Viking Age name and persona development

After making my post about Viking Age names in Iceland from a museum exhibit, I started thinking about names for a persona while I play in the SCA. I started collecting a few ideas on that page, but then it all became very long and off-topic from the original post, so I’ve moved that information over here now…

I’m going to consider most of this a work-in-progress, as I’m sure to change things as I learn more.

Persona background:

Family

  • Icelandic-born
  • Parents originally from Norway, who came to “Ísland” from Norway prior to 930 – when the ‘settlement age’ for Iceland ended, but after the intentional settlement by
    Ingólfur Arnarson & his wife Hallveig circa 870.
    (Source: “The age of settlement is considered to have ended in the year 930 with the establishment of Alþingi, when almost all land in the country had been claimed by settlers.” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Settlement_of_Iceland & http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ing%C3%B3lfr_Arnarson

    • (Starting point of parents coming to Iceland in 910, making the current year about 950)
  • Parents would have arrived on knörr,  a Viking cargo ship which would have held livestock, grains, tools, and other materials needed for intentional settlement. The voyage from Norway to Iceland would have taken one to two weeks by sea. (Source: http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/society/text/settlement_of_iceland.htm)

Locations & geography

  • Her own home is very close to Hvítárvellir, which is about 20 km from modern-day Borgarnes. In Viking Age Iceland, the  Egils saga says that Hvítárvellir “was an international market and trading center. Merchants beached their ships on the sandy beach and sold their wares on the open plain.”  I figure for the time being while I’m sorting out my persona more, this location would allow my persona to have either a farming or merchant primary occupation. (Source: http://www.williamrshort.com/icelanders/)  
  • Hvítárvellir is a manor farm now, with a long history of being the home of well-established and prestigious farms and “the home of men of influence”. The Iceland Road Guide says that Hvítárvellir has the best salmon fishing in the Borgarfjörður (Borgar Fjord). The guide explains that the area was especially good for the markets that were held there, as ships could be sailed very far upstream to reach the area.
  • I haven’t yet figured out if my persona is married or widowed (she probably wouldn’t be single at my age!) but if she is, I think I’ll establish that her husband’s family is from the Haukadalsós area, north of Hvítárvellir. Haukadalsós is mentioned in the Gísla saga, when Þorbjörn súrr & his family first arrived in Iceland. The saga tells that they sailed their ship up the Haukadalsós estuary, and as the tide receded, the ship rested on the sandy bottom, where the cargo could easily be unloaded. The area is in the western part of Iceland, near the modern town of Búðardalur. (Sources: http://www.williamrshort.com/icelanders/http://haukadalsa.is/contact
  • Alternately, I might consider that the persona’s husband’s family has a farm in Síðu, Located in southern Iceland, this area has a beautiful waterfall, and is in an area with a lot of rain and green cliffs. I haven’t yet found historical information about this area.
  • In Iceland of the time, coastal regions and inland valleys were fertile and suitable for farming that the Viking Age settlers were familiar with. There were (and still are!) extensive meadows where livestock graze freely during the season, and there were woodlands for buildings, fuel, and ship-building. There were bogs for turf houses and iron for smelting, and the island’s volcanic activity provided hot springs for washing, bathing, cooking and baking. The only native land animal was the arctic fox, so while there were few predators for livestock, though that meant that hunting was limited to birds, fish, and sea mammals. (Source: http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/society/text/settlement_of_iceland.htm
  • Initial settlers to Iceland “searched for ideal locations to establish “core” settlements that had all the resources they needed to establish a working farm during their first years. The looked for a site with wet, open meadowlands near the coast that produced the best fodder for the livestock and the best turf for buildings and which didn’t require clearing the land of trees. They looked for resources like bird colonies and fishing grounds for quick access to food, and for islands where livestock could be left to graze safely and multiply.” (Source: http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/society/text/settlement_of_iceland.htm
  • Women in Iceland would have settled either with their husbands, brothers, or sons. While the sisters would usually have been young and would later marry, the mothers who would come with their sons would often be older and widowed. There are also cases where Icelandic female settlers were listed separately from any male relatives. For instance the settlement record Landnámabók records two brothers and a sister each establishing farms in three different locations. “Hildir and Hallgeirr and their sister Ljot … went to Iceland and claimed their land between Fljotr and Ranga… Hildir lived in Hildisey… Hallgeirr lived in Hallgeirsey… and Ljot lived at Ljotarstadir”.  Other women became settlers by default as widows, “such as Thorgerdr, whose husband died at sea. She arrived in Iceland with her sons and claimed land in southern Iceland.” There is also a record of a woman who had been widowed in Norway, who took the initiative to emigrating to Iceland. This woman, Asgerdr Asksdottir brought with her her children and half-brother to Iceland, and when her half-brother claimed land, he did so “with her consent” suggesting that despite her gender, she was the decision-maker in the family. (Source: Women in the Viking Age, Page 82)

