How Greenland got its Name

By: The Scribe on Friday, December 17, 2010

If you have ever been to Greenland, you know that it does not live up to its name. Instead of being a beautiful, green island Greenland is icy and cold. There have been many theories about how the island, along with nearby Iceland came to be named what they were. The secret lies with the Vikings who settled in Iceland and in many different areas of Northern Europe.

The Vikings were a race of Scandinavians who settled in many areas of Northern Europe. Although they are commonly portrayed as bloodthirsty warriors who pillaged, raided and raped their way through much of Europe they also had a thriving culture. While it is true that many of them were violent and blood thirsty there were also Viking traders and explorers as well. image

They were able to explore much of Northern Europe using their famous long ships. The design of these ships was very different than many of the sailing vessels we are familiar with today. A Viking ship did not have a large keel like other sailing vessels did. This meant that it could sail in shallow rivers as well as at sea. Viking raiders were able to use their ships to penetrate inland and then attack outwards from there. In areas such as Ireland, this tactic proved to be exceptionally successful.image

One Viking in particular, Erik the Red was very good at raiding and pillaging. Although history is somewhat sketchy, it is believed that he discovered Greenland after being sent away from Iceland in exile. This was rumored to have been his punishment for committing murder. He was able to settle in Greenland and survive there for several years. Finally, his exile was ended and he found that he wanted to settle the island more fully. For that, he needed to convince others to come with him. Erik the Red is believed to have lived from circa 950 to 1003CE.

Of course, when you tell someone that they will be travelling with you to a place that is barren, cold and inhospitable you may have trouble convincing even a Viking to come with you. So instead, Erik (according to popular legend) called the island Greenland and instead painted the island as being a wonderful place to settle.

There are other theories as to how Greenland got its name. One theory is that the “green” in Greenland is actually a translation error. The word “grunt” actually means ground and it could be that Greenland was meant to be named Gruntland (or ground land).

The island has never been heavily populated. Much of it is covered by a sheet of ice. The only area that is not covered in ice is only clear because the air is so dry that ice cannot form. Many Native cultures have used the island as a hunting ground and several nations have used the island as a strategic launching point or a base during various conflicts and wars.

The island is currently owned by Denmark despite previous attempts by the United States to purchase the island.


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