How To Name (and Pronounce) An Icelandic Volcano

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Thousands of curious onlookers have flocked to an erupting volcano in Iceland to marvel at the hypnotic display of glowing red lava, the bravest of them grilling hot dogs and marshmallows over the smoldering embers.

The eruption of a fissure near Mount Fagradalsfjall, which began late Friday, was the first in the region in about 900 years. The lava is slowly filling a small valley called Geldingadalur.

Ten years ago, the Eyjafjallajökull volcano on the southern tip of Iceland erupted, notoriously disrupting around 900,000 flights across Europe over a period of several weeks. The volcano became also known for the trouble that the international press had to pronounce its name, even inspiring memes.

The most recent volcanic eruption was named in the first days after Mount Fagradalsfjall, a preexisting, older volcano. But the eruption is fed by a magma tube not connected with Fagradalsfjall. Based on the magma reservoir’s size, most scientists believe that the eruption will last several weeks or months, forming a new volcanic edifice over time.

The people in the closest town to the new volcano, the town of Grindavík, located just six miles north-east of the eruption, voted from an array of suggestions to name the new volcano.

Icelanders often name new landmarks based on their location. There is already a mountain named with this system where the eruption took place. Fagra, pronounced “Fiera”, means beautiful, Dal means valley and Fjall means mountain. Fagri-dalur is a beautiful valley, and the mountain in the beautiful valley is the Fagradalsfjall. The valley of Geldingadalur can be translated into an “infertile valley,” but not necessarily because nothing grows there. The name actually derives from the use of the valley as pasture for castrated (therefore infertile) horses.

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