Nordic place names in Europe

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Nordic place names in Europe

The surviving Nordic place names in Normandy, England, Ireland, Scotland and the remainder of the British Isles can contribute today to the localisation of Viking settlements, presence and influence on the conquered territories.

Nordic place names acquired importance in the conquered territories especially in connection with settlements, the foundation of towns and fortifications as well as the taking over of farms and landing places.

In some cases the Nordic names replaced the local names, as seen for example on the Orkney Islands and Shetland. Here we have Egilsay (Eigil's Island) and also Buckquoy, in which the first syllable is derived from the word for barley and the last from the word kví, which means enclosure. Small changes in town names, such as Charlton to Carlton and Shelton to Skelton show, however, that the Vikings were, to some degree, able to pronounce the English place names.

In other cases the Vikings combined a Nordic word or name with the local language or dialect. The Irish town of Ballygunner in Dublinshire is an example. The first syllable bally- comes from the Irish word baile, which means settlement, and –gunner stems from the Nordic man's name Gunnar. Ballygunner is, therefore, Gunnar's Settlement.

The influence of Norwegian Vikings on place names is seen in Northwestern England, Scotland and Isle of Man. This applies, for example, to the highest point on the Isle of Man, which is called Snaefell (Snow Fell).

In the eastern part of Ireland, several towns and natural areas have old Danish names. Along the coasts there are place names ending in –holm (islet) or –ford (fjord), such as Waterford and Wexford.

In Derbyshire there are Danish influenced towns such as Derby, with the suffix –by (town), and Ormskirk, where both syllables are of Danish origin. Similarly, in the southern part of Yorkshire, there are several minor towns and places with the suffix –by. These lie only one day's ride from the large town of York, which was called Jorvik in Viking times and functioned as a kind of capital for the Scandinavian Vikings in England. York has several street names with the Nordic suffix –gate (street), of which the most well known is Coppergate. Coppergate means the cup-maker's or beaker-maker's street.

After the Viking Age, all of Eastern England was known as The Danelaw, because during Viking times the territory had large Scandinavian settlements and the English towns here were subject to the Danish King and law. The borders of The Danelaw can be traced today through Danish-influenced place names, which are found all over Northern England.

In Normandy, it is especially place names with the suffix –toft (croft or close) which testify to the influence of the Danish Viking. The chronicler Dudo writes about the outlawed Norwegian Viking Rollo who, at the beginning of the 10th century, threatened the French King and as a result was given land in Normandy. Rollo divided Normandy up into provinces and distributed them among his trusted men. These provinces no loner exist, but their Danish owners made their mark by giving them names ending with –toft.

Louise Kæmpe Henriksen

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