Volcanos and other geological impacts

  • Since the present year for my person is approximately 950 CE, this puts her well before the 1104 CE eruption of the volcano Helka, which resulted in the devastation of Þjórsárdalur.
  • The previous eruption of Helka was in 950 BCE.
  • However, my persona would have been alive for the eruption of Eldgjá in 934, a vent of the Katla volcano. This is somewhat close to my second choice for where her possible husband’s parents would be from. Another site lists this eruption at 954 CE instead. A third lists it as 939, which would also be part of my persona’s lifetime.
    • The impact of this eruption was noted as the “largest flood basalt in historic time”, with an extent of approximately 800 km2, with “18 km3 of magma (which) poured out of the earth”.
  • My persona may have been around for the eruption of Hveravellir, which is listed at 950 +/- 50 years. This is quite far from the areas where my persona lives.
    • Earth Magazine lists this eruption as well as the one at Eldgjá as two of the three largest eruptions in Iceland’s history along with the 1783 and 1784 Laki eruption. They write that all three registered at 6 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index. The Laki eruption which lasted 8 months resulted in crop failures and the deaths of sheep and fish.
  • The eruption of Ljósufjöll is listed at 960 +/- 10 years, so it might be just about to happen.  This is very close to where my persona’s parents live, and fairly close to where my persona lives.

Class & status

Although there were wealthy Icelanders; those with lots of resources and those with less, the sagas don’t suggest that initial settlers were from Norwegian nobility, and the archaeological evidence (remains of buildings and grave goods) attributed to wealthy settlers in early Iceland are more limited than the evidence attributed to nobility in Norway. (Source:Icelanders in the Viking Age: The People of the Sagas. Page 21)

While Norse society was divided into three social classes (Jarl – Earl or Lord, Karl – Farmer, and Þrall – Slave) according to the Norse mythological poem RigsÞula, Norse society was probably far more complex. While this may have been the broad vision for society in the Scandinavian homeland, the social structure in Iceland was flatter, with the highest class of “settlers no higher than petty aristocracy in Norway”.  Instead, the class system in Iceland seemed to come down to those who were free and those who were not. (Source:Icelanders in the Viking Age: The People of the Sagas. Page 32)

Religion/spirituality

  • Pagan, living alongside (reasonably peacefully) with Christians in an age before Iceland became officially Christian.
  • The local Chieftain (goði) is the area’s priest for the pagan religion, built the temple, and conducted rites.
  • Major gods in the Norse pantheon included Odin, Frigga his wife and goddess of the home, Thor the god of thunder who protects all from giants, Frey a god of prosperity and his sister Freya, a fertility goddess. Baldur, a god of light and joy, Hoder, Baldur’s blind twin, Hermod the messengery, Tyr the god of justice, and Bragi were other male gods, while Idun, Nanna, and Sif were other goddesses. Valkyries were warrior-maidens who served Odin as the choosers of the slain, who would take fallen warriors to Valhalla; these were named Svava and Brunhild amoungst others.  (Source: http://history-world.org/vikings.htm)
  • Scandinavian religion/mythology also has the Norns who distributed fate to mortals (Source: http://history-world.org/vikings.htm) along with trolls, giants, elves, and dwarves.  (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norse_mythology)

Education

According to http://history-world.org/vikings.htm, education for Viking Age Norse boys and girls was done in the home, by parents or visitors. Some children would have been sent to homes of wealthy relatives for their education as well. Both boys and girls learned to sing, recite and compose poetry, and to tell stories. Girls were also taught how to spin, weave, dye, sew, wash, and cook. While most boys were taught to read and cut runes, only some girls were taught this skill.

