Rúmfatalagerinn, the Icelandic franchise of the Danish home goods store JYSK, will be changing its name.
The store, whose name means “the linen warehouse,” will now simply be known by the original Danish JYSK.
What’s in a name?
The name change has occasioned discussion on the role of Icelandic in the public sphere.
In an interview with Vísir, professor emeritus Eiríkur Rögnvaldsson stated: “One name at a time doesn’t matter per se, but we have to look at this in context and what such a name change indicates about our ideas regarding Icelandic and foreign languages. Why do we always avoid Icelandic?” Although Eiríkur admits that this name change in particular seems relatively inconsequential, he remains concerned about the usage of Icelandic as a public language. Additionally, he stated that the name JYSK does not conform well to Icelandic pronunciation or grammar.
Notably, the Danish store is also known by the German “Dänisches Bettenlager” in many other nations throughout Europe, including Germany and Austria, and also Spain, France, and Portugal.
According to representatives from Rúmfatalagerinn, the name change is intended to reflect that the store offers much more than bed linens.
“Such isolated examples don’t matter much,” Eiríkur stated. “It makes no difference even if someone like Toppur [an Icelandic beverage company which recently changed its name to Bonaqua] or some company like Rúmfatalagerinn changes their name. What I am much more concerned about is what lies behind it. This attitude, or idea, or belief that foreign names are somehow better and that Icelandic names are awkward is what worries me.”
A larger context
The recent debate over the name change is just one part of a larger conversation taking place in Iceland. As mass tourism and shifting demographics change the face of Icelandic society, some have expressed concern that the Icelandic language is slowly being supplanted by English.
Minister of Tourism, Commerce, and Culture Lilja Dögg Alfreðsdóttir has recently spoken out against the increasing prevalence of English on signage in downtown Reykavík, saying that “we have gone off track.”
“All signs must have Icelandic first,” continued Lilja. English has become increasingly common as a language of commerce not just in the capital, but throughout Iceland, in the wake of the tourism boom. Indeed, some establishments, especially those oriented towards tourism, may only have signs and information available in English.
Lilja has also stated that visible usage of Icelandic is especially important for immigrants who are learning Icelandic: “We are collaborating with the tourism industry and business sector to take steps to make the Icelandic language more visible.”