Björk is one of those performers who is a genre unto herself.
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Videos by American Songwriter
The quirky artist and standout singer is also one of Iceland’s most well-known citizens. With a voice that boasts three-octave range and a knack for standing out visually and lyrically, Björk is as much a glorious spectacle as she is an entertainer and person in popular culture.
But what is the history behind her unique name, as well as that of some of the bands she’s performed in?
Though from Iceland, Björk is a Swedish surname, meaning birch (the type of tree).
For the singer, this is especially relevant, since so much of her music has connection to nature and the elements. It’s only appropriate she would be named after a delicate, thin-barked sapling. In Iceland, too, the birch is the most common native tree, and the name is a relatively common one for girls.
[RELATED: The Best 35 Bjork Quotes]
In Norwegian, the equivalent name is Bjørk, in Estonian it’s Birk and Polish, it’s Bajorek.
The songwriter and performer was born and raised in Reykjavík, Iceland, the country’s capital, on November 21, 1965.
Her father, Guðmundur, was a union leader and an electrician, and her mother, Hildur Rúna, was an activist. But they divorced early on and Björk went to live with her mom. Björk’s stepfather was a guitarist in a group called Pops.
At six-years-old, the young burgeoning artist enrolled at the Reykjavík school Barnamúsíkskóli to study classical piano and flute.
She began to earn attention for singing around the age of 11yearsold, after one of her teachers recorded her singing a rendition of Tina Charles’ 1976 hit “I Love to Love” and sent it into a radio station. Soon after, she got a record contract and released her debut, self-titled album, comprised of kids songs, when she was just 12.
As a teenager, Björk formed an all-girl punk rock band, called in English Spit and Snot, later, forming another group called Tappi Tíkarrass, which translates to Cork Bitch’s Ass. As a young adult, she formed the band Rokka Rokka Drum. A few years after that, in 1983, she started the group Kukl.
In 1986, Björk gave birth to her son, Sindri Eldon.
By 21, Björk was the front person for the alternative rock group, the Sugarcubes, which formed in Reykjavík in 1986. In 1988, the Sugarcubes released the debut album, Life’s Too Good. About five years after the group kicked off, though, the collective disbanded in 1992 and the eccentric artist began her decorated solo career.
As a solo artist, Björk released three albums—Debut in 1993, Post in 1995 and Homogenic in 1997. Since then, she has released a handful more LPs, including her most recent, Fossora, in 2022.
[RELATED: Björk Releases Remix of Single “Atopos”]
To date, she has sold more than 20 million records worldwide and 31 of her songs have hit the top 40 on charts around the globe. She has also garnered15 Grammy nominations. As an actor, Björk won the Best Actress Award at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival for her staring role in the movie Dancer in the Dark.
Fifteen years later, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City dedicated an exhibition to the musician.
Today, Björk is known as an artist of supreme integrity and authenticity. If she says something, she means it. And no one would ever accuse her of being disingenuous.
Her name is her bond.
Photo by Santiago Felipe/Getty Images for ABA