Kissing Cousins

Love and Dating in Icelandimages-1

“Hverra manna ert bu?”   (Who are your people?)

images-1In Iceland, when you meet someone you don’t know, one has to ask “Hverra manna ert bu?” (Who are your people?). This is especially true if you are of dating and reproductive age. Icelanders have to be very careful they are not dating a relative.  With the small population (320,000 people in the entire nation) and a recorded history of descendants that dates back to the year 925 AD, one could possibly wind up dating a relative by accident.  Add to this the lack of immigration and the lack of surnames  (in Iceland people take on their father’s last name by adding –son if you are a boy and –dottir if you are a girl) * and you could wind up sleeping with your cousin once removed On a recent trip to Iceland, one of my tour guides, a man in his early 50’s told me that there is an app for dating in Iceland.  He said the app was recently developed at the University of Iceland.  Young people put their information into their phone, bump the phones to each other, and the information is transferred and analyzed.  The results, whether the couple are related or not, are posted quickly.  Four generations back is ok, anything closer is considered unacceptable. Check this article out for more information. Then I went on another tour with another guide, a much younger man of 31. He told me about another more popular way people in Iceland know if they are related.   They use The Islendingabok, a data base that traces back the genealogical information about Iceland’s inhabitants dating back more than 1,200 years. The goal of this database is to trace all known family connections from the time Iceland was settled by Norwegian Vikings and a few Irish women between 870 and 930 AD.   Access to the Islendigabok is only available to Icelandic citizens and legal residents who have been issued and Icelandic ID number (kennitala).  Virtually every Icelander is in the book.  All one has to do is put in their names and the database will spit out how related they are to each other.  It is estimated that the database is 99.9% accurate, and interestingly it created a few scandals when first revealed.  It exposed “rangfeorun,” or the fact that people’s recorded fathers are not always their biological fathers. Aside from looking for potential lovers, Icelanders use the book to see if they are related to famous people in Iceland, such as Bjork or the prime Minister.  Check out the information about Islendigabok here: The dangers of inbreeding exist, and can get quite extreme over multiple generations. At the root of the problem are recessive genes. While most of the genes that we carry are either beneficial or neutral in character, a handful of genes have the potential to have a serious negative impact on our health. These are known as autosomal recessive disorders, and they include cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, Tay-Sachs disease, albinism, and a variety of other conditions. Generally, these genes remain inactive because they are the recessive form of the gene. Each of our parents only carries one gene that passed it onto us. The other half of the pair came from the other parent, and if it was the dominant (harmless form of the gene) then the trait will not appear. The recessive form, or allele, cannot be expressed in the presence of the dominant gene, and so we end up just being a carrier of these potentially harmful genetic conditions rather than a sufferer.  If close relatives were to mate, that recessive gene could be passed on in a double dose and cause abnormalities to appear. The idea of dating a close relative is not just socially unacceptable and somewhat repulsive to most, it also can cause serious health problems for the potential offspring.   * Try the Icelandic way of naming using your father’s name! For example, my name is Anita and my father’s name was Calvin.  If I were Icelandic, I would be Anita Calvinsdottir and my bothers, Michael and Steven, would be Michael Calvinsson and Steven Calvinsson.   (This article is one of a series of articles from my recent trip to Iceland)