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Posts tagged ‘Iceland’


How did you get your surname?

Do you know how you got your surname?

It is regarded as a tradition for women to take their husband’s surnames when they get married in Britain. It’s also the tradition for men to always be Mr but women will be Miss until they’re married and become Mrs. So if Miss Young married Mr Smith, she would become Mrs Smith. A survey in 1994 showed that 94% of British women decided to take their husband’s surname when married. This ‘tradition’ is no longer as common today, with many women choosing to keep their own surname, or creating a double-barrelled surname.

In Poland many women choose to take their husband’s surname when they get married. However, they have masculine and feminine endings to their surnames. My surname – Koszykowska – like many Polish names ends in ‘ski’ for males or ‘ska’ for females; my dad follows this rule, as does one of my uncles, but the other uncle keeps its simple by using ‘ski’ for his family. It’s thought that originally Polish surnames ending in ‘ski’ or ‘cki’ came from the places where people lived; so if you lived in Wola you would become Wolski.


The Koszykowski (and Koszykowska!) family

In Iceland the family name reflects the immediate father’s name or in some cases the mother’s. This is a more complex way of creating a surname compared to the British tradition. If Jón Einarsson had a son called André, André’s surname wouldn’t be Einarsson; instead it would be Jónsson. This is a combination of his father’s first name ‘Jóns’ (the s indicates that he is literally Jón’s son) and the Icelandic word ‘son’. If Jón had a daughter her surname would be Jónsdóttir, dóttir being the Icelandic word for daughter. In some cases they may use the father’s middle name, or their grandfather’s name.

In Spain it’s the norm for children to take the surname of the father and their mother’s maiden name to form one surname. For example if Alejandro López marries Daniela Rodriguez, their child Paula will take the father’s surname López as their second name and their mother’s Rodriguez as their third; Paula López Rodriguez. Then it gets slightly more confusing: if Paula marries she won’t change her surname; instead she will add it to her name. For example, she marries Álvaro Arroyo; her name will become ‘Paula López Rodrigues de Arroyo’. This continues when Paula has children, her mother’s surname will be dropped from their surnames to become ‘López Arroyo’.

Is there an interesting story behind your surname? Let us know!




Which language does Santa speak?

If, like me, you used to expectantly write a long list of improbable demands to Santa each year as a child, you’ll be curious to know what happened to those letters. Oddly enough, it never ever occurred to tiny Nat to question where the (probably unaddressed, definitely unstamped) letter went once it dropped into the post box: after all, if Santa was so magical then he’d surely have solved the small problem of how to access my very important letter.

But when I was recording Greenlandic recently for uTalk and doing some research on the country, I was intrigued to find that my letters actually may have reached Santa, and that he lived in Greenland. Until 2002, letters to Santa from all over the world would collect in a giant red post box in Nuuk and – here’s the exciting part – if they had a return address they’d be replied to by Santa himself (or an elf).

Which language does Santa speak?

Sadly, Santa went bust in Greenland, and although letters may still end up there, they won’t be processed or answered. But, being super Santa, he obviously had a back-up plan and didn’t just run things from Greenland: Santa has operations going in Iceland, Sweden and Finland too. In fact, all of Scandinavia claims to be Santa’s home, raising the interesting question of which language Santa speaks.

Of course, we all know that Santa travels around the whole world on Christmas Eve and must therefore be fairly proficient in various world languages (he’s probably been dabbling in uTalk‘s Directions topic, available in 128 languages, to help him find his way), but just to prove it, his operation in Finland, still going strong, will reply to letters in up to 12 different languages from around the world. So Santa’s clearly at least a dodecalinguist!

Why not try to be a bit more like Santa this year and learn a new language? You could start off for free with the January uTalk Challengeand, if you really want to emulate Santa, go for the 12 month language challenge. Complete a language by the end of the month, and we’ll give you another free uTalk Essentials for a new language the following month.

Merry Christmas!



10 reasons to visit… Iceland

Last weekend I had the very fortunate experience of being taken to Iceland for my birthday. I was only there for three full days and I don’t think I have ever fallen in love with a country as quickly as Iceland. Here are my top ten reasons to visit, but first, if you ever get the opportunity to go, take it; I guarantee you wont regret it.

1. Blue Lagoon

This was my first port of call from the airport. You can definitely visit the lagoon before your departure or just after you arrive.  The lagoon is such a surreal experience; it feels completely wrong to be getting into a bikini when it is -2°C outside. It is a mad dash to get into the lagoon but once you are in you’re instantly warmed up. Swimming around the lagoon you come across warmer patches and under normal circumstances you would be swimming away very quickly, but on this occasion you welcome them. There are free face masks around the lagoon, so everyone looks particularly funny swimming around with grey faces. When we eventually decided to drag yourself away, I have never felt my skin feel so soft. If you have time, sneak up to the viewing platform to really see how blue the water is.

