Heathen and mythological elements in Scandinavian place-names

(Written: 1999; minor update: 8 October 2011)


Font Colour Key:

blue = current Modern Scandinavian place-names and their elements;

dark red = first recorded or earlier spellings of Scandinavian place-names;
green = names or words in OE, ON, OHG or cognate languages;

purple = Modern Scandinavian, German, Dutch or English words.



ODan. = Old Danish; OE = Old English; OHG = Old High German; ON = Old Norse; OSwed. = Old Swedish; PN = Proto-Norse; WN = Old West Norse.

*Note: this article is as expansive and detailed as possible pending access to the multi-volume reference works such as Norske Gaardnavne, Danmarks Stednavne and Sveriges Ortnamn



*Note: This article is only intended to be a general survey of many of the more prominent place-names containing theophoric or supranormal elements, and is intended to spur the interested lay reader to further research. It is in no way intended to be comprehensive or represent the latest scholarship on the subject.

Heathen place-names and Scandinavia


As the old gods and heathen cults lasted longest in Scandinavia, and especially in Sweden (well into the 1100s) we would expect to find most evidence of heathen-derived names in this part of the world. And this is in fact the case. Most Scandinavian theophoric place-names (those involving a god-name) have the name of the god as the first element, and most commonly have the name for a farm (often ON or OSwed. tuna) as a second. We know that any toponyms bearing indisputable heathen elements are not likely to be younger than 900-1000 AD, and depending upon the elements with which the names are compounded, are able to supply onomasticians with valuable pointers for dating settlements and the place-name elements which form their names.

Theophoric place-names are often formed with the names of gods are associated with fertility, good hunting, fishing, fair weather and growth (especially Frey and Thor, but also Freya, Ull and Njörd) and some names imply that the divinity was thought to be resident in the land (althought not exclusively of course). Alternatively a man may have dedicated his land to a god, and in return get good crop yields. He had the additional option of blaming the god if the crops failed, and hence could to some degree avoid responsibility. Natural features (rather than man-made ones) are also commonly compounded with theophoric names: woodland, stony outcrop, hill, island, headland and lake to name some more common examples (headlands, according to J. A. Huisman, were often believed to be haunted by spirits (therefore a type of hill-cult) and most holy capes were later had a heathen shrine or monastery built on them). Especially common with regard to outdoor cult practices are: lundr “grove” and hörgr “stony outcrop” (cf. OE hearg). Rites were probably also conducted in the larger woods and forests, and as Danish historian Johannes Steenstrup points out, so with the lundmaaske er det samme Tilfældet ved den større Skov, With…” (p.17), although certain theophoric place-names combining -ved (ODan. with) are much less common. Early Christian legal codes from Norway and Sweden reinforce the view of widespread outdoor worship by expressly prohibiting the execution of ritual ceremonies on mounds, in groves and woods, by stones and in sanctuaries.

Later Christian interference means that many names of the *Þórsberg type that refer to a specific deity or are clearly heathen, may have been replaced by the less obviously heathen *Helgaberg type. Nevertheless, place-names provide us with a more reliable picture of the old faith as it was practised among the people than the learned ON literary sources of several centuries later (written by Christian historians). Christianity did not suceed in erasing the legacy of the heathen past from place-names as it did rather more effectively from the general lexicon, folk beliefs and customs. Many theophoric place-names point to the relationship between a former heathen cult-stead and present Christian parish. These names indicate a continuity of belief. The farm or homestead used as a heathen shrine often became the local or regional centre, despite the later change in religion. In many cases a heathen place of worship must have given way to a Christian one, probably built on the same spot or near to where the heathen site had originally been.

Regarding the veneration of particular gods in particular countries, the approximate trends within Scandinavia break down like this:

Odin : Huisman’s observation

Wodan, de leidende figuur in het Germaanse pantheon, heeft ook vooral in Skandinavië veel toponymische sporen nagelaten…” (p.12)

is correct in stating that of Germanic place-names, Odin seems to have been best commemorated in the Scandinavian lands. He seems to have been especially popular in Denmark and many names survive, the best-known being Odense (Fyn). But as we go north, and west in particular, Odin soon becomes less visible. In Sweden he is not uncommon, appearing in compounds with -åker “field” and -lunda “grove” which are especially associated with him in that country. However, Odin never occurs with the element -tuna “farmstead” (of a special kind) and this suggests the cult of this god was late in coming to Sweden. In Norway, Odin is very rare and in Iceland and the Faroes he is never found, possibly because Thor was popular in these places and Odin was more the god of aristocrats, which didn't generally apply to these colonies. Exceptions noted, Odin-names in Scandinavia, spread out as they are, tend to suggest that he was both chief-god (although not necessarily the most popular) and battle-god and had a general cult across the mainland nations before Christianity was introduced. The distribution of names in Óðinn has led some to speculate that his cult spread from the south from the period c.200-400 AD onwards and he was little known before the Viking Age. His apparent rather late arrival in Sweden and Norway and inability to reach Iceland at all tends to support this view, although it can be dangerous to draw sweeping conclusions like this from place-name evidence alone. In general, the evidence of place-names suggests that Odin, although nominally chief of the gods, was overshadowed by Thor - the god of the common man - in most parts of heathen Scandinavia. Huisman’s claim of the Odin place-names that they “…echter zal een groot deel op theofore mansnamen teruggaan” (p.12) hardly seems likely, since personal names in Odin- have never been very popular.

Tyr : the old Germanic god of war (Old Norse Týr, Old English Tîw) occurs in Denmark in place-names compounded with ved “wood” and lund “grove”. He is little mentioned in Icelandic literature, is not recorded in place-names there, and aside from one place in western Norway, Tyr is absent from Norway and Sweden, which suggests he had a small cult following and he was early on the decline as a cult figure. In Denmark he clearly had a greater role as a venerated deity.

Thor : is very widespread as a first or second compounding element across the whole of Scandinavia, but seems especially popular in the west. Proto-Norse *ÞunraR was originally not a personal being but thunder, or the impersonal power which brought it. In Denmark, he appears compounded with -ager and -lund, the former probably coming to mean “cultivated land”. He appears in Sweden commonly, being compounded with -tuna and -åker (there are 5 examples of Torsåker in Sweden). As in Denmark it seems he had an agrarian role there. In Norway the name is also a common element, however it is only once compounded with -åker, which suggests that Þór was not an agrarian god there. This compound is only notable in Eastern Scandinavia (Denmark and Sweden), where Thor became a ferility god. In Iceland there are 18 examples of Þór, 5 of which end in -nes “headland” and 5 in -höfn “harbour”. The remainder describe natural features. Tórshavn is the capaital of the Faroes but there seems to be only one other theophoric place-name in this island group. The place-names from *Þórsberg, like the German Donnersberg, suggest Thor was worshipped on hills and rocks.

