Ever Wonder Why Your Bookcase is Called "Billy"?

Becca Wadlinger

Mar 25, 2011

As the resident Scandinavian language speaker here in the Gulf Coast office, I thought I'd let you in on the entertaining taxonomy that exists within the shelves of Swedish superstore IKEA. I began to notice patterns in the furniture names years ago, especially with beds that were named after Norwegian towns. My favorite was this bunk bed, Tromsö, named after the far northern Norwegian city Tromsø. Is it called "Tromsø" because you have to climb up so far north to go to sleep? Then there are the Nisse folding chairs that recall, for me, little trolls that wear red hats and steal Christmas presents. I knew there was a system, so I ventured onto Google to figure it out. Wikipedia turned up this handy list: Upholstered furniture, coffee tables, rattan furniture, bookshelves, media storage, doorknobs: Swedish place names Beds, wardrobes, hall furniture: Norwegian place names Dining tables and chairs: Finnish place names Bookcase ranges: Occupations Bathroom articles: Scandinavian lakes, rivers and bays Kitchens: grammatical terms, sometimes also other names Chairs, desks: men's names Fabrics, curtains: women's names Garden furniture: Swedish islands Carpets: Danish place names Lighting: terms from music, chemistry, meteorology, measures, weights, seasons, months, days, boats, nautical terms Bedlinen, bed covers, pillows/cushions: flowers, plants, precious stones Children's items: mammals, birds, adjectives Curtain accessories: mathematical and geometrical terms Kitchen utensils: foreign words, spices, herbs, fish, mushrooms, fruits or berries, functional descriptions Boxes, wall decoration, pictures and frames, clocks: colloquial expressions, also Swedish place names The list seems to stick, for the most part, but there are tons of exceptions. So, why make this unusual system instead of assigning product numbers like many retailers do? Apparently, IKEA founder founder Ingvar Kamprad is dyslexic and thought it'd be easier for people to remember. I think Ingvar is on to something--I mean, if I can remember the name of a folding chair months after visiting the store, IKEA employees must know the names of everything. Oh, and if you happen to speak Swedish or Norwegian (or maybe German or Danish) and want to test your knowledge of IKEA taxonomy, check out this virtual matching game: http://www.iamcal.com/games/ikea/ Interessant, ja?