Blue Lagoon, Iceland

2. Northern Lights

I was very fortunate that I was able to see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) for a whole hour. To try and describe the Lights is very difficult, because there isn’t anything that compares. They suddenly just appear, a glow, which ‘dances’. They move all over the place and constantly change in size and appearance. They need to be on everyone’s bucket list – they are simply beautiful.

3. Food

I hadn’t really heard much about the food in Iceland before except that it was rather expensive. They are in fact known for their seafood and lamb, and I had the best food I have ever had there. I wish there were restaurants like that in London, because the meat was so tender. We ate at Mar and the Seafood Grill, both of which I would highly recommend. For more atmosphere I would pick the Seafood Grill and sit in front of the kitchen. In regard to price, if you have a budget you can stick to it, you may just have to have one course instead of two or three, but it is worth it.

4. Twilight

In Iceland at this time of year the sun doesn’t rise until about 10:30am. I don’t know how they do it, I’d never to be able to get up and be at work when it is still so dark. Before the sun rises you have a twilight period, where everything becomes a very light blue. I have never seen a sunrise with such a vast range of colours.  It is also the best light to take some stunning photos in.

Twilight in Iceland

5. Landscape

I was able to see where the Eurasian tectonic plate met the North American plate, which was unreal. The landscape is vast and there are a lot of volcanoes, which have shaped the land. As you travel throughout Iceland the landscape drastically changes, but it is stunning at the same time.

6. Snowmobile

Snowmobiling is an adrenaline experience and one where you don’t want any cameras to be around. To get to the snowmobiles you are transported in an old military truck across the Glacier, which is very exciting. On arrival, you have to put a boiler suit on top of your other clothes, as well as a balaclava, a helmet and shoe protectors. They certainly keep you warm, but moving is a little restricted. The snowmobiles were very easy to drive and the added bonus was that the handlebars were heated so your hands couldn’t get cold. This was an additional feature on our tour – if you have the option to add it on too, go for it.

7. Waterfall

I saw the Gullfoss waterfall just as the sun was setting. As you walk down towards it, you can’t actually see the waterfall, just hear it. It isn’t until you turn the corner that you can see it, and it is such a shock to see the sheer size of the waterfall. In winter it is surrounded by snow and ice which I think added to its beauty. Prepare to be stunned.

8. Geyser

I saw the Strokkur geyser, which has reportedly been around since 1789. It explodes every seven to eight minutes and is truly fascinating to watch. You can see the water begin to bubble and somewhat pulse, right before it explodes. When the geyser does erupt it is predominately steam rather than water. You could stand there for hours watching it erupt.

Strokkur geyser, Iceland

9. Café

On the final day I unfortunately woke up to a very extreme storm, which even cancelled flights. Additionally this meant that the whale watching tour that I was supposed to go on was equally cancelled. However, this turned out to be a blessing; instead I bounced from café to café and it gave me a real opportunity to look around Reykjavik. The cafés were so cool; for much of the day I stayed in one called Laundromat, which has a definite American feel to it, and in the basement you could also do your laundry. Once I had breakfast they didn’t pester me to order more or to leave; I simply sat there and read my book and people watched for hours.

10. People

Everyone was so friendly in Iceland, always smiling and saying good morning or afternoon. In the café or bar people were always chatting to you and sharing experiences about Iceland. They just couldn’t do enough for you.

I had an incredible few days in this amazing country, and I can’t wait to go back and see even more of it, especially the volcanoes.

Have you ever been to Iceland? Have you seen or experienced any of the attractions above? We want to hear about your trip!




Why I’m learning Icelandic in January

When Liz asked us if we’d be interested in signing up for her January challenge to learn a language with uTalk, I immediately knew which language I was going to pick: Icelandic. Then she asked me why and I struggled: I don’t have a good reason. I have never been to Iceland, I don’t have any Icelandic friends and, realistically, I’m unlikely to need to speak Icelandic in the near (or even distant) future.

And yet I am incredibly excited about the prospect of cramming as much Icelandic as possible into my mince-pie stuffed head in January, and trying to beat all my colleagues in the challenge. Ever since recording uTalk Icelandic with our genuinely lovely and professional voice artists Saga and Smarri, I have wanted to know more about the language and culture of this beautiful country of Northern lights, roaming wales and unfailingly excellent Eurovision entries.

I’m also a bit of a fan of the Nordic sagas and the idea of being able to vaguely decipher the genuine article with some of my newly acquired Icelandic really appeals. That’s probably a bit ambitious for January, but it never hurts to have a long-term goal, and I’m hoping that the uTalk challenge will start me off on a serious 2015 language quest.


Who else is going to join us?