Ull : god of hunting and skiing, is given prominence to in Norway (especially the south) and Sweden (especially central Sweden), where he is very popular. In Sweden his name is most often associated with sanctuaries and spots of public worship such as -vi, -hör (etc. – from hargher), -lund and -åker (also appearing with -tuna), while in Norway he tends to be associated with meadows and pastures, e.g. -eng, -land, -vin and -tveit. Ull is very rare or non-existent in Denmark. Place-names suggest that the cult of Ull and *Ullinn was once very popular, especially in eastern and central Sweden.

Frey and Freya : are also widespread across Scandinavia. In some parts of Sweden the former had a huge public cult status, as is known from the rites that occured at the great temple at Uppsala. In Sweden he appears compounded with elements such as -tuna among others. In Denmark, Frey is found occasionally in such names as Frøs Herred (Sønderjylland) “Frey's county “. In Iceland he appears twice, in Freysnes “Frey's headland”, and once in Freyshólar “Frey's hill”. In general, male deities appear much more often than female ones and Freya is the only goddess who shows up with any kind of frequency.

Njörd : the old god of the sea (Old Norse Njörðr), is also a common name involved in compounds, especially with words denoting island. He is common in eastern Sweden and along the west coast of Norway and was worshipped widely in these countries. In Sweden he occurs with -ö “island” and -tuna “farmstead”, among others. In Norway and in Iceland he appears in ON *Njarð(ar)vík “Njörd's inlet” four times and twice respectively. In Denmark he is rather less common but can be found in Nærum (earlier Niarðar-rum) “Njörd's site”.

Finally, Balder is sporadic everywhere, but Heimdall is very rare. Place-names reveal little about the nature of the cult of Balder except that he was associated with hills and rocks and perhaps with fertility (see Bollesager in Denmark). Frigg is very rare in Scandinavian place-names, despite her important position as Odin’s wife in Norse mythology, and most of the alleged instances of her name are doubtful.

In summary: Thor, popular everywhere, was more popular in western Scandinavia, although he was never seen as an agrarian god. He seems to have been more the god for the common working man, or the traveller. Odin was popular in Denmark and Sweden but not in western Scandinavia. He seems to have been the god of poets, warriors and aristocrats. Frey, Freya, Njörd and Ull were popular all over, the last of these especially in Norway and Sweden. Finally, the gods Tyr, Balder, Heimdall and Frigg do not seem to have had great cult status anywhere.

Taken as a whole, Viking-Age Scandinavian place-names tend to suggest that cultic rituals and heathen worship were either conducted in the kind of open-air natural sites described below or in the main room of a farmstead, the latter being what (the generally widespread) Hof- or Hov- usually seems to denote. The occasional accounts of heathen shrines or rites from the 13th century Icelandic Sagas have largely been dismissed as the fanciful, ill-informed and impartial beliefs of much later Christian writers. The Sagas have been attacked as being an unreliable source for Viking secular history, let alone religious history. Frequently cited concepts of a chief or district temple and the so-called “temple tax” were probably also the misguided notions of Christian Icelanders (or others - perhaps even Adam of Bremen's account of the “Great Temple at Uppsala”) and based upon elements of later ecclesiastical legislation and organisation. Icelandic prose literature is generally considered to be a poor source from which to extract reliable information about heathen worship, although some stanzas in the Eddic Poems are of great value in this regard. Place-names and archaeology therefore have a great role to play in helping to reconstruct the pre-Christian past of our forefathers. Even with the place-name evidence (which, it must be said is rather overwhelming), care must be taken not to misinterpret the nature of the evidence. The numerous names involving hof in Norway and Iceland, for example, which later became parishes, gave rise to the popular claim that Christian churches were often built on former heathen sites but this has hardly been confirmed by archaeological excavations. Scandinavian literature has similarly little to say on this theme and the entire corpus of documentary literature only provides one lone mention of a former (a sacred heathen site of unknown qualities) becoming the site of a Christian church. Such in fact may have been the exception rather than the rule, and it now seems sensible to reject the former generally widely held belief that many Christian sites were once pagan.



This section relies heavily on the work of Magnus Olsen and especially his articles on “Norge” in Nordisk Kultur 26 and Nordisk Kultur 5. The figures quoted below are taken from the former of these, although I have not reproduced those which Olsen is in any reasonable doubt about. Alleged theophoric toponyms have been cross-checked using the superb and recently updated Norsk stadnamnleksikon edited by Sandnes and Stemshaug.

The total number of theophoric or else heathen related place-names in Norway is staggering and Magnus Olsen reckons on 600+, most of which are gardnavne (“farm-names”). The most common gods recorded in these Norwegian place-names are: Thor, Frey or Freya and Ull.

In cases where ambiguity arose (many), Olsen explains that it has been necessary to work carefully with the extant sources and take the local topography into account before coming to a conclusion. Among the Norwegian landscape, a much smaller number of nature-names (naturnavne), field-names (marknavne) and names of very minor localities (smånavne) also preserve heathen elements. A major problem here, as in all place-name study, is that only the more sizeable or important places and habitations have generally been mentioned in the contemporary sources. Gardnavne and gardbruksnavne are especially important in illuminating Norwegian social history because their given names are often of great antiquity and there are some 50,000 of them in Norway.

A further problem preventing certain interpretation of some place-names is polysemy and this can particularly be a problem when we are lacking early written forms which might otherwise have decided for one interpretation or another. Commonly problematic elements in this regard are place-names beginning: Tors- (deity-name Þórr or personal name Þórir?), Helga- (heilagr “holy” or personal name Helgi?), Ve- (ON “shrine” or viðr “wood”?). In some cases even a survey of the local topography has not proved conclusive.

The most common elements compounded to theophoric names are: -vang “pasture”; -åker “field” (might represent an older type of cult performed under the open sky); -ness “headland”; -vin “meadow” (names in ON -vin are ancient and central as gard-names; note Stemhaug’s observation about the frequency of this element in theophoric compounds: “Heidne gudenamn og ord som vitnar om heiden gudsdyrking er det derimot flust av…” (p.95). The many vin- names with a first element referring to heathen cult clearly classifies this element as one belonging to several centuries before the Scandinavians’ conversion to Christianity); -heim “home(stead)” and -land. Magnus Olsen claims to have found 47 Norwegian examples of the compound type “god-name + land”, as for example in Frøysland and Torsland.
There are very few examples in
Norway of compounds in -lund “grove” which is common in Sweden and Denmark. This suggests public rites in groves were less common there than elsewhere. Cult in Norwegian place-names appears as richly nuanced and having an imtimate connection with rural and urban social life from the later Iron Age onward. It is mainly the numerous farm and settlement names dotted around the landscape which reveal the former existence of 100s of larger and smaller shrines and cult centres.

