This article was sent by Mistress Fiona. Because of space, I had to cut it somewhat. We have several of Nara no Jebu's articles on language for use in the future.
The Old Norse personal name, typical for Icelanders, Norwegians, Danes and Swedes of the Middle Ages, is in several ways quite different from those in use further to prehistory and (although recently abandoned in continental Scandinavia in favor of the family name ) is still the acceptable standard on Iceland and the Faeroes today. It is clearly the correct name style for the Medievalist with a Northman persona.
The Old Norse personal name consists of three parts:
1)the given name
Some individual have more than one nickname, simultaneously or at various times in their lives; in general, only slaves have no patronymic or matronymic.
The given name has a clear meaning to the speaker of Old Norse; it is a common noun or an adjective as well as a personal name. 'Bjorn' for example, means bear. 'Steinn' means stone. 'Helgi' (or in feminine form, Helga) means holy. Only a small percentage of Old Norse given names are borrowed from foreign sources, at first Celtic and later from Christians, stemming from slaves taken into colonies and have no meaning in context.
The names mentioned above are simple names, that is they consist of only one element each. The majority of Norse names consist of two parts, such as Throbjorn (Thor + spear), Thorsteinn (Thor + stone), etc. The resulting compound need not have a true meaning; sometimes the juxtaposition of its two elements suggests a meaning compound”, but more often not. For example, 'Snaebjorn' (snow + bear or polar bear) but Asbjorn is god + bear. Not all simple names appear in compounds; some may be used only as the first or as the second component, while some occur in both positions.
If it were not for this problem of limited constructibility, it would be quite easy to put together a list of 'name elements' fro which compound names could be consturced at will. But an example , the siple name Hallr (female: Halla) is often used in compounds: (male) Hallbjorn, Halldor, Hallfredr, etc.; (female) Hallbera, Hallbjorg, Hallfridr, etc. but is not attested in compounds with the popular second components: (masculine) -brandr (mark), -fidr (strong), -finnr (fisher), -gautr (pranster); (feminine) -finna (fisher), -grima (fisher), -grima (fierce), -hildr (battle), although such compounds are certainly possible.
In the choice of a given name it is noteworthy to consider many names permanently associated with famous saga persons which gives many names an additional connotative value. Grettir (scowler), has an aura of brutal power and heroic stature due to the long shadow of 'Gretir Asmundarson'. Njall (wise [supernatural]} conjures up a skilled lawyer and lawspeaker, Skarphedinn (sharpteeth) his ever-girnning warlike son. Some ay wish to think twice vefore choosing a name with the burden of 'Egil' or 'Audr' or 'Gunnar'. The neo-Norseman who has not studied his sagas ( a shame!) would do best to consult the appendix of personal names in a saga for a medieval Norse name.
Nicknames are a frequent second element of the Old Norse name. They aren't chosen but given by friends or enemies.They can range from complimentary: inn godi (the good) or inn fagri (the fair) to the other extreme; meinfretr (nasty fart0 or opueginn (unwashed). Some could be taken either way, like knarrarbriga (merchantship chest or big tits). Nicknames often deal with phsical charactersistics: inn gali (the old), inn sterki (the strong) or kastranzi (jutting arse). The trait could be mental such as inn Frodi (the learned). The place of origin may be featured such as E'yverski (Orkney Islands)or the inn irski (the Irishman). Some can only be understolld if one knows the story to which it referes. A man may be tagged by his weapon: bosveigir (bow swagger), girr (spear) or sleggja (sledge hammer). Animal nicknames are prefixed to the given names. Titles belong to the latter roup, like proud nicknames: Haraldr konungr hafagri Halfdanarson or Harald, king, fair-hair, son of Halfdan (the half Dane).
The final element s the patronymic (matronymics appear only if the mother is a famous person or the child has no legal father). A male child appends the suffix -son to his is not a family name in any sense; it is absurd to call a man named Gunnar Hamundarson either Hamundarson, or, even worse, Lord Hamundarson as many people in the Society do. Proper address for him would be Gunnar or if it must Lord Gunnar. The same goes for female names. It is quite normal for a stranger to addres the president of the Republic of Iceland by his first name in public. Icelanders are have been proud of their democracy. Accusing a man in the sagas of acting like a noble' is about as damaging an accusal as a child molesting. Note that when a woman marries her name does not change. In particular, Society people who are so concerned about titles, seem to find it difficult to address people by their given name or nicknames. It must be learned that among Norsemen, this entails no disrespect. Many Norsemen would take the address “my Lord' to be a taunt or effimination. Though they may be proud of the title, the first name address is very period and polite. Remember that Icelandic languate has not changed since the 800's because of little outside influence.
3)the patronymic or rarer matronymic.
Richard Cleasby & Bunbrand Vigfusson, An Icelandic-English Dictionary. 2nd Edition. William Cragie, Oxford, 1957.
Sveinbjorn Egilsson, Lexicon Poeticum Antique Lingue Seplentrionalis, 2nd Edition. Finnur Jonsson. Kobenhaun, 1966.
E.V. Grodon, An Introduction to Old Norse. 2nd Edition. A.R. Taylor, Oxford, 1957.
Saga translations will help as they often name mminor people as well as the central characters. Try Gunnlauga Saga, Thorsteinnj's Saga, Eyrbyggja Saga, Brennu-Njala Saga, Snorri Ormundsson Saga, and the Egilskala-Grimssonar Saga.
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