Mystery solved: Why does every Icelandic World Cup player's last name end in '-son'?

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One of the beauties of the World Cup is the cross section of world cultures it provides. Fans don’t just learn about other teams, they learn about other countries. And in the case of Iceland, you can learn something quite interesting about its culture just from looking at the roster.

The Icelandic World Cup squad is one of the best stories in Russia, a true underdog from the smallest country to ever qualify for a World Cup. They could very well make some noise with an energetic focus on defense, like they did at Euro 2016. However, something also stands out quite a bit when you take a closer look at Iceland’s full 23-man roster. See if you can find it:

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Iceland’s World Cup roster

GOALKEEPERS: Hannes Thor Halldorsson (Randers FC), Runar Alex Runarsson (Nordsjaelland), Frederik Schram (Roskilde)

DEFENDERS: Birkir Mar Saevarsson (Valur), Ragnar Sigurdsson (Rostov), Kari Arnason (Aberdeen), Ari Freyr Skulason (Lokeren), Sverrir Ingi Ingason (Rostov), Hordur Bjorgvin Magnusson (Bristol City), Samuel Kari Fridridsson (Valerenga), Holmar Orn Eyjolfsson (Levski Sofia)

MIDFIELDERS: Aron Einar Gunnarsson (Cardiff), Gylfi Sigurdsson (Everton), Emil Hallfredsson (Udinese), Birkir Bjarnason (Aston Villa), Johann Berg Gudmundsson (Burnley), Olafur Ingi Skulason (Karabukspor), Arnor Ingvi Traustason (Malmo), Rurik Gislason (Sandhausen)

FORWARDS: Alfred Finnbogason (Augsburg), Jon Dadi Bodvarsson (Reading), Bjorn Bergmann Sigurdarson (Rostov), Albert Gudmundsson (PSV Eindhoven)

As you can see, all but one player’s last name ends with the same three letters: “-son.” The team’s captain is Aron Gunnarsson. The team’s coach is Heimir Hallgrimsson. The only person on the pitch for Iceland that doesn’t have “-son” in their last name is Frederik Schram, who was born in Denmark to a Danish father.

Now, plenty of countries have their own common last names, but what makes Iceland special here is that it approaches last names with a completely different system than the rest of the Western world.

How Icelandic names work

Iceland follows a patronymic/matronymic system rather than a family name system, meaning that a person’s surname is derived from the name of a parent rather than a name that has been carried through a family for generations. The name of the parent is mixed with the suffix “-son” for a male child and “-dottir” for a female child.

To further explain, let’s use an example from a certain set of names you might be familiar with if you keep up with Marvel movies or the new God of War. Odin can have a son named Thor, whose full name will be Thor Odinson. Now, let’s say Thor has a child named Magni. Some might automatically think Magni’s name would be Magni Odinson, but it would actually be Magni Thorson. And the convention continues as new generations are added to the family.


Iceland captain Aron Gunnarsson celebrates with his similarly named countrymen. (AP Photo)
Iceland captain Aron Gunnarsson celebrates with his similarly named countrymen. (AP Photo)

The practice used to be much more widespread, especially in Scandinavia, but the use of a family name seems to have taken hold for most of the modern world. Except for Iceland, where it is seen as part of the country’s cultural heritage.

So don’t go thinking that nearly every single last name in Iceland just happens to end in “-son” or “-dottir.” Rather, it is something much more interesting.

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