In the catalogue of instances given below, one or more examples may be given of a modern place-name incorporating the featured element, followed by a list (in the Old Norwegian forms) of the first elements with which that element is found compounded. The figures in brackets show the number of instances that the compound occurs and are inclusive of the modern examples if such are given.

For reference, a glossary of the Old Norwegian compounding elements is given (these forms correspond exactly with the Old Norse, and very closely to the Old Swedish and Old Danish elements translated elsewhere in the Scandinavian section of this article):

á “stream, small river”, akr “open field”, áll “deep groove in sea or river bed”, áss “rocky ridge”, berg “boulder, cliff”, björg “boulder, cliff”, bólstaðr “homestead, farm”, dalr “valley”, eng “meadow”, ey “island”,  fjall “mountain”, fjörðr “fiord”, heimr “homestead”, hlíð “mountain side”, hof “shrine”, hóll “hill”, holmr “islet”, hreys “cairn”, hváll “hill”, land “land, estate”, laug “hot spring”, “meadow”, lundr “grove”, lög “hollow, depression”, mörk “forest”, nes “headland”, salr “hall”, setr “dairy pastures”, sjór “sea”, skjölf “craggy ledge”, skógr “forest, wood”, staðr “place”, steinn “stone, rock”, strönd “beach, shore”, sund “sound, channel”, teigr “strip of meadowland”, vangr “pasture”, vatn “lake”, vík “inlet”, vin “meadow”, völlr “plain”, þveit “clearing”.

Odin (ONorw. Óðinn) can be found in for example in Onsøy (Fredrikstad municipality, Østfold - older Óðinsøy; a farm Onsøya in Trondheim municipality, Sør-Trøndelag) “Odin's isle” and Onsøya in Skaun municipality, Sør-Trøndelag, which must be an earlier supposed *Óðinsvin “Odin's meadow”. Nationwide he is found compounded with: -akr (3 – Odensåker a farm in Våler municipality, Østfold; Onsaker a small settlement in Jevnaker muncipality, Oppland; Onsaker a farm in Hole municipality, Buskerud), -ey (4), -hof (1), -land (2 - e.g. Osland in Askvoll municipality, Sogn og Fjordane was recorded as Odensland in 1322; ON *Óðinsland), -salr (2) and -vin (3). De Vries mentions an Odinsberg but at present I cannot confirm this apparently minor nature name, in addition to a lost toponym from the Fjordene Odhenslandh “the open land of Odin” (cf. the lost Swedish parallel names below). De Vries correctly adds Onsrud (gard in Ullensaker municipality, Akershus) to Olsen's total from earlier *Óðinshof “shrine to Odin” (1331: a Odenshofue; the form Onsrud is first known from 1666 and the second element derives from ON ruð “clearing”). The lack of names compounding Óðinn in southwest Norway (most Odin names are in southeast Norway) corresponds to the situation in Iceland, where no names with this deity are certain. This makes sense when we remember that most of the original settlers of Iceland came from west Norway.
His wife in Norse mythology,
Frigg, is according to Magnus Olsen found once in Norway with -setr (1 – now lost, found in Hegra parish, Stjørdalen municipality, Nord-Trøndelag, recorded as Fryggiosætre in Aslak Bolts jordebok from the 1400s) and his sons Váli and Víðarr are found with -skjölf (1) and -hof (1 - at Vang, in Hamar municipality, Hedemarken), -skjölf (1) respectively. The frequent farm-names (with around 100 instances) of Våle or Våler appear not to derive from Váli but can be taken to be forms descended from ON *váll “the stumps and roots of burnt trees” (Sandnes, 1975).

Thor (ONorw. Þórr) was the god most venerated in Norway. Quite many examples exist, here are a few: Torshaug (farm in Trondheim municipality, Sør-Trøndelag; a mound in Smøla municipality, Møre og Romsdal; a small settlement in Gjerdrum municipality, Akershus; a farm in Kongsvinger municipality, Hedmark, a farm in Tynset municipality, Hedmark; a hill in Etnedal municipality, Oppland; a farm in Målsev municipality, Troms) “Thor's (burial) mound”, Torshov (10 instances in the Oslofjord region (e.g. 1376: þorshof ) – e.g. 2 farms in Enebakk municipality, 2 farms in Lørenskog municipality, 2 farms in Gjerdrum municipality, a part of the city of Oslo, a farm in Hamar municipality, Løten municipality and Jevnaker municipality) and at least 14 others elsewhere - “Thor's shrine”), Torsnes (1) a farm in Våler municipality, Østfold; c.1400: þorsnæs; 2) a farm in Jondal municipality, Hordaland; c.1360: þorsnæs; 3) a settlement in Balestrand municipality, Sogn og Fjordane; 4) a farm in Haugesund municipality, Rogaland; 5) a small settlement in Tysnes municipality, Hordaland; 6) a small settlement in Vindafjord muncipality, Rogaland; 7) a headland in Karlsøy muncipality, Troms; 8) a settlement in Ås muncipality, Akershus; 9) headland in Nome muncipality, Telemark) “Thor's headland”, Torsøy (a settlement in Larvik muncipality, Vestfold) “Thor's island”, Totland, gard and parish in Vågsøy municipality, Sogn og Fjordane (c.1360: i Þothlandi (dative)); ON *Þórsland - Totland is found at ten sites from Sirdal to Nordfjord, most often in Hordaland and the majority have early orthographies which support the interpretation of Þórr + land, e.g. pastureland in Aurland muncipality, Sogn og Fjordane, a settlement in Bømlo municipality, Hordaland, a small settlement in Samnanger muncipality, Hordaland, 2 small settlements in Lindås muncipality, Hordaland, a small settlement in Masfjorden muncipality, Hordaland, a small settlement in Lierne municipality, Nord-Trøndelag. (Most instances of *Þórsland are found in western Norway, the region from which most Icelandic settlers emigrated and helps explain Thor’s supremacy in Iceland). Torsåker “Thor's field”. Torsberg (a small settlement in Skiptvet municipality, Østfold; a small settlement in Drammen municipality, Buskerud) “Thor’s hill”. In total, Thor is found compounded with: -akr (1), -áss (1), -berg/björg (2), -ey (1), -haugr (7), -hof (10), -land (8), -nes (9), -setr (2 – Torset, Buskerud, and Møre og Romsdal), -vangr (1), -vík (2 - both Møre og Romsdal), -völlr (1) and -þveit (1). De Vries adds two which he claims descend from ON *Þórsvin “Thor's meadow”: Tori (a farm in Gjerdrum muncipality, Akershus; a farm in Stokke municipaliy, Vestfold). Place-names in Norway tend to suggest that his cult grew stronger as we approach the onset of Christianity.