I don’t suppose my persona would have been taught this (though maybe some day she’ll learn 😉 )

Politics

The local Chieftain (goði) is not only the local priest, but also the local point of contact for the island’s government, and would attend the Althing once a year. “He physically surrounded himself with family, friends, and supporters who were prepared to offer armed assistance, should it be necessary in a dispute.” (Source: http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/society/text/settlement_of_iceland.htm)

The Althing took place for two weeks every June in Iceland, where the legislature made laws for the country as a whole, and the courts of the Althing would process disputes. The Althing was also used for forging friendships, selling goods, and sizing up potential marriage prospects. (Source: http://www.viking.ucla.edu/publications/articles/feuding_viking_age_iceland_byock_vengeance.pdf)  The Althing is established in 930 at Þingvellir (Thingvellir) (Source: http://www.icelandontheweb.com/articles-on-iceland/history/facts/

According to Feuding in Viking Age Iceland’s Great Village Despite Iceland’s large size (two thirds the size of England and Scotland combined) the petty kingdoms that developed in the rest of Viking Age Scandinavia didn’t, instead the Icelandic settlers seemed to develop bonding networks that provided stabilization, unifying the island into a large, flexible community. Although the country was divided into administrative quarters (North, South, East and West) and the significant geological divisions between different areas,  no regional dialects of the Icelandic language developed. The author suggests that this lack of division in language is evidence of the ‘whole island’ community.

This mentality is what is driving my thoughts that while my persona might be from one place on the island, her parents (and possible husband’s family) could be living somewhere else.

Persona worksheet

I haven’t used it yet (honestly I start scrolling and it all gets overwhelming) but an acquaintance of mine posted a persona worksheet here: http://wiki.antir.sca.org/index.php?title=Persona_Worksheet  for use in developing a persona and ‘fleshing it out’ so to speak.

Some naming links:

  1. Medieval Naming Guide: Scandinavia
  2. Simple Guide to old Norse Names
  3. Old Norse Names: SCA guidebook
  4. Viking Answer Lady: Names
  5. Viking Answer Lady: Class presentation
  6. SCA Heraldry Chat (Facebook group)
  7. Place-Names in Landnámabók (Incomplete)
  8. Viking Bynames found in the Landnámabók
  9. Collected Precedents of the S.C.A.: Norse and Scandinavian
  10. Old Norse Nicknames
  11. Old Norse Bynames

 Potential Bynames

I figured that I’d collect bynames that I liked, since I don’t really want to do a __dottir Patronymic or Matronymic. I’ll mark the source with a number that relates to the sources above.

In reading Viking Bynames found in the Landnámabók I learned that there were two forms of bynames. One followed the given name just like our modern givenname familyname format. Then there was a second form where the byname is prefixed to the given name to form a compound name.

“For example, kráka ‘crow’ would follow the given name, e.g. Þorsteinn kráka ‘Þorsteinn the crow,’ while Kráku- ‘crow’ is a prefix, e.g. Kráku-Þorsteinn ‘Crow-Þorsteinn.’ Bynames that are prefixed to the given name are identified in the lists in two ways.” – Viking Bynames found in the Landnámabók

The list has names like Skáld-, Dala-, and Hvamm- which are used in the second style, and the list includes these kind of names identified by being capitalized and ending in a dash. Bynames that follow the given name aren’t dashed or capitalized, which is “usual in Norse naming”.

Viking Bynames found in the Landnámabók also indicates that while most bynames could be used by either a man or a woman, some of them take different forms for one or the other. The female version of the byname uses the article “in” rather than “inn” and will generally end in an “a” rather than an “i”. The list also has a specific list of bynames specifically for women, but none of them really appealed to me.

The Viking Answer Lady discusses “inn”/”in” as  “After the definite article (inn or in) weak adjectives are used, although they can also appear without the article. Strong adjectives do not appear with the definite article.” She offers the following table as an example of how this was used:

Weak Masculine Adjective Byname Weak Feminine Adjective Byname Strong Masculine Strong Feminine
 inn hvíti  in hvíta  hvítr  hvít
 inn spaki  in spaka  spakr  spök
 inn gamli  in gamla  gamall  gömull
 inn óþvegni  in óþvegna  óþveginn  óþvegin
 inn vísi  in visa  víss  vís

Not knowing the language though, I can’t see any possibility of being able to translate anything from what I might read into a different form, so I’ll probably have to just go with existing sources.

þ is the letter “thorn,” pronounced like the \th\ in thorn. ð is the letter edh pronounced like the \th\ in this.

Descriptive bynames

byname meaning feminine version source # 
 inn grái  gray  in grá ?  8
 máni  moon  mána ?  8
 inn glaði  glad, happy in glaða  8
 gufa smoke, steam  gufa 8
gylðir howler, wolf  gylðir  8
inn hárfagri fair-hair inn hárfagra  8
hryggr  afflicted, sad, grieved  hryggr 8
inn trausti trustworthy  in trausta  8
ormstunga serpent-tongue  ormstunga  8
refr fox  refr  8
Spak- Wise-, Gentle-  Spak- 8
stikublígr yardstick-gaze  stikublígr 8
 inn væni promising, hopeful, fair in  væna 8
kettlingr kitten  kettlingr  5

 Locative Bynames

Along with bynames that are descriptive, there are also bynames that refer to a location; either the name of a place, or the description of a place. This appeals to me a LOT more….

The Viking Answer Lady indicates that locative bynames were the second most common types of bynames, after patronymics, but would only be used if a person lived somewhere other than the location in the byname. She gives the examples in bareyeska (“woman from the Hebrides”), in flamska (“woman from Flanders”), á Englandi (“from England”), and í Jórvík (“of York”) as some examples.

She also gives a few examples of locative bynames that seem to be used to describe where a person is currently from, such as Hallr af Síðu (Hallr of Síðu), konungr at Dyflinni (king of Dublin) and a number of geographically-based bynames.

The geographically-based bynames that I really like from the Viking Answer Lady include:

  • at hálsi (a hill)
  • at á (river)
  • at bægisá (river)
  • at fossi (a waterfall)
  • at lækjamoti (waters-meeting)

The last one is my favourite (as it matches both the region where I’m thinking my persona will come from, and the first letter matches the first letter of my mundane last name). The only place I’ve found it thus far is Viking Answer Lady, though there might be some similarity in the Place-Names in Landnámabók (Incomplete). (http://my.stratos.net/~bmscott/Landnamabok_Place-Names.html)

Landamót, Þing.
From OIc. land ‘land (as opposed to sea); a country’, genitive plural landa, and mót ‘a meeting; a town-meeting; a joint, a juncture’. It has the last sense inármót ‘a meeting of waters’ (from á ‘a river’, genitive ár), and the local topography suggests that the name may refer to the meeting of two usable valleys separated by barren hills.”

No related byname has yet been added to this work-in-progress document, referencing old Icelandic (OIc)

 I also found the byname 3 times in a Danish regatta participant listing – listing current individuals. (Example: Garmur fra lækjamoti) “fra” is period-correct as ‘from’, where as I hope that “at” means ‘currently at’.

Given names

So finally the given name… Once again like bynames, there are two different styles of given names; single names and compound names. Like the modern Mary, Anne, and Mary-anne the Viking Answer Lady gives the examples of Auðr, Bera, Drífa, and Finna as example female single element given names, and the compound given names Ragnhildr (Reginn+Hildr), Álfdís (Alf+Dís),  and Halldóra (Halla+Þórr)

She goes on to explain that children were most commonly named after a deceased relative, or in some cases a variation on a parent’s name.

