Place Name Etymology Common Elements in Danish Place Names - Place Names in Denmark -



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.

Root words continued...

Meaning: monestary.
Examples: Løgumkloster, Egensekloster, Gudumkloster.
Description: Usually settlements founded around monestaries. The affix usually indicates a local place name, and not a personal name.
Meaning: Market Town.
Examples: Rudkøbing, Nykøbing, Ærøskøbing.
Description: Only used for a few Market Towns.
Meaning: property, inheritance.
Examples: Haderslev, Sejerslev, Branderslev.
Description: Derives from Old Danish ''-lef'', which again derives from Old Germanic ''liban''. The original meaning is ''the remainder'' or ''what''s left''. Nearly all of the prefixes derives from personal names; the name of the person who owned the village.
Date: These settlements dates back to the 3rd - 6th century.
Meaning: headland, promontory, ness.
Examples: AsnĂŚs, RosnĂŚs, HelgenĂŚs.
Meaning: small forest.
Examples: Kelleris, Skerris, Egeris.
Description: This meaning only refer to place names. Alternative spelling in old place names is -riis.
Meaning: place, lot.
Examples: Esrum, Virum, Farum.
Description: In case of more corrupted place names, these are often difficult to seperate from place names ending with -um (See -um).
Meaning: outlying/new settlement.
Examples: Svenstrup, Marientorp, Bønnerup.
Description: These so-called ''thorp'' settlements where founded as a outlying settlement or new secondary settlement from a overpopulated village. The affix usually refer to the name of the first owner(s) or founder(s), but can also refer to an appellative.
Date: These settlements dates back to the 10th - 12th century.
Meaning: clearing in a wood.
Examples: Skovsrod, Ubberud, Blovstrød.
Description: From Old Danish ''ruth'' and Old Norse ''ruĂ°'' which points to a wooded area which had to be cleared of trees before settling, or to a natural clearing. The naming tradition derives from the woodlands in North Zealand, and from there it spead to other localities.
Meaning: forest, wood.
Examples: Agerskov, Antvorskov, Lejrskov.
Description: Alternative spelling in old place names is -schou.
Meaning: place.
Examples: Sigersted, Grindsted, Ensted.
Meaning: lake.
Examples: Vedersø, Agersø, Baadsø.
Meaning: a single farmstead.
Examples: Engestofte, Gentofte, Assentoft.
Description: Originally a single farmstead, which over time grew to a village or town.
Meaning: settlement or farmstead/village.
Examples: Engum, Husum, Aulum.
Description: -um comes from Old Norse ''heimr'', the same element as in ''hjem''/''home''. Sometimes weakened to -m (as in Gram). This suffix is found throuhout the germanic areas, but in Scandinavia the it never refer to a personal name.
Date: These settlements dates back to the 3rd - 6th century.
Meaning: ford.
Examples: Mulvad, Raadvad, Stenvad.
Description: Derives from Old Danish: ''vaĂ°''. Such place names indicate a village located near the place where a river or stream could be crossed. -wad is another old variation of the spelling.
Meaning: field.
Examples: Østervang, Toftevang, NyvÌnge.
Description: Usually derives from the fields, in which the common land of the village where devided. Also found with the meaning ''plain where meetings are held''.
Meaning: forest, wood.
Examples: Sundeved, Egtved, NĂŚstved.
Description: Derived from Old Danish ''-with''. This root word is also found in a weakened form in the place names with the endings -et, -it, -ede etc. Usually near larger woodland areas.
Meaning: ford.
Examples: Faarevejle, Ørevejle, Vejle.
Description: Derives from Old Danish ''wĂŚthil'' a side form to Old Norse ''vaĂ°ill''. Such place names indicate a village located near the place where a river or stream could be crossed. -weil or -weile are other old variations of the spelling.
Meaning: creek or bay.
Examples: Rørvig, Dybvig, Kragevig.
Description: Alternative spelling in old place names are -wig or -wick, the same element which are found in ''Viking''.

Other common root words are -mark, -hede, -mose, -tang, -lund, -løkke, -øre, -ü, -üs, -kÌr, -feld(t), -strand, -kilde, -ø etc.

A few numbers and facts...

  • 500,000

    ...Danes emigrated up to 1968, and of these about 70% departed for the USA. In the 1800's alone a vast majority of 90% went to the USA. Read more...

  • 261,065

    This many individuals, comprising of 4.6 percent of all Danes, carries the surname JENSEN followed by NIELSEN, HANSEN, PEDERSEN and ANDERSEN. Read more...

  • 1,000

    Of the 5,000 basic words in modern English, as many as 20 percent are so-called loan words from the Old Norse language (ON). Read more...

  • 1769

    This year the first Danish census was taken. The next censuses were taken in 1787 and 1801 and from 1834 onwards every 5-10 years. Read more...

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