Tyr (ONorw. Týr) is practically unknown in Norway (just as he appears to have been in Sweden - compare to his presence in Denmark) and this point to his cult being seen as antiquated and irrelevant in this country. Indeed, the further west toward Iceland one goes, the less Tyr is in evidence. His role it seems had early on been usurped by Odin in these countries. In Norway he is found only once, compounded with -nes (Tysnes - municipality and gard in Hordaland; ON *Týsnes). Sandnes (1975) adds a suspect Tislauan, a farm in Melhus municipality in Sør-Trøndelag, but I have no more information on this alleged theophoric topoynym at the present time.

Balder (ONorw. Baldr) is more in evidence in Norway than both Denmark and Sweden, although he could hardly be called a commonplace theophoric element. He is found mainly compounded with natural features: -berg (1 - Basberg in Tønsberg municipality, Vestfold; ON *Baldrsberg), -ey (1), -fjörðr (1), -heimr (1 - Baldersheim, Fusa municipality, Hordaland; 1300s: Ballheim from ON *Baldrsheimr), -hóll (1 - Balleshol in Ringsaker municipality, Hedmark; ON *Baldrshóll), -nes (1 - Balsnes in Hitra municipality, Sør-Trøndelag; 1342: Baldrsnes) and -vík (1).

The name of the god Ullr (and the side-form or closely related deity Ullinn) appears remarkably frequently in Norwegian place-names, so it is to be regretted that so little known for sure about him. He is mentioned in Icelandic sources only in passing and it can be assumed that along with Njörðr he belongs to the oldest group of gods. His name is associated mainly with natural features but is also found in conjunction with arable land, e.g. pastures. Examples are Ullensvang (municipality in Hordaland; ON *Ullinnsvangr) “Ull's plain”, Ullensaker (1) gard in Akershus; 1300: Ullinshofs sokn, 1343: Ullinshofue = ON *Ullinshof; we find Ullensagger first in 1500s; 2) Ullensaker (Nordland) “Ull's field”; 3) Ullensaker a farm in Nordre Land municipality, Oppland; 4) Ulsåker in Hemsedal, a municipality in Buskerud “Ull's field” - all representing ON *Ullinsakr), Ullinsin in Vågå, Gudbrandsdalen, Oppland and Ullern (c.1400: i Ullarini) a part of Oslo; a farm in Ullensaker municipality; a farm in Hole municipality, Buskerud  (ON *Ullinsvin and *Ullarvin respectively). As Ullr he is compounded with: -áll (1), -berg (1), -dalr (1 - Ulldalen in Telemark), -eng (1), -ey (4 - e.g. Ullerøy, a peninsula in Sarpsborg municipality, Østfold - (1349: Vllaræy = ON *Ullarey); Ullerøy, island and gard in Farsund municipality, Vest-Agder - (1594: Vllerø); Ullerøy, island in Lillesand municipality, Øst-Agder; Ullarøy, in Sør-Odalen, a municipality in Hedemark), -hváll (1 - Ullevål, area of Oslo, Akershus (1309: Ullaruale); ON *Ullarhváll), -land (11 - e.g. Ulleland a farm in Kvinesdal municipality, Vest-Agder; a farm in Øvre Eiker municipality, Buskerud; Ulland a farm in Lillehammer municipality, Oppland; a farm in Flekkefjord municipality, Vest-Agder; a farm in Kvinesdal municipality, Vest-Agder; a farm in Lierne municipality, Nord-Trøndelag), -nes (1 - Ullenes in Rogaland), -vík (3 cases of Ullevik - 1 in Vestfold, 1 in Nome municipality, Telemark and 1 in Sunnmøre), -vin (6 – Ullen (< *Ullarvin) is common in the Østlandet) and -þveit (3). Sandnes (1975) mentions an Ullershov, a farm in in Nes municipality, Akershus. In side-form Ullinn we have: -akr (3), -hof (3 - e.g. Ullinhof in Nes, Romerike, Akershus; de Vries mentions a lost Ullinshof, once a parish in Nes, Ringerike, Buskerud), -vangr (1 – Ullensvang, a municipality in Hordaland) and -vin (1). A fjord and parish name in Tromsø municipality, Tromsø, Ullsfjorden, may contain the god-name Ullinn. Ulla in Haram municipality, Møre og Romsdal; c.1520: Ullen according to Sandnes/Stemshaug preserves a now lost name of a local brook whose name (*Ullin) was formed by a nominal verb derivative of ON vella “well up, seethe” + vin “meadow”, and therefore has nothing to do with the god-name Ullinn. Ulleren in Sør-Odal municipality, Hedemark (1393: Ullernis sokn, c.1400: Vllerni; ON *Ullerni, therefore not the same as Ullern above), may compound the god-name Ullr but Olaf Rygh’s suggestion of a lost river-name *Ull and suffix -erni find more favour with Sandnes and Stemshaug. In Samnanger municipality in Hordaland, we find a Totland, Ulland and Frøland in close proximity (from Þórr, Ullr and Frøy + land respectively) and these suggest a local centre of heathen cult, with Frey and Thor in particular representing fertility and agricultural interests.

