From Iceland — Naming Icelandic Cattle, From Katla to Kartöfluupptökuvél

Naming Icelandic Cattle, From Katla to Kartöfluupptökuvél

Published September 28, 2021

Desirai Thompson
Photo by
Tim Wright/Wikimedia Commons

Guðmundur Jóhannesson, a consultant in cattle breeding for the Icelandic Agricultural Center (Ráðgjafarmiðstöð landbúnaðarins), recently penned an article for Bændablaðið on the naming of Icelandic cows.

Not just numbers, but names

While various data has long been recorded on the breeding of cattle in Iceland, the names of these animals were often overlooked until Jón Viðar Jónmundsson began compiling this information in 1995. In the five year period preceding his records, cows in Iceland had 4,500 distinct names with Branda being the most popular.

Guðmundur recently stepped in to compile a current list of cow names in Iceland. In a sample size of 25,400 different cows, they had nearly 5,600 diverse names. Cattle in Iceland are given a unique number and vast majority of them are given their own name as well.

A cow named Kartöfluupptökuvél

According to this data, many cows are named in reference to their colouring. These names include Skjaldi, Branda, Stjarna, Gríma and Kola. The most common name overall, Rauðka, is also in reference to the colour red, or rauður. Other popular cattle names inlcude Katla, Toppa, Perla, Gola and Blíða.

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Different regions also seem to prefer different names. All of the most common names, Rauðka, Lukka, Skjaldi and Stjarni, are found across the country while names like Alfa, Dæla, Krafla, Padda, Sókn and Títla are considered more “southern” names.

The most unusual name Guðmundur came across was Kartöfluupptökuvél, which can be roughly translated to “potato machine”.

Uniquely Icelandic

Icelandic cows have been genetically isolated so centuries as the import of cattle from abroad is prohibited due to strict disease-control measures. Icelandic cattle originated from Norwegian cattle that were brought to Iceland in the 10th century.

These cows are known for being especially colourful with unique markings with the most common colours being red, red pied, brindle, brown and black or black pied.

In 2006, it was suggested that Icelandic cows may be replaced with Swedish cows, as they produce more milk at a lower cost. However, it was argued that the uniqueness of Icelandic cattle is important to the culture of the country.

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