What does Geldingadalir, the place in Reykjanes that recorded a recent volcanic eruption, translate to in English?

  • What does the word Geldingadalir mean?
Mar 27 2021

A volcanic eruption was recently recorded at the Geldingadalir valley, which is located at the Reykjanes Peninsula in Iceland. “Geldingadalir” is probably an odd-sounding word, that may be difficult for anyone other than Icelanders to memorize or pronounce. If an Icelander is tasked with translating the word into English to facilitate easier understanding by foreigners, they might find it slightly challenging, as the translation is not very straightforward. In fact, the word has more than one or even two meanings.

Probable translations for the word “Geldingur”

The word “geldingur” in Icelandic means a castrated man or a castrated animal. It is similar to the word “gelding” in English, which denotes a castrated male horse. However, in English, the word “eunuch” is used to denote a man who has been castrated. Along the same lines, a castrated ram is called a “wether” (not to be confused with the term “weather”) in English. The latter half of the word, “dalur”, means “valleys” (in plural). Thus, the word “geldingur” can be translated into English as “gelding valleys”, “eunuch valleys”, or “wether valleys”.

Whose castration could the word “Geldingadalir” most likely refer to?

The Geldingadalir valley is located in the mountains, in a place that we could call as the highland of the Reykjanes peninsula. It is almost impossible to imagine that Icelanders could have ever castrated men on such a large scale so as to name valleys after the act. Such acts were very rare in Iceland’s history and may have probably been done to farm animals in farms or in brutal battles, possibly during the 12th and 13th centuries. If the word “Geldingadalir” was meant to denote castrated horses, such acts might have been done at farms, to tame the animals for farm use. In the same lines, if the word meant to denote castrated rams, such acts might have been done by farmers to improve the breeding of the species.

Geldingadalir valleys - Wether valleys

Geldingadalir  - Wether valleys eruption

Those days, during the summer, just like we do today, farmers used to round up their sheep, young and old, and leave the whole herd at the mountains. When autumn approached, they used to gather the sheep again from the mountains and flock them back to the farms. These farmers named valleys, mountains, hills, creeks, lava fields, and any other such landforms with words that were convenient to use as a reference, as they did not have any other form of geographic guidance as we do with the GPS today. Drawing an inference from this practice, we can conclude that the Geldingadalir valley was in some way connected to the rams. I assume that the small valley and its nearby valleys were used to house the “wethers” in a group, or maybe the rams tended to herd in groups in the valley, as they were shy and did not understand what the other rams were doing with the seeps.

My suggestion for translation

I feel that the most apt translation for the word “Geldingadalir” is “Wether valleys”. But of course, we prefer the non-translated version, “Geldingadalir”, which is, by the way, a lot easier to pronounce than “Eyjafjallajökull”. The translation is meant for explanation and to distinguish it from the eunuch, which has no cultural or historical reference in Iceland.