The old Scandinavian equivalent to Neptune, father of Frey and Freya and one of the Vanir, Njörd (ONorw. Njörðr) is relatively common in Norway - as we might expect in a country where the coastal districts and maritime activity have been so important. Place-names especially along the west coast of Norway attest to the popularity of his cult there. Other inland places named after him have an obvious connection with water, e.g. heads of rivers or islands in lakes. The present Norwegian island of Tysnesøyen (Tynes municipality, Hordaland) was once known as Njarðarlög (Ólafs saga Tryggvasonar: ór Niarðar log, or Niarð laug; probably “bath of Njörd” - the present name derives from ON *Týrsnesey “headland on an island consecrated to Tyr”). This island and the several others known to be, or have been, connected with this god were probably held as sacred land, in addition to the water surrounding them: Nerøy in Herøy municipality, Møre og Romsdal (1430-40: Nærdøy, 1514-21: Nordøy), Nærøy municipality and island in Nord-Trøndelag (ON *Njarðey); a parish in Aurland municipality, Sogn og Fjordane - ON *Njarðey, Nærøya an island in Flora municipality, Sogn og Fjordane, Nærøya (an island in Nærøy municipality, Nord-Trøndelag (Landnámabók: Niardey, c.1293: Niarðey), Nærøya in Hemne municipality, Sør-Trøndelag (1430-40: Nierdøy, 1723: Nerøy), Nærøya an island and a farm in Øksnes municipality, Nordland (1567: Nierdøy, 1610: Nærøy) - these last three probably compound Njarð-, the stem form of Njörðr. Other examples are Norderhov (parish in Ringerike municipality, Buskerud; 1329: Niærderhov, 1367: Nærdrhov, c.1400: Nierdarhov, c.1430: Nørdrhov), Norderhov, a farm in Våler municipality, Hedemark (1317: a Nærdrhofue) and the same in Løten municipality, Hedemark - all represent ON *Njarðarhof “shrine to Njörd”. Compounded with ON -heimr we have for example Njærheim, a gard and parish in Nærbø in Hå municipality, Rogaland (1445: a Nairdheme), as well as the names Nærum a farm in Rygge municipality, Østfold and a farm in Skien municipality, Telemark; Nereim in Fjellberg, Hordaland (1326: Niardhæims; ON *Njarð(ar)heimr) and the same is a farm in Suldal municipality, Rogaland, and Nærem in Vestnes municipality, Møre og Romsdal (1430-40: Nerdheime), while with -land I could mention Nærland (a farm in Hå municipality, Rogaland (right next to Njærheim); 1520-70: Nerland; ON *Njarð(ar)land) and the same in Finnøy municipality, Rogaland. In total Njörd is found compounded with the following elements: -akr (1 – Nordråk in Søndre Land municipality, Oppland), -ey (7 – common in western Norway < ON *Njarð(ar)ey), -heimr (7), -hof (3), -hóll (1) Nardo, an area of Trondheim municipality, Sør-Trondelag; c.1430: i Niærdole; ON *Njarðhóll), -land (5), -lög (1), -vík (5 at least, indicating Njörðr’s role as guardian of seafarers - e.g. Narvik municipality in Nordland (1567: Nardvik, Norvik, 1610: Narvik; probably ON *Njarðarvík), Nervika a gard in Etne municipality, Hordaland (1315: i Niarduikum, 1520-70: Nerwigh; ON *Njarðvíkr), Nelvika a gard in Smøla on Edøy, Nordmøre (1514-21: Nervik, 1723: Nelvik) and Nærvika a gard in Askvoll municipality, Sogn og Fjordane (1300s: Niærdvik, 1514-21: Nervik), Nærvik (gard in Kinn, Sogn og Fjordane (1603: Nervik)), -vin (1 - apparently Nerdrum in Fet municipality, Romerike, Akerhus (1363: á Niæðarini; ON *Njarðarvin)). There are therefore at least 30 Njörðr-names in the Norwegian landscape.

Concerning the article by Þórhallur Vilmundarsson (“Kultnavn eller ej?”), I am suspicious of the rather sweeping changes in sound and form to many of the place-names, if they are to conform to his theories. Vilmundarsson simply demands too much: “der var rigeligt mange krumspring i de lydhistoriske udviklinger, der var nødvendige for at komme fra beliggenhedsangivende adjektiver eller adverbier til former med Njarð- og Nær.”, as one recipient of his lecture commented. That Nørðri-, Nyrðri- and Norðr- can become Njarð- sounds reasonable, but it is hard to believe that Nær-, Neðri- and Niðr- can give rise to Njarð- (as they either lack the vital medial -r- or terminal -ð). Neither am I convinced that comparing the situation in Norway with that of Iceland, while interesting and in some ways relevant, is very useful. Certainly the names in Norway are likely to be at least several centuries older than those in Iceland and the local and cultural environments will be different. Vilmundarsson's theories on the relative proximities of the place-names are interesting, and corresponding to Neðri- etc., we have Upper- and Lower- in England, but in my opinion, the sound changes required to allow this are too radical.

The author appears to promise a general discussion on cultic place-names but precedes to give only a rather narrow discussion on names supposedly deriving from the genitive of ON Njörðr (and then mainly confined to Norway) - hardly a wide-ranging critique of the work of Olsen, de Vries, Knudsen, Hald, Lárusson, Sigmundsson and others.