 Male name  Original source  Female variation  Possible meaning  Source #
Drafli  Heimskringla Drífa “May be related to the Old Icelandic dríf, meaning “driven snow”. ” (#4)  3
Jólgeirr Landnámabók Jólinn (#4) doesn’t offer female description, for the male version it offers “”sea-urchin,” but nevertheless probably has an original sense of “hedgehog.””  3
Liðr Christian origin Lína “Christian name. This name appears in Landnámabók for Lína, daughter of Þórleif Þórðardóttir”  (#4)  3
Valdi Landnámabók Valdís
(diminutive Dísa)
“The first element Val- is of uncertain origin. It may come from Primitive Germanic *walha-, meaning “Celtic, Welsh, foreign” or Primitive Germanic *wala-, Old Icelandic valr “the dead on a battlefield” as found in the word valkyrja.” “The second element -dís is identical with the Old Icelandic dís, “goddess, priestess, female guardian spirit.”” (#4) 3
Ljótólfr  Landnámabók Ljót “May derive from Old Icelandic *ljótr, “giving light” but may instead be related to Old Icelandic ljótr, “ugly”. This name is often used in the sagas for an old, hag-like woman who is usually depicted as a seið-kona or witch.” (#4)  3
Finnbjörn Landnámabók Finna “-finna is the feminine of Old Icelandic finnr, which means “Saami, Laplander.” The word is often mistranslated as “a person from Finland, a Finn”, and often is used to mean “sorcerer, magician, practicioner of seiðr, since the Saami were believed to be mighty magicians. ” (#4)  3
Karli   Landnámabók Katla “-katla is a feminine form of the masculine second element -ketill or -kell, from OW.Norse ketill, originally “kettle” but meaning also “helmet” or “chieftain with helmet.” ” (#4)  3
 Þorgrímr Landnámabók Þorgríma
(diminutive Þora)
Þór- is identical to the Old Icelandic Þórr, the god of thunder. ” “Grím- is related to Old Icelandic gríma, “mask”, and may refer to a helm which masks the face, alsoGrímr was one of the names of the god Óðinn.” (#4)
Þórálfr Landnámabók  Þórdís
(diminutive Þora and Dísa)
Þór- is identical to the Old Icelandic Þórr, the god of thunder. ” The second element -dís is identical with the Old Icelandic dís, “goddess, priestess, female guardian spirit.”” (#4)
Þróttólfr Heimskringla Þyri “Primitive Scandinavian wig, “battle”.” (#4)

Diminutives

The Viking Answer Lady also has a list of diminutives, which probably in time became given names. The examples she gives include:

“Sigga from Sigríðr; Gunna from Guðrún; Inga from Ingunu; Imba from Ingibjorg; Gudda from Guðríðr; Manga from Margrot; Valka from Valgerðr; Ranka from Ragneiðr and Ragnhildr; Jóka from Johanna; Tobba from Þórbjörg; Sissa from Sigþrúðr; Kata (Engl. Kate) from Katrín; Kitta from Kristin; Asta from Ástríðr; þura from Þuríðr; Dura from Halldóra, etc.; Disa from Valdís, Vigdís, Herdís, etc.; Geira from Geirlaug; Fríða from Names in Frið- or -fríðr, etc.; Þrúða from Jarþrúðr, Sigþrúðr; Lauga from Guðlaug; Asa from Aslaug. ”

The ones I like include:

Jóka from Johanna – if I can find a second confirmation of the name, though I like the diminutive more than the name itself.
Disa from Valdís, Vigdís, Herdís, etc.
Lauga from Guðlaug

Noteably, all of the diminutives reference elements of my mundane names…

And now I wait….

  • On March 2nd, I contacted the SCA Heraldry Chat on Facebook, and asked them for a conflict and style check on Drífa at lækjamoti …. they approved it for style.
  • Then on March 4th I went to the Avacal Heraldic Community on Facebook to get a conflict check. It passed the conflict check there too…
  • March 4 I filled out the form and emailed it for a request for any assistance I might need to the submission herald & deputy submission herald listed on the Avacal Heraldry website. Her response was positive, and on March 6th I mailed in my form – so now I wait to see if it passes and I can register the name or not.
  • March 24 I saw that my name (and device… more about that later) was up on OSCAR for commentary (for members of the college of Heralds) so it’s proceeding…

I buried the lead there a little bit… in case you missed it, the name I’m working with is:

Drífa at lækjamoti

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