Viking Place Names

Viking Place Names

Scandinavian settlers settled extensively in the north and east of England towards the end of the C9th. Those on the east coast were primarily Danes. There were those of Scandinavian origin on the north west coast. They had come over from Ireland where they had been settled for about a century. These were of Norwegian origin but brought with them a language heavily influenced by the Irish.


The Scandinavians did not have such a large impact on Britain as the Anglo-Saxons had done. Put simply, they were not here long enough to make a real mark and many place names that it can be assumed they introduced have been lost to others. The names that did/do exist were restricted to areas under ‘Danelaw’ – which was the area to the north and east of Watling Street. Place names that have a clear Scandinavian origin can be found in the old East and North Ridings of Yorkshire, the Lake District, Cheshire, the East Midlands and east Anglia.


The most common termination used in Scandinavian place names was ‘-by’, which referred to a village. The Scandinavians frequently just tacked on ‘by’ to a village that already had a place name. Therefore, it is not unusual to have a combination of Old English with a Scandinavian termination. Utterby is Lincolnshire is one such place. The ‘by’ stands for village. The ‘utter’ comes from the Old English ‘uttera’, which stands for remote. Therefore to the Vikings this was ‘the remote village’. Selby means ‘the village with willows’, Linby means ‘the village with lime trees and Thrimby ‘thorn-bush village’.


The first part of a place names was descriptive of something in that village. ‘Kirk’ is a reference to a church, so Kirkby means ‘a village with a church’ – a common enough village name in areas under Danelaw. A village with a cross in it would be called ‘Crosby’.


Areas where one man was more important that others also exist. Oadby in Leicestershire would refer to Oad’s village. Grimsby refers to Grim’s village – Grim being a common Scandinavian name.


Other names refer to a person who lived in a village – Prestby referred to priest who lived in that village.


The Scandinavians also differentiated between other people in area where they lived. Ingleby referred to ‘the village of the English’ while Normanby referred to ‘the Norwegians village’.


The Scandinavians also used ‘thorp’ in their place names. Thorpe meant a ‘secondary village’ or a village of lesser importance when compared to another nearby village. It was usually used with the name of the larger nearby village. Scotton Thorpe (in the old West Riding in Yorkshire) would have meant the small settlement near Scotton. Directions were also used with thorpe so that Westhorpe referred to the smaller settlement to the west of the larger one. Thorpe was also used in other ways that are self-explanatory – Newthorpe, Woodthorpe and Bishopthorpe are good examples of these.


Names, nicknames and titles could also prefix ‘thorpe’ as in Countesthorpe and Bromkinsthorpe (one with brown skin in the lesser village). The Normans continued with this particular practice after 1066.


The Scandinavians also used ‘thwaite’ with a degree of frequency. It meant ‘clearing in a forest, meadow or paddock’. This was usually preceded with either a reference to the size of the field/area it was in (Langthwaite means ‘long clearing’ while Smaithwaite means ‘small clearing’) or the nearness of certain types of trees such as Applethwaite and Thornthwaite. Some had rather more obscure meanings such as Linethwaite, which means ‘flax clearing’.


In some cases, Scandinavian names have been mixed with other meanings – though Old English is the most common. Scandinavian Christian names have been used in conjunction with ‘tun’ (or ‘ton’) so that Thurmaston means the farm/village/homestead of Thormond – Scandinavian name with an Old English termination.


The Vikings also used social titles to make place names. Jarl (nobleman), hold (yeoman) and dreng (free tenant) can all be found in place names – Yarlside means ‘a jarl’s mountain pasture’ while Drinhoe in Yorkshire means ‘a free tenant’s mound’.


The Scandinavians who settled in Ireland and then colonised the northwest of England brought with them a language that was heavily influenced by Irish. Therefore, a number of northwest place names have a clear Irish influence. This is true of Mosser in Cumbria, which means ‘near a mossy bog’ while Stephney means’ stout poles’. Whereas on the east coast a name came as a prefix, on the northwest coast it was used as a termination. Kirkandrews (‘the church of Andrew’ almost certainly would have been Andrewskirk on the east coast. Kirkoswald (‘church by the wood’) may well have been Waldokirk

MLA Citation/Reference

"Viking Place Names". 2014. Web.

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