[Heralds] German/Norse name for Destiny

C. L. Ward gunnora at vikinganswerlady.org
Fri May 4 04:25:17 PDT 2001

Hi, folks.  Gunnora here - just joined the list.

Ælfwyn said:
>We can certainly tell you the etymological roots of most
>names, but it's a mistake to think that they would have
>had any significance to the people who used those names
>in the Middle Ages.

I think you're overstating by a lot.  No, when we hear a man introduced
today as "Forrest" we don't necessarily think of trees but just hear the
name word.  But we certainly do use names (such as "Bush" right now, for
instance) in a whole bunch of puns and jokes and whatnot based on their
congruence with a common noun, which says that we think of the name meaning
*some* times.

There are a bunch of Norse names (and yes, Germanic names in general) where
the name element(s) were identical to common words in everyday use.  There
is a huge body of evidence that shows that no, name *meaning* wasn't the
important factor when parents named their children.  But there is also solid
evidence that puns and poetry and so forth were being fueled by the meanings
of those common everyday words that did occur as name elements.  Further, in
certain classes of Norse literature, we see "names" which are obviously
being made up based on meaning, for example the women in one family being
named Fjötra (fetter, she was trapped in this idiot family), Tötra (tatters,
she was cheap and miserly), and Snötra (wise, she was the only one with
common sense).  This is a fairy-tale situation, but here we see the
legitimate woman's name Snötra used with explicit acknowledgement to its

Mistress Brynhildr jarla Kormaksdóttir pointed out to me that:

(I had said)
>folks have griped because I *am* including the meanings,
>saying that of course the Norse didn't pay attention to the name meanings
>any more than we'd consciously note that "Christie" means "Christian" etc.

(Brynja replied)
Hmmm...  I'd argue strongly against that.   "Christie" (or "Christine")
isn't an everyday noun in our everyday language, whereas a very good portion
of Old Norse names are: Unn (wave), Aud (treasure), Ref (fox), Björn (bear),
Drífa (snowdrift), Mörd (weasel), Úlf (wolf), Geirr (spear), Steinn (rock),
Hrafn (raven), Ospak (Not Wise), Ofeig (Not Cowardly), Ljot (Ugly) -- you
know the list.  Compounds take a bit more thinking ("Thorolf" = Thor + ulf;
"Vigdis" = battle + goddess), but you can't tell me they weren't thinking. .
.The Celtic names (Njál, Kormák, Dufthak, Kjallak, Melkof &c.) are the only
batch I can think of where the meaning wouldn't have been absolutely patent.
  Okay, I guess you can argue that one can know the meaning of a name and
still not think about it: witness all the Junes and Aprils and Dawns and
Autumns and Summers not born at the designated time, or the Noels and
Natalies not born at Christmas. . .but I have a hard time believing
Icelanders didn't twig to the connection most of the time.  Why else would
they call Cat Stevens "Högni Stefánsson" (besides to be funny)?   The
character Ref in _Gísla saga_, almost certainly not a historical personage,
is definitely sly as a fox. . .coincidence? I think not.
(end of Brynja's reply)

Just out of curiosity, would somneone contact me off-list with a summary of
the previous discussion?


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