16 Jun 2011

Common place-name elements of Old Norse origin in the Northern Isles

Posted by AndrewJ

Common place-name elements of Old Norse origin

Modern form ON form Translation Special dialect meaning
a, ay ey island


eyrr gravel(ly beach)
back bakki slope; river bank
ben bœr,býr def. farm
ber(ry) berg rock(y precipice)
bie bœr,býr farm
bister bólstaðr farm, dwelling place
breck(an) brekka slope untilled land
brett- brattr steep
broo brú bridge
Bu(ll) estate hall, head house
by bœr,býr farm
chun tjörn small lake


klettr isolated rock (or hill)


krú def. small enclosure (ON < Gael)
cuppin, cuppo koppr/cup cup; hollow
dale dalr valley
dees, dith? gutter
dish(an) dýs tumulus
fea fjall mountain, hill
fin(ya) fen mire
fiold, fea fjall mountain, hill
firth fjörðr firth, fjord
fisk fiskr fish
flaa, flaw flá flat area; hillside “shelf”; strip of land
fors, furs fors stream, waterfall
gar, garth garðr farm
gate gata road
geo gjá ravine narrow inlet
geyro geiri gore patch of grass in heather
gil, gill gil ravine, narrow gully
grand(on) grandi sand/pebbles near water
grind grind gate
haan, hayon? hagi def. enclosure for cattle
hammar(s) hamarr precipice
hamn-, ham höfn harbour
hellia, hellya hella flat rock, slab
hope hópr narrow bay
holl, hall hóll rounded hill
holm holmr islet
house hús/house ON/Sc house
howe, hewin haugr mound
iron eyrrin def. gravel(ly beach)
kild(a) kelda well
land land ON/Sc land
lee(an) hlið (long) slope, hillside
ler leirr, leira clay
ling lyng heather


lón wet meadow, marsh (ON < Gael)
lyde leið road, track
lyron leirr, leira def. clay


mýrr/myre ON/Sc mire, swampy moorland
mo mór dry, sandy land. Merges with Sc muir?
ness ness headland
oo, woo á burn
orquil árkvísl burn fork
ouse, oyce óss mouth of burn mouth of a lagoon
pap- papi priest, cleric
queean kví def. enclosure farm/house
quoy kví enclosure farm/house
scarth skarð gap in a hill-ridge
setter setr (sætr) seat, farm
shun tjörn small lake
skaill skáli hall, building

staðir place, farm
stack stakkr stack, used of hills or rocks
sten stein stone
ston staðir place, farm
strom straumr current
swart svartr black
toft toft house site
taing tangi point of land
tit toft house site
toomal, tumult tunvöllr local compound privately-owned area next to the houses
toft toft house site
toor, tooin þúfa small mound; tuft of grass
town, tun tun/town enclosed area; area between houses basic agricultural unit
voe, wall, walls vágr bay, inlet
wade(s) vað(ill) ford
wall, vill völlr grassland
ward, wart varða beacon
wick vík bay

Notes on grammar: In Scandinavian languages the definite articles are attached to the end of the words. The Old Norse articles were -inn for masculine words and -in, -an for feminine words, e.g. garðrgarðrinn (masc.), brekkabrekkan (fem.). This accounts for the n-endings of names such as Gorn and Breckan. The definite article of neuter words is -it, e.g. hús – húsit, but definite forms of neuter words appear to be extremely rare in names.

Courtesy of Dr Berit Sandnes.


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