Frey (ONorw. Freyr) and Freya (ONorw. Freyja) were also known, but not nearly as popular as Frey was in Sweden, where he had a huge following as a fertility god. Names in Frey or Freya are especially frequent in the Vestlandet, in Trøndelag and in the southeast, the last of these because of the agricultural importance of the region. In addition to the several instances of Frøysland (e.g. 1 – farm in Nordre Land municipality, Oppland; 2 – village in Mandal municipality, Vest-Agder; 3 – farm in Søgne municipality, Vest-Agder; 4 – farm in Førde municipality, Sogn og Fjordane), we also have stem-form compound Frøyland “Frey's land” (e.g. in Sandnes municipality, near Stavanger, Rogaland; farm in Farsund municipality, Vest-Agder; a farm in Sokndal municipality, Rogaland; a farm in Time municipality, Rogaland), Frøysa in Stranda municipality, Møre og Romsdal (c.1430: af Frøsin - i.e. Frøy + vin), Fretland (Sogndal municipality, Sogn og Fjordane) “Frey's open land”, Fresvik (a farm in Vik municipality, Sogn og Fjordane) “Frey's inlet” (ON *Frøysvík), Frøyshov (a farm in Hole municipality, Buskerud) “Frey's shrine” (1335: á Fræysini < ON *Frøysvin “Frey's meadow”), Frøysnes, gard in Bygland municipality, Øst-Agder (ON *Frøysnes) and Frøysåker “Frey's field” in Gol municipality, Buskerud, and finally of ON *Frøyssetr, 12 modern examples survive - e.g. Frøyset, a parish in Masfjorden municipality, Hordaland (although this may in fact contain Freya, not Frey), a farm in Stryn municipality, Sogn og Fjordane, and a farm in Rauma municipality, Møre og Romsdal, while Frøset is found in Nord-Trøndelag (farm in Steinkjer municipality), Sør-Trøndelag (farm in Trondeim municipality; farm in Midtre Gauldal municipality), and Nordland (found recorded in such early forms as Frøisæter). Frey is found compounded with: -akr (2 - Frøysåk in Land, Oppland and Frøysåker in Gol, Hallingdal, Buskerud; de Vries cites a further instance in Nordland which cannot be confirmed yet), -hlíð (2 instances of Frøsli in eastern Norway), -hof (2 - Frøshov a farm in Trøgstad municipality, Østfold and Frøyshov in Hole municipality, Buskerud), -land (7), -laug (1) Frøytlog, gard in Sokndal municipality, Rogaland - probably ON *Frøyslaug but may be *Frøyslög “Frey's law”), -nes (1), -setr (12 - a lost Fryggiosætre recorded in 1435 in Nord-Trøndelag is added to these by de Vries), -steinn (1), -teigr (1) Fresti, gard in Ramnes municipality, Vestfold; c.1400: i Frøysteigh), -vík (3 (4?) - Frøvik in Vindafjord municipality, Rogaland and Fresvik above; there is also a Fresvik a farm in Ullensvang municipality, Hordaland), -vin (3 – e.g. Frøysin), -völlr (1 - Fresvoll a farm in Ringsaker municipality, Hedmark; Sandnes in Norsk Stadsnamnleksikon augments Olsen's findings with the following comments: “Gudenamnet Frøy eller Frøya har vi kanskje i gardsnamna Fresvall, Frøvoll, Frivoll” (p.498) and these must be considered possible at the present time - de Vries mentions a Frøvold in Sigdal municipality, Ringerike, Buskerud, which I assume is an older spelling of the Frøvoll mentioned by Sandnes. There is also a Fresvoll, which is a farm in Sør-Odal municipality, Hedmark and the same is the name of pastureland in Tinn municipality, Telemark), -þveit (1 - Frøtvet, a farm in Røyken municipality, Buskerud). In all some 20 farm-names point to the god and many of the place-names compounding him occur in southeast Norway, which was an important agricultural region. The more recent discussion provided by de Vries would lead me to believe that there are some 17 sites descended from ON *Frøysland, with forms like Frøyland and Frøysland along the Norwegian west coast (6 in Rogaland (including 3 Frø(y)land): 1 - Sogndal; 2 - Hetland; 3 - Time; 4 - Vikedal; 5 - Nerstrand; 6 - Vats; 1 in Samnanger, Hordaland (Frøland); 1 in Hjørundfjord, Søndmøre; 1 in Vanse, Vest-Agder), a number found in eastern Norway (3 in Østfold: 1 - Våler; 2 - Trøgstad; 3 - Askim; 1 in Hjartdal, Telemark; 1 in Solum, Grenland; 1 in Skedsmo, Romerike, Akerhus; 1 in Herrestad, Bohuslän) and a Frøysland in the north in Nordland. The two Frøyshov (< *Freyshof) suggest public worship of him during the period just before Christianity (de Vries cites a third case, Frøyhov in Nord-Trøndelag). Possible is Frøystøl in Tinn municipality, Telemark, where -støl means modern Norwegian seter. Jan de Vries adds to Olsen's tally with two toponyms Olsen apparently overlooked compounding Freyr + staðr “place, spot”, Frøystad in Sunnmøre, Møre og Romsdal (earlier form Fröstad), and Frøstad in Frosta municipality, Nord-Trøndelag.
Freya is also rather common (especially on the west coast), appearing with these elements: -berg (3 - e.g. Freberg), -hof (3), -land(ir) (9), -nes (4 - e.g. Frøynes in Ullensvang municipality, Hordaland; a headland in Bremanger municipality, Sogn og Fjordane), -setr (2), -vík (3), -þveit (2 - e.g. Frostvet near Larvik, Vestfold). A further case supplied by de Vries is Freim near Ullensvang, Hordaland, which appears to compound ON Freyjar + heimr and denote “homestead of Freya”. Frøynes and Ullensvang in Hardanger, Hordaland are neighbouring parishes and point to an ancient cult-centre in this rural region.

Enøberg is mentioned by de Vries in connection with the lesser female deity Iðunn, however I cannot yet confirm this possibility nor provide more specific information on provenance in Norway (cf. the dubious Danish claim in this regard, Enø in Sorøområdet, Sjælland). He also mentions a Forsetlund (on Onsøy, east side of Oslofjorden, Fredrikstad municipality, Østfold) “Forseti's grove” (ON *Forsetalundr), which along with Magnus Olsen, he believes is connected to the relatively minor deity Forseti (judge among the Æsir). The uptake of this deity in West Norse regions has a very interesting history. The medieval 'Vita Sancti Willebrordi' (“The Life of Saint Willebrord”) tells of a journey which the Anglo-Saxon missionary Willebrord makes at the end of the 8th century to an island which lies on the border between Denmark and Friesland. The island was called Fositesland and was named after the Frisian god Fosite. What was described was probably the present day island of Helgoland. The concordance in name between the chief Frisian god Fosite and the Norse god Forseti is obvious. Jan de Vries claims this concordance shows that round about the year 700, there were cultural relations between Friesland and southern Norway, so that the cult of Fosite has spread northwards in the Oslofjord area and Olsen's remarks anticipate this claim: “Man mener at Forseti … er en omtydning av frisisk Fosite, og at denne guds optreden i Norden er å føre tilbake til frisernes handelsferder.” (Olsen 1926, p.241).

In Old Norse there were two groups of the gods, the Æsir (singular Ás) and the Vanir. The former of these includes those gods we now associte with the Norse pantheon, and in Norway are preserved by the name of the capital itself, Oslo, which the Danes called Christiania before the Norwegians regained their independence. In its old forms is it recorded as both Áslo and Óslo, but it is the East Norse form, Óslo, that began to predominate from the 1500s onwards. The name probably means “meadow of the gods” (ON áss, óss “god” + *“meadow” (the latter is the same element preserved in Lom in Gudbrandsdalen, Oppland)), although other explanations have been put forward such as those that interpret the initial element as ON áss “rocky ridge”.

Minor female nature-deities or guardians called in Old Norse literature dís (plural dísir) are known to appear a few times in Norwegian place-names in connection with natural features: -hreys (1), -vin (5). They are also believed to appear twice in Swedish place-names (see below). Compounded with -vin (therefore ON *Dísavin) we find for example Disen, an part of Oslo, as well as four Disen in the Østlandet (1 - in Aker, Viken; 2 - Nes municipality, Akerhus; 3 – a farm in Sør Odal municipality, Hedmark; 4 – a farm in Modum municipality, Buskerud). Disenå in Sør-Odal municipality, Hedmark, compounded the place-name Disen (see directly above) with ON á “river”.

Some place-names with Gud- or God- refer to the role of temple priest and district chieftain from pre-Chistian times (ON goði), who is better known from Icelandic sources than from continental Scandinavian ones, in which little about the goðar is mentioned. But in Norwegian place-names, however, we are dealing with the ONorw. word for “god” guð (or goð): Godøy e.g. (1) island and gard in Giske municipality, Møre og Romsdal (1351: Gudæy); 2) gard in Bodø municipality, Nordland - ON Goðey and originally an island name) “god's-island”, Guåker “god's-field”, Guddal (parish in Fjaler municipality, Sognefjorden; ON Guðdalir = guð + dalr “valley”) “god's-valley”, Gudvangen (gard in Aurland municipality, Sognefjorden; ON guð + vangr) “god's-plain”, Gudå - a river which has given name to a gard in Meråker municipality, Nord-Trøndelag, probably meaning “river consecrated to the gods”. However, in some cases, it has proven difficult to choose between goð/guð and goði. The interpretation “god” has been common elsewhere - see the section for Denmark below, for example, where the meaning goði seems not to occur. Compounded either with goði or guð, goð we find: -á (1), -akr (3), -dalr (3), -ey (3), -heimr (3 – Stemshaug mentions a Gudum (< ON *Guðheimr)), -vangr (1) and -vin (6). In the genitive guðs- and therefore certainly denoting “god” there are: -áss (1), -land (4), -lundr (3), -þveit (1).
We can note in passing that a compound denoting “shrine, god-house” ON *
Guðrann (1 - modern Gurann in Botne, Vestfold) is only known from place-names and is not found in the ancient literature.

