Why Is Greenland Called Greenland? 1

Why is Greenland called Greenland, and was it ever green?

One of the biggest questions to bamboozle globetrotters today relates to the way certain parts of the Nordic landscape are named. Specifically, why is Greenland called Greenland when it’s shrouded in ice? 

The simple answer is Greenland’s name came from a Viking with a clever marketing strategy. But do the origins of Greenland’s titles expand further than this? Was Greenland ever green?

Greenland is one of the snowiest places in the world, though experts say the ice sheets are beginning to melt. Many people are confused by the contrast between Greenland and Iceland. The country with the most ice focuses on greenery, and the one with the most greenery centres on ice.

Today, we’re going to explore how Greenland got its name. 

Why Is Greenland Called Greenland? 2

Why was Greenland named Greenland?

Scandinavia is an amazing place, full of unique things like hygge, and interesting people. 

Greenland was named by a Viking named Erik the Red. Historians believe Erik chose the name Greenland as a marketing strategy. The word “green” promised people from elsewhere in the Nordics they would find lush, green fields waiting for them in the new region. 

Of course, back then, we didn’t have cameras and video to prove otherwise. 

In some discussions about Iceland and Greenland, people also say the Vikings also named Iceland to discourage over settlement on the island. Just as the name “Greenland” aimed to attract new locals, the name Iceland created visions of cold, unwelcoming atmosphere. 

We don’t know for certain whether the stories about Erik the Red are entirely true, of course. Today, more than 80% of Greenland is covered in ice. However, back in AD 982, when Greenland was first discovered, the grass may have been greener. 

Notably, Erik’s ship landed on the southwestern corner of Greenland, which is where potato and sheep farmers still work today. Perhaps Erik just discovered a more appealing section of the country and chose the name before he realized how much ice he was dealing with. 

How did Greenland get its name? 

Since most of Greenland is covered in snow and glaciers, it’s easy to see how people might get confused by the name. Erik the Red, the Viking who named Greenland, was exiled to the space for murder. 

According to historians, Erik gave Greenland it’s appealing title to attract settlers and make the country a better place to live in. 

However, it’s worth noting Greenland wasn’t the first name the country had. Although the title of Greenland stuck over the years, the original name for the country was Kalaallit Nunaat. This name means “land of the people”. 

Before we continue, check out these great resources on Amazon…

The original title came from the early Intuit settlers of Greenland, and many locals continue to use the name today. 

People within the Intuit community in Greenland still champion the original title, so it might be worth keeping this in mind if you’re planning on exploring the country and interacting with some of the locals.

Why Is Greenland Called Greenland? 3

Why is Greenland called Greenland instead of Iceland?

If you’re wondering why Greenland is called Greenland, you may be one of the many people who think the names of Greenland and Iceland should be swapped. Iceland’s name often evokes ideas of artic glaciers and snow, like what you’d find in Greenland. 

However, the Icelandic region is actually a lot more temperate than it’s sibling.

Iceland’s sea surface is a lot warmer (about 6 degrees Celsius warmer) than Greenland’s thanks to the support of the Gulf stream. 

The milder climate means during summers and winters, you’ll find plenty of greenery around Iceland to explore. Although it is worth noting around 11% of the country is still covered with an ice cap. 

Indeed, Iceland’s Vatnajokull glacier is the largest icecap in Europe, covering an area of around 8300 square km. Put simply, the glacier is about the same size as Puerto Rico. 

So why are the names switched? Legends say the first Norse person to discover Iceland was Naddador, and name it “snow land”, or “Snæland” because of the snow he saw when he arrived. 

The Swedish Viking Garðar Svavarosson ruled after Naddador, and he named the country “Garðar’s isle”, which didn’t stick for long. 

Finally, a Viking named Flóki Vilgerðarson arrived in Iceland, with some bad luck. His daughter drowned when they were sailing to the country, and his livestock starved in the winter. 

Upset and overwhelmed, the Viking finally named the country Iceland after climbing a mountain to see nothing but a fjord full of icebergs. 

Ironically, the icebergs Flóki saw when he was depressed probably floated towards Iceland from Greenland. The title stuck, however, particularly as Flóki spoke of how terrible the island was. 

Fortunately, there were still plenty of crew members from the trip to Iceland to praise the location for its beautiful greenery. 

Was Greenland ever green?

So, was Greenland ever green? Or was it just a clever marketing ploy. 

Well, we’re beginning to discover some useful information which could help to answer this question. According to the Scientific American, archaeological discovery is revealing new information on the history of Greenland. 

During 1981, researchers removed a huge tube of ice from the middle of a glacier in the Southern region of Greenland. 

The glacier was taken from a site called Dye 3, and it was more than a mile long — offering an incredible insight into Greenland’s history. 

According to the scientists who examined the ice, the pattern of dirt, rock, and soil within was difficult to analyze at first. Lower layers of ice had been disrupted by the formation of new glacier. 

Fortunately, later, DNA was distracted from the previously ignored bottom of the glacier, revealing some interesting information on the history of the country. 

According to the data, Greenland was green. Not only was the country rich with grass and fields, but forests too. Biologists say Greenland may have been home to similar forests we see throughout Scandinavia today.

Scandinavia’s stunning scenery is one of the things which contributes to the happiness and health of the people within

The team of analysts responsible for examining the ice say DNA was retrieved from yew, pine, spruce, and alder trees. The scientists also discovered species of insects ranging from spiders to butterflies. 

According to the group, the icy discovery marked the first example of evidence that southern Greenland was once a highly forested place. Indeed, experts believe based on the trees found, Greenland must have reached at least 10 degrees Celsius in Summer. 

Why Is Greenland Called Greenland? 4

Why is it called Greenland?


Hopefully, the lessons in history and science above have helped you to understand why Greenland got its name. Whether Greenland’s title was chosen for marketing purposes, or it’s a reference to what the country used to be like is difficult to know for sure. 

Interestingly, some experts believe Greenland may soon be green again. The rapidly melting sheets of ice in Greenland are having a drastic impact on the country. 

Many academics say these melting ice sheets are having an impact on the Gulf stream of the North Atlantic, and Iceland as a result. 

If the climate continues to change in the same way in the decades ahead, we could find Iceland becomes the icy environment we associate it with. In the next few centuries, Greenland could earn back its green title with more forests and fields. 

Until then, we recommend exploring Greenland and Iceland in their current state (while you have the chance). If you’re keen to learn more about the Nordic region, check out this amazing book for more answers too. 

Scandification: Discovering Scandinavia.

Now read these:
Does anyone live in Greenland?
Exploring the Greenlandic capital

Scandification explores and celebrates the magic of Scandinavia. Stay tuned and we’ll bring the essence of Scandinavia to you.

Advertising enquiries

Scandification explores and celebrates the magic of Scandinavia. To advertise your brand to a global audience, contact our advertising team below.