are many interesting explanations behind the names of Iceland and Greenland. Some are acceptable, while others, though popular, have little credence.

This article explains how the two countries got their names.

Also, How Do you Become a Citizen of Iceland? see to learn more.

How Iceland and Greenland Got Their Names

The names Iceland and Greenland weren’t just coincidences and have a history behind them.

Some explanations for their names are myths, while others are more acceptable to experts and historians. 

Iceland and Greenland got their names from the Vikings, who culturally named places based on their most visible characteristics.

A popular belief is that Greenland got its name because it was noticeably green between 800 and 1300 A.D.

On the other hand, Iceland got its name because a Viking on a mountain saw nothing but icebergs.

Theories Explaining How Iceland Got Its Name

The fact that it’s difficult to be certain of the origin of the name Iceland gives room for several interesting explanations. 

Theory 1: Iceland Was Named After Its Icebergs

According to legend, a Viking named Hrafna-Floki sailed from Norway to find a new home and ended up in Iceland with his family.

Things didn’t go as he had hoped, and Floki lost all his livestock in the very first winter in his new homeland. 

After the tough winter, Floki, with his family and other settlers, decided to leave Iceland.

But before leaving, he went up a mountain hill and saw nothing but icebergs, inspiring him to name the place Iceland. 

Iceland wasn’t the first name the country had. Before Floki, two Norsemen named it Snowland [1].

Other names for Iceland include Thule and Isle of Garoar [2].

Theory 2: Iceland Was Named to Mislead Potential Settlers

Another theory states that one of the first permanent settlers in Iceland named the country Iceland to keep pirates and potential settlers away.

The name was supposed to give the impression of a cold, desolate region and scare people off. 

Theory 3: Iceland Is From the Name Island 

But there’s yet another theory, which attributes the name Iceland to Irish monks who lived in the area before the Vikings arrived [3].

The monks may have called the region Island, a name which might have evolved into Iceland over time, probably due to variations in pronunciation. 

The Stories Behind Greenland’s Name 

The most credible explanation for the name Greenland enjoys some scientific backing. But the alternate explanation may be more captivating. 

Theory 1: Greenland Was Named After Its Once-Green Landscape 

Scientists believe Greenland’s temperature was warmer thousands of years ago. The relatively higher temperatures meant a greener landscape.

According to some studies, Greenland’s southern region even had dense boreal forests that rivaled the ones found in Scandinavia and Canada [4]. 

So, according to scientific data, the lush green landscape could have been why Greenland earned its name.

However, there’s a legend that tells a different story.

Theory 2: The Name Greenland Was a Marketing Ploy to Attract Settlers

Legend has it that Erik the Red, in 985 C.E., discovered and settled in Greenland after he faced exile from Iceland for committing murders. 

Erik named his new home Greenland to paint a picture of greener pastures and warmer temperatures compared to Iceland and hopefully attract more settlers. 

Since the temperatures were possibly warmer back then, it is possible that Erik the Red didn’t lie.

The region where Erik settled has farms and a green landscape even today. 

The Vikings bought the idea of Greenland and settled there.

But the new settlers didn’t know that they would soon see the end of the Warm Period, which was brought about by a volcanic eruption in Indonesia in the 14th century [5] [6]. 

Is the Ice in Greenland Melting?

According to National Geographic, Greenland’s ice is melting faster than expected.

The heat wave in 2021 was intense enough to cause rain, not snowfall, at the highest location on the ice sheet. 

The heatwave affected an area of over 309,000 square miles (800,000 square km), which is quite large, considering that it’s bigger than Texas, USA.  

Melt events aren’t unusual in Greenland during summer. They usually happen in July, and the ones in September affect areas. 

While the melt events in 2022 weren’t as significant as the ones in 2021, they still raised concerns because they occurred even in September.

Such erratic patterns, caused by rising temperatures, are increasingly a cause of concern as Greenland’s ice sheet is the largest contributor to the rising sea level.

Can the Contradicting Names Confuse Tourists?

It’s not only their names that can be confusing. Iceland and Greenland have many other exciting surprises for tourists.

The names of Iceland and Greenland can surely confuse tourists if they don’t do their research before making travel plans.

So, it is better to know what to expect regarding climate and landscape.

The major difference between the two countries is the climate. Greenland is ice, and Iceland is green.

So, tourists may have a hard time if they pack for Greenland like it’s a warm and green country. 

Those who aren’t confused by their names may be surprised by the size of these two countries. Being green and warmer, they may believe Iceland to be a bigger country.

But the opposite is true. Greenland, despite being 80% ice, is about 21 times the size of Iceland. 

But the confusion doesn’t stop there. Tourists may think that a bigger size means a bigger population in Greenland. Again, the opposite is true.

Both Iceland and Greenland are scarcely populated. But Iceland has a higher population despite being smaller in size.

Greenland has around 57,000 people, whereas Iceland is home to more than 376,000 people. 

The contradiction in their names makes Iceland and Greenland exciting tourist destinations.

The debate around their names has even resulted in some petitions to switch names, though such petitions are only for fun. 

The mystery surrounding their names always sparks curiosity and draws attention.  

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Christian Christensen

Christian started Scandinavia Facts to explore his family heritage, raise awareness of one of his academic interests as a professor, and civilly promote the region. Please see the About page for details.

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