Adjective “holy” - Old Norwegian and Norse heilagr - is a rather common prefix in the Norwegian landscape. It usually refers to land or a dwelling-place, e.g.: Helgen, gard and parish in Nome municipality, Telemark (ON *Helgin, i.e. heilagr + vin) “holy meadow”, Helgheim, gard and parish in Jølster municipality, Sognefjorden and Helgum, Gran municipality, Oppland, both (ON *Helgheimr, i.e. heilagr + heimr) “holy homestead” - the same applies to Haljem, gard and settlement in Os municipality, Hordaland (1427: Halgheimir) and Helgheim in Gran, Oppland, while Helgøya (1) island, gard and parish in Karlsøy municipality, Tromsø - ON *Helgey suggests a former cultic site; 2) island and gard in Finnøy municipality, Rogaland (1361: i Helghiæy) - probably ON helgi “shrine” + ey; 3) island in Mjøsa, Ringsaker municipality, Hedemarken (medieval Eyin helga - probably an old cultstead). The gard Hovinsholm is on the south point of the island (ON Hovin)). Of gardnavne we find: -akr (1), -bólstaðr (13), -heimr (5), -land (44), -setr (6 – Stemshaug mentions a Helset), -vin (1) and -völlr (1). Heilagr + land is a very common gardnavn across the whole of Norway, but especially in Rogaland and Hordaland. This compound is frequently met with in the modern form Helland, but also Helgaland, Helgeland and Hægeland (this last one has 10 sites in Vest-Agder - e.g. a parish in Vennesla municipality, ON *Helgaland). Most of these cases will indeed be ON *Helgaland but a few will contain the personal-name Helge or the female equivalent Helga - but only a few, since personal-names are seldom compounded with -land. Other possibilities regarding interpretation of some are ON *Helluland i.e. ON hella “flat-stone” or ON *Helliland from ON hellir “cave”. As can be seen from the figures given above, -bólstaðr is another frequent compounding element and is found in several forms as Hægebostad (gard and municipality in Vest-Agder (1435: a Hægabostaþum; ON *Helgabólstaðir)), Hellbostad, Helgebostad (in Hitra, Sør-Trøndelag) and Hellebost (e.g. in Dale, Sunnfjord, Sogn og Fjordane), all denoting “the holy dwelling”. One not mentioned by Olsen but suggested by Sandnes/Stemshaug is Helligvær, an island group in Bodø municipality, Nordland (1417: Helghawær; ON heilagr + vær “fishing station”).

There are also names of very small localities using this prefix (e.g. -á, -áss and -berg) - for example Helgåa a river in Verdal municipality, Nord-Trøndelang (ON heilagr + á, with heathen associations) - but many may be products of later Christian times and so it is difficult to give figures on these.

The compounded or simplex element hov, Old Norse/Old Norwegian hof, which denotes a heathen shrine or cult-centre (and is the most common word for such in the sagas), is rare as an element in Denmark and Sweden but is particularly common in Norway, where uncompounded Hov appears about 85 times. It is found so densely in areas of the Østlandet that Magnus Olsen has speculated about the existence of  hov-kretser” in late heathen times. Sandnes/Stemshaug provide a useful snapshot of the situation regarding this place-name element:

I Noreg finst det usms. Hov, Hof(f), Hove, dat. (med open vokal, å- eller ø-lyd) kring 80 gonger som gardsnamn, mest over heile landet. I sms. namn på -hov er gudenamn som Odin, Tor, Frøy osv. ofte førsteledd….Vanlege er også sms. med vin, land, og stadHovin (særleg på Austlandet), Hovland (særleg på Vestlandet) og Hofstad .” (p225 - italics/colours mine).

However, it is hardly likely that all of these names originally meant simply “shrine” and most would have referred to a small building, an area of a farmstead or even a room devoted to heathen worship. There is no evidence of independent purpose-built shrines of pagan worship being widespread in Scandinavia and there is no evidence at all for the word having this meaning outside Scandinavia (in older and West Germanic, hof meant “farm”, cf. German Hof). As these 85 Hovs are farms, an original meaning along the lines of “farm where cult meetings were held by the locals” might be more appropriate, while some of the older Norwegian hov-names may simply denote “farm”. Magnus Olsen (p.24 in Nordisk Kultur 5 [see sources]) provides some information about the relation of the hov to the vang (see below), as well as implicitly suggesting that quite often place-names denoting former heathen worship are found in close proximity to one another:

“... i Vik i Sogn er Hof og Vangr nabogårder i Gjerdum kirkebygd på Romerike og i Jevnaker kirkebygd på Hadeland er Þórshof og Vangr nabogårder (jfr. mytologiens Þrúðvang(a)r, Tors bolig) ... Hof (-hof) er det offentlige tempel for et hov-sogn, og Vangr er “vangen”, den gressgrodde voll ved hovet (jfr. Hovsvangen i Östre Toten, kalt Vangrinn á Hofi 1327, senere Hofsvangurinn), hedendommens motsvarighet til “kirkevangen”, samlingstedet nær gudshuset.” (colours/italics mine).

Surviving examples of simplex Hov are for example 1) gard and parish in Fet municipality, Akershus (Sandnes (1975) mentions that this is neighboured by the gard Løken (< ON Leikvin) and in heathen times would have been a shrine and a leikvoll (field for dancing) together. The church was also built here); 2) gard and parish in Søndre Land municipality, Oppland; 3) gard in Tjeldsund municipality, Nordland. Hove, preserving the old dative ending, is also found in many places e.g. a gard in Selje municipality, Sognefjorden. The simplex form Hof is also well evidenced, e.g. 1) a municipality in Vestfold; 2) gard and parish in Sunndal municipality, Møre og Romsdal. Hovet in Hol municipality, Buskerud is probably named from an extinct farm nearby (1528: Haff). Hovstad and Hofstad - both “shrine-place, place of heathen worship” - are common as gardsnavne, e.g. Hoffstad in Roan municipality, Sør-Trøndelang (1520: Hopestad) and Hovstad in Stjørdalen municipality, Nord-Trøndelag (c.1430: af Hofstadhom); both are probably ON hof + staðir. Hovin, combining ON hof + vin “meadow”, is found in many places, especially in the Østlandet, e.g. 1) gard and parish in Spydeberg municipality, Østfold; 2) gard and parish in Ullensaker municipality, Østfold; 3) gard and parish in Tinn municipality, Telemark; 4) gard in Melhus municipality, Sør-Trøndelag. As with heilagr, -land is a very common element in combination with -hof, as we might expect from cults involved with outdoor worship, fertility and crop-yield: Hovland is especially frequent in the Vestlandet, e.g. in Ullensvang municipality, Hordaland (ON *hofland).

