12 Famous People You (Probably) Didn’t Know Were Icelandic

By Heidi Herman-Kerr |

When you hear the word “Icelanders,” what comes to mind? The Vikings, longboats, long beards, and glaciers, right? The names, besides being tough to pronounce, typically end with -son or -dottir.

Icelandic surnames are different from most other naming systems in the modern Western world by being patronymic or occasionally matronymic: they indicate the father (or mother) of the child and not the historic family lineage. The son of a man named Jónas is given the surname of Jónasson, similarly the daughter of the same man would have the surname of Jónasdóttir. Cool, right?

Like Ragga Ragnars ( Ragnheiður Ragnarsdóttir ) a two-time Olympic swimmer, multiple Icelandic Record holder and Icelandic Champion. Oh, and she’s the actress who portrays Gunnhild – the strong shield-maiden, Bjorn’s wife and the Queen of Kattegat – on the History show Vikings.

Names aside, it can be hard identifying Icelandic celebrities. Why? Icelanders don’t idolize celebrities as most do – the whole celebrity culture isn’t their vibe. But trust me, there are so many Icelanders dominating the world of entertainment, sports, technology, art, and so much more! And yes, they are famous too!

So who are they? What are they famous for? You are about to find out!

1. Tómas Lemarquis

Tómasis a Paris-based actor, the son of a French teacher and an Icelandic mother. Born in Iceland, he lives in France and has appeared in a number of films you’ve probably seen. Remember that hairless dude with sharp cheeks and serpent eyes in X-Men: Apocalypse? Caliban! Yeah, that’s him. He is famous for his role in Noi Albinos and has featured in quite a few others, such as Snow Piercer and Blade runner 2049.

2. Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson

Hafþór is an actor and a trained strongman. He is the first man to win 3 of such strongest men contest in a single calendar year, extraordinary! At 6’9”, he started his athletic career as – you guessed it – a basketball player. It’s in the genes – his grandfather, Reynir, is 6’9 1/2”

As an actor, he played Gregor Clegane “The Mountain” in Game of Thrones. His character died in a fierce battle under the fires of Drogon – a true son of the land of Fire & Ice. He also played Mongkut in the 2017 film Kickboxer: Retaliation.

3. Alison Margaret Arngrim

Arngrim played the role of Nellie on Little House on the Priarie for seven seasons

We all loved her as Laura Ingalls Wilder’s childhood arch nemesis, Nellie on TV’s popular Little House on the Prairie Series. The blond-haired Canadian-American actress claims Icelandic grandparents.

4. Ólafur Jóhann Ólafsson

Ólafur is a businessman, scientist, and writer. He founded Sony Interactive Entertainment Inc. and introduced our beloved PlayStation, awn! His books are of international repute and are available in over 20 languages. Thank you, Ólafur!!!

5. Bjarni Tryggvason

Bjarni is an Icelandic-Canadian engineer, flight instructor, and former NRC/CSA astronaut. He rose to prominence after the space shuttle mission STS-85 in 1997 – where he flew on a 12-day mission to study changes in the earth’s atmosphere. He is a member of the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute and currently teaches at the International Test Pilots School. I bet you didn’t know he is an Icelander.

6. Gunnar Milton Hansen

Gunnar was an Icelandic-American actor and author. He is famous for his role in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre as Leather face – the mentally impaired cannibal, but he is also a traveler and adventurer. His books include Chain Saw Confidential: How We Made the World’s Most Notorious Horror Movie and a travel memoir entitled Islands at the Edge of Time: A Journey To America’s Barrier Islands

7. Chester Hjortur Thordarson

Chester was an Icelandic-born American scientist and engineer. In him, Icelanders have their Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

His work on transformers was quite useful and instrumental to the development of modern energy transmission. Also, he founded Thordarson Meissner Inc (originally called Thordarson Electric Manufacturing Company) – a company that manufactures transformers, both industrial and commercial.

What’s more, he won a Gold medal at the 1904 St. Louis’ World Fair for the first million-volt transformer he designed. And In 2011, he was inducted into the Design Engineer Hall of Fame.

8. Fiann Paul

Fiann is an explorer, ocean rower, athlete and artist. As of 2018, at 30 world records; he holds the world’s second-highest number of Guinness World Records within one discipline.

He won the Blue Riband Trophy of Ocean Rowing in 2011. He creates records and breaks them – a real Viking. The best part? Wait for it…. He constitutes 68% of all Icelandic sports’ Guinness World Records, superhuman and iconic. Also, Fiann disputes the claim that one cannot be a master of all trades.

9. Edgar Holger Cahill

Edgar, born Sveinn Kristjan Bjarnarsson in 1887, was an Icelandic-born American arts administrator, writer and curator. He served as the National Director of the United States’ Federal Arts Project, an extensive and important visual arts program created during the Depression of the 1930s.

Some of his books include Profane Earth, The Shadow of My Hand, Look South to the Polar Star, and A Yankee Adventurer. He was quite imaginative and skilful. He thought how best to nurture arts, and then established community art centers in over 100 cities and towns – insightful.

10. Darri Ingolfsson

Darri is an actor popular for his role in Last Resort. The best of his works remains playing the cunning Dr Saxton in Dexter – evil and refreshing!

He did feature in some other movies such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Originals.

11. Arnaldur Indriðason

Arnaldur is a writer and journalist. He is a maestro at developing crime fictions. His books are globally read, published in over 20 countries and translated in over 24 languages.

In 2013, he won the RBA Prize for Crime Writing for his work, Shadow Alley. Arnaldur and other Icelandic writers are further proof of the nation’s greatness, so good they write more books per capita compared to other country.

12. Anita Briem

Anita, an Icelandic star, is famous for her part as Jane Seymour on The Tudors. She was also quite excellent as Hannah Asgeirsson in Journey to the Center of the Earth.

Well, now you know other famous Icelanders asides Bjork (Gudmundsdotti). Who else do you think should have made the list?

Let us know in the comment section below.