Vikings had a number of unusual methods they used for naming their children. Some of them were in honor of ancestors and some were to honor others. One method focused on sounds and another was built around nicknames. Each had a specific pattern that was followed – and sometimes ignored – by parents seeking ways to give a child a unique identity.
Here’s a breakdown of those methods:
1 – The Luck of the Dead
It’s not unusual to name a child after a deceased relative. Vikings often did this with grandparents or other direct descendants. What made this practice a touch on the creepy side was why ancestor’s names kept popping up on newborns. The belief was that the luck of the dead person would be transferred to the child being named. This is probably why there were few Vikings named Dennis the Diseased or Ulysses the Unfortunate.
2 – Sounds Like, Looks Like
Vikings were often too busy raiding villages or raising cattle to pay a lot of attention to the naming of children chore. So they took shortcuts. One was to name children using the same sound at the beginning of names such as Ottar, Olaf and Ospak. The other shortcut was to use the first half of a name and give each a different ending such as Halli, Hallifrid and Halldor. Apparently this made it easy to remember their names.
3 – Sticks And Stones
Elements were favorite items used to name children. However, only certain ones were used for girls and other, different ones, were used for boys. For example, the word for Bear (Bjorn) would be a boy’s name. Then to mix it up a touch Vikings would use two elements for names so it was not unusual to find someone named Bjornstein, the words for Bear and Rock as a result of such a combo mixture.
4 – Praise God(s)
Naming your child after a God was a frequent choice of Viking parents. There’s nothing like putting that kind of pressure on a child from Day One. The way they did it was to attach an element to the back part of the name so it would be God + Element. Boys could be Thord, Thorgest and Thorberg. Girls could end up named Asta, Astrid and Asdis as examples.
5 – Nicknames
Depending on what your Viking parents did for work, where they lived or the kinds of habits they had, you could end up with a nickname related to one of these things. As you could imagine, the results would not always be as dynamic as Hagar the Horrible or Ivan the Terrible. How about Clifford the Clumsy or Sarah the Stutterer?
6 – The Son Of Gustaf
Surnames in the ‘olden days’ of Viking lore were often built using the patronymic system. You will likely know someone with the surname of Gustafson or Hurrelson or a similar name with the suffix ‘son’ attached to the end of it. In these examples the name explains that you were the son of Gustaf or Hurrel. Metronymic names for daughters were far less common but existed such as Grimsdottir (the daughter of Grimm, for instance).
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