Twenty-four names originally belonging to farms are compounded with Thor according to Magnus Olsen, modern Torshov, Old Norwegian *Þórshof and six of these have become parishes. Place-names having clear heathen associations such as those in hov-, often became parishes in Christian times. Olsen has calculated that every 9th main parish church in Norway had been built on, or near, a site called hof, hofvin, -hof or vangr and which had been a heathen cult-stead prior to Christianity's arrival. The inclusion of annex churches reduces the figure to 1 in 14 of all medieval parishes - a smaller but still very significant figure. If Olsen's estimates are correct, archaeological evidence has failed to support them so far.
In south-east
Norway 21 places are compounded with a god-name and hov.
Torshov (e.g. in Hadeland) “Thor's shrine” (Old Norwegian Þórshof), Frøyshov “Frey's shrine”, Ullinshov (e.g. in Nes, Romerike, Akerhus) and Ullershov “Ull's shrine” (ONorw. *Ullinshof and *Njarðarhof are probably of great antiquity). Many though are place-names where the veneration is not deity-specific: Hofnes “shrine headland”, Hoftun “homestead by a shrine” (ONorw. *Hoftún - 3 instances, cf. OE tûn “homestead, enclosure”), Hovstad “shrine place”, Halstenhov (=personal name?), Hofvin (23 instances). Magnus Olsen has found 41 examples in Norway of Hovland (and 4 of Hofsland) “open land with a shrine” and these are especially common in Rogaland, Hordaland and Sogn og Fjordane, as well as two of *Hofsetr, to give the Old Norwegian form. Thus the figures break down as follows: Hof (85), -heimr (1), -land (45), -setr (2 – e.g. Hovset), -staðir (uncertain), -tún (3), -vin (23 – most are around the Oslofjorden). Unfortunately I do not have figures for the “deity-name + hof “ instances but with at least 24 in Þórr- alone (with several in the Oslo area), there must be many. The dearth of “deity-name + hof “ in Iceland concords with the situation in west Norway, where the term is also not found compounded with god-names and it is believed there was a mutual cultic heritage in the two areas, differing from the situation in eastern Norway, Sweden and Denmark. The frequency hof is met with in place-names in Norway and Iceland certainly lends support to this view.

Old Norwegian and ON hörgr (cf. ODan. *harg(h), OE hearg, OHG harug < Gmic. *haruga) is especially common in Norway and Iceland, and at least in Norway, is a problematic word. In some cases, it may denote “shrine, cult-stead” - probably a relatively crude cultic meeting-place in the open air using a rocky outcrop or cairn. According to Sandnes/Stemshaug, it developed in meaning from “crag with steep vertical faces” through “rocky outcrop”, “heap of stones”, “cairn”, to (perhaps in some cases anyway) “stone altar” with “heathen shrine” finally appearing in early Christian times. It is found uncompounded in Norway once (Horg in Melhus municipality, Sør-Trøndelag). With -vin it appears 8 times in the Østlandet as Horgen. Sandnes and Stemshaug are much less certain than Olsen was that these sites once denoted places of heathen cult – instead they prefer the earlier and secular meanings of hörgr “crag with perpendicular faces” or “steep rocky hill” and claim this interpretation fits the Norwegian terrain much better, pointing out that many names of mountains end in -horgi. In this way they explain Horg (above), the 8 cases of Horgen (in the case of these with the transitional meaning of “stony mound, rocky outcrop”), as well as Horge in Austevoll municipality, Hordaland and Lærdal municipality, Sogn og Fjordane, Horgjem in Rauma municipality (< *Hörgheimr according to Sandnes (1975) with the first element meaning “cairn”), More og Romsdal and Horjem in Snåsa municipality, Nord-Trøndelag. Sandnes had already in 1975 mentioned the names of some moutains in Sør-Trøndelag called Horgi, Horga and Horg, and indicated his belief that hörgr points to steep rock faces or rocky hills. Some seem now to be questioning whether the Norwegian instances of Hor(g)- were ever a part of pre-Christian religious landscape, suggesting instead that their names are much older and purely secular. In some of these names, however, hörgr may denote “heathen shrine, sacred spot”, developed from an earlier meaning of “stone altar”.

In addition to being found in Old English, hörgr as a term for a sacred site is also known from Old High German harug “sacred grove” and it is clear from this that it is an older term than hof, which is only found (for certain) as a term denoting a heathen site in parts of Sweden, as well as widely in Norway and Iceland. In Denmark (as far as is known) and certainly among the West Germanic tribes, hof was not used as special word for a purpose-built temple-building (they appeared not to have such a word) but was undoubtedly used in reference to secular buildings, often farms.

in Old Norse and Norwegian meant “shrine, holy place” (Proto Scandinavian *wiha < Gmic. *wîha) but exactly what kind of site this referred to (natural or purpose-built construction) is still not clear. Examples in modern Norway: Ve (e.g. in Flå municipality in Hallingdal, Buskerud and in Årdal municipality, Sogn og Fjordane), Vea (gard in Vaksdal municipality, Hordaland (1328: i Vehom (dat.pl.)) from ON ), Veberg “holy hill”, Veøy(a) (island and parish in Molde municipality, Møre og Romsdal (c.1400-50: Vidhøy, Vidøy was probably mistaken for ON viðr “wood”; ON *Véey) “holy island” and Vestad “sanctuary-place”. The complete figures appear to be: (8 (2 uncertain)), -berg (1?), -bólstaðr (1), -dalr (4), -ey (1), - (1), -setr (?), -staðr (1?), -steinn (1), -strönd (1) and -vatn (1), Sandnes and Stemshaug offer a doubtful case: Vevang, a gard in Eide municipality, Møre og Romsdal (c.1520: Veffanger) is a possible but unlikely ON *vévangr. Many modern place-names which might appear on first sight to stem from ON no doubt have much more prosaic derivations, such as Vevika from earlier ved- < ON viðr “wood”, and the same for Veum in Fyresdal municipality, Telemarken and Fredrikstad municipality, Østