Place Name Etymology: Common Elements in Danish Place Names

Place names found in the historic Denmark, as well as throughout Scandinavia, are different from other place names in most respects. Most of these place names are very old, and the River Ejder forms a natural and historical boundary between the Old Norse settlements and settlements of Keltic, German, Wendic, Frankish and Slavic origin further south. A few common Germanic place names can be found in the endings -ing, -sted(t) and -bĂŚk (-bek, -bech etc.) but these are exceptions.

Etymology of place names

It is important to be cautious when trying to interpret a place name to find its origin and derivation. Most place names, for example Ravnstrup (meaning "Raven''s Thorp"), are easy to interpret correctly, whereas other place names have lost their original meaning due to forgotten personal names, changes in spelling or due to a weakening of the root word. Some of these are, for example, Holtug in PrÌstø County, which derives from ''HolthøiÌ'', and Horsens in Skanderborg County, which derives from ''Hors NÌs''. Furthermore, many ancient Danish place names in Schleswig have been substantially altered through Germanization of the area, but this is a completely different story. Local historical knowledge is therefore essential if the etymology of such names is to be interpreted correctly.

Affixes and root words

Despite the differences in origin and derivation from one country to another, the prominent parts of place names are usually in two syllables; an affix and a root word. The affixes are usually a personal name, a feature in the landscape or a nature name. Some of the many different root words and their meaning are listed below:

Meaning: field.
Examples: Broager, Ansager, Hvilsager.
Description: Derives from Old Nordic ''akr'', and originally meaning pasture/grazing ground. English: acre.
Meaning: hill, rise.
Examples: Engbak, RĂŚvbakke, Truesbak.
Meaning: -
Examples: Bredballe, Hesselballe, Lindeballe.
Description: Derives from Old Danish ''balgh'', and means evenly rising terrain.
Meaning: mountain.
Examples: Esbjerg, Frederiksberg, Lindbjerg.
Description: In Denmark and other flat areas it refers to a rise or a hill.
Meaning: (small) property, land.
Examples: Bangsbo, Nøddebo, Asserbo.
Description: -bo derives from old Danish ''bĂľth'', meaning booth. Not to be confused with -bo, -boe in regional surnames.
Meaning: a fortified place.
Examples: Nyborg, Ravnsborg, Petersborg.
Description: Derives from Old Danish ''burgh''. Such place names indicate that the settlement grew around a fortress or a castle. The same element is also found in Edinburgh and Luxembourg.
Meaning: bridge.
Examples: RødkÌrsbro, Stokkebro, Høgsbro.
Meaning: settlement, village (or farmstead).
Examples: Tornby, Vejlby, Holeby.
Description: In Denmark -by refers to larger villages or settlements, and only in rare cases single farmsteads.
Meaning: stream or brook.
Examples: HolbĂŚk, KarresbĂŚk, AgerbĂŚk.
Meaning: home, residence (farmstead).
Examples: Assenbølle, Rudbøl, Dybbøl.
Description: -bøl derives from old Danish ''bøli'', meaning a farmstead of a free peasant. -bølle seems to derive from a side form ''bølik'', meaning home or residence.
Meaning: valley, low-lying area.
Examples: Humledal, Tovdal, Langdal.
Description: In Denmark and other flat areas it refers to a low-lying area.Alternative spelling in old place names is -dahl.
Meaning: meadow.
Examples: Røreng, Østerenge, Broenge.
Meaning: cleared area.
Examples: Grønfelt, Horsfelt, Rosenfeldt.
Description: Direct translation is field, but in place names it means a cleared area; an area where trees have been cleared in order to grow crops etc.
Meaning: harbour.
Examples: København, Frederikshavn, Godhavn.
Description: A city, town or village which grew around a port. -hafn is an older variation of the spelling.
Meaning: home.
Examples: Gudhjem, Solhjem, Fredenshjem.
Description: Derives from Old Norse ''heimr'', meaning home.
Meaning: islet.
Examples: Bremerholm, Engholm, Langholm.
Description: Area, both small islands and peninsulas, surounded by wetlands, lakes or streams.
Meaning: (small) forest.
Examples: Mølholt, Fasterholt, Grønholt.
Description: This root word is also found in a weakened form in the place names Høvelte and Saunte.
Meaning: house, home.
Examples: Bakhus, Koldinghus, Blokhus.
Description: Direct translation is house, but it sometimes refer to a castle, e.g. Hammershus, Koldinghus and Skanderborghus.
Meaning: hill.
Examples: Tinghøj, Stabelhøje, Vejrhøj.
Meaning: farmstead(s).
Examples: Overgaard, Ålsgaarde, Westergaard.
Description: -gaarde refers to a group of farms from which a village grew.
Meaning: settlement.
Examples: Auning, Vinding, Bellinge.
Description: Derives from Old Danish ''ingi''. Such names refer to settlements named after the nature or personal names. -ing is mostly used in Jutland,and -inge on the islands.
You are here: Home Research Guides Place Names in Denmark Place Name Etymology: Common Elements in Danish Place Names