Your Letters


(June 19, 1997, Gazette)

What's in a name? Plenty!

I was pleased to learn from the June 5 [1997] number of the Gazette that Vigdis Finnbogadottir will be awarded an honorary doctor of laws from Memorial.

May I comment on the headline? Icelanders do not have surnames, rather they have matronymics and patronymics: "Vigdis Finnbogadottir" translates as "Vigdis, daughter of Finnbog." She would never be addressed as "Ms. Finnbogadottir," which is meaningless.

When I was introduced to her at a conference in Reykjavik, it was allowed that we would probably feel more comfortable addressing the President of Iceland as "Frau or President Vigdis" than simply "Vigdis," which she prefers. Similarly, my friend and colleague Einar Arnason ("Einar, son of Arne") is addressed as "Einar" and is the author of "Einar's Statistic" not "Arnason's Statistic," which gave some pain to the journal editor. An Icelandic telephone book consists of columns and columns of "first names" with associated matro- and patronymics. Icelanders travelling abroad are quite tolerant of the confusion: a husband and wife checking into a hotel with a son and daughter will have four different "last names!"

In addition to her many other acomplishments as noted, she is particularly pleased to be one of the first in her country to adopt a child as a single parent.

Dr. Steve Carr, associate professor

Department of Biology