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Vikings had several naming conventions that they followed whenever a newborn arrived in this world. These traditions, which affected both boys and girls, were driven mainly by the belief that names carried certain qualities and virtues along with them. Keep reading to know more about the traditional female names from the Viking age and their meanings.
A Brief Look into the Viking Age
Vikings were a group of Scandinavian and Germanic seafaring peoples, known for being fearsome warriors, great shipbuilders, and traders. Moreover, Viking’s aptitude for navigation allowed them to spread their influence to territories such as Dublin, Iceland, Greenland, and Kyiv, among others, during what is known as the Viking era (750-1100 CE).
The Vikings had some naming conventions that they used to choose the name of their children. These conventions included:
- Using the name of a deceased relative
- A natural element or a weapon
- A divinity or any other mythological character
- Alliteration and variation
- Personal traits or virtues
- Compound names
- And patronymics
It’s worth mentioning that Vikings didn’t have surnames as we understand them today. In this article, we will provide some examples of how each of these naming conventions worked.
Named After a Dead Relative
For the Vikings, who believed that ancestors should be venerated, naming their daughters after a close deceased relative (such as a grandmother) was a way to pay respects to the dead. At the root of this tradition was the belief that part of a dead relative’s essence (or knowledge) was transmitted to the newborn along with her name.
If a relative died while the child was still in the womb, this event very often decided the upcoming baby’s name. This also applied if the mother of the child died while giving birth. Due to this tradition, the same female names tended to remain within the same families for long periods of time.
In some cases, ancestors’ common names could also be inherited.
Names Inspired by Natural Elements or Weapons
Being pagans and warriors, it wasn’t uncommon for Vikings to look into nature and their arsenal when looking for inspiration for choosing their kids’ names.
In the case of girls, some examples of this tradition are names such as Dahlia (‘valley’), Revna (‘raven’), Kelda (‘fountain’), Gertrud (‘spear’), Randi (‘shield’), among others.
Named After a Norse Goddess or Other Types of Mythological Characters
Vikings also used to name their daughters after goddesses, such as Hel (the goddess of the Norse underworld), Freya (the goddess of love and fertility), or Idun (the goddess of youth and spring), among others.
However, adopting the name of other mythological characters, such as minor divinities or heroines, was also common. For instance, the name Hilda (‘figther’), inspired by one of Odin’s Valkyries, was a very popular choice for girls.
Making female names using the Old Norse particle “As” (‘god’), like in Astrid, Asgerd, and Ashild was also a way for some Viking parents to try to endow their daughters with divine qualities.
Alliteration and Variation
Two other popular naming conventions were alliteration and variation. In the first case, the same sound/vowel was present at the beginning of the child’s name (the examples mentioned above of the female names starting with “As” would fall into this category). In the second case, one part of the name is altered, while the rest remains constant.
Names Inspired by Remarkable Personal Traits or Virtues
Choosing names associated with remarkable personal traits or virtues was another naming convention widely spread among Vikings. Some examples of female names that fall within this category are Estrid (‘fair and beautiful goddess’), Gale (‘jovial’), Signe (‘the one who is victorious’), Thyra (‘helpful’), Nanna (‘daring’ or ‘brave’), and Yrsa (‘wild’).
Very often, Vikings created compound names, using two different name elements. Nevertheless, it’s important to understand that not every single name could be combined with another; a set of rules limited the list of possible combinations.
For instance, some name elements could only appear at the beginning of the compound name, while the opposite rule applied to others. An example of a female compound name is Ragnhildr (‘Reginn’+’Hildr’). It’s worth noticing that each element of the compound name had a meaning.
Vikings didn’t have surnames to emphasize the filial connection between a father and his son or daughter like we do today. For this, they used instead a nomenclature based on patronymics. Patronymics work by using the father’s name as a root for creating a new name that means ‘Son-of-’ or ‘Daughter-of-’. A female example of this would be Hakonardottir, which can be translated as ‘Daughter of Hakon’.
Matronymics also existed in Viking societies, but its use was much rarer, given that Vikings had a patriarchal social system (i.e., a system in which the male is the head of the family).
Similar to what happened in other cultures from the Middle Ages, formally naming a child was an important incorporation rite within Viking society. Naming a newborn meant that the father had agreed to rear the child. Through this act of recognition, children, including girls, also acquired inheritance rights.
At the beginning of a naming ceremony, the child was laid down on the floor, in front of the father, done presumably so the progenitor could judge the baby’s physical condition.
Eventually, one of the attendants of the ceremony lifted the child and delivered it to her father’s arms. Soon after, the father proceeded to pronounce the words, “I own this baby for my daughter. She shall be called…”. At this point, the father would follow one of the naming traditions mentioned above to choose his daughter’s name.
During the ceremony, relatives and friends of the family also gave gifts to the baby. These gifts symbolized the joy produced by the arrival of a new member to the family’s clan.
List of Female Names from the Viking Age
Now that you know how Norsemen chose their daughter’s names, here is a list of female names, along with their meaning, used during the Viking Age:
- Áma: Eagle
- Anneli: Grace
- Åse: Goddess
- Astra: As beautiful as a god
- Astrid: Compound name that means beautiful and loved
- Bodil: Compound name that means both penance and fight
- Borghild: Battle fortification
- Brynhild: Protected by the shield
- Dahlia: Valley
- Eir: Mercy
- Elli: Old age personified
- Erica: Mighty ruler
- Estrid: Compound name that means god and beautiful
- Frida: Peaceful
- Gertrud: Spear
- Grid: Frost giantess
- Gro: To grow
- Gudrun: Compound name that means god and rune
- Gunhild: Fight
- Halla: Half protected
- Halldora: Half spirited
- Helga: Sacred
- Hilda: Fighter
- Inga: Guarded by Inge (one of the Norse deities of fertility and peace)
- Jord: Daughter of night
- Kelby: Farm near the spring
- Kelda: Fountain
- Liv: Full of life
- Randi: Shield
- Revna: Raven
- Roar: Warrior
- Sif: Wife
- Sigrid: Victorious horsewoman
- Thurid: Sompound name that means thunder and beautiful
- Tora: Relating to the god Thor
- Tove: Dove
- Ulfhild: Wolf or battle
- Urd: Past destiny
- Verdandi: Present destiny
As we can see, despite being notorious for their warlike behavior, when the time to name their baby girls came, Vikings had different naming conventions. Yes, these Norse people often used names associated with weapons and virtues highly regarded by warriors.
However, among Vikings, the cult of the dead (especially one’s relatives) was also very important, which is why newborns usually were named after a close ancestor.
Although being the daughter of a Viking didn’t necessarily imply that the baby was to receive a name (since Viking fathers usually abandon children with defects), once a girl was named, she immediately acquired inheritance rights.
This is a rather remarkable practice, considering that most societies denied women the right to own any goods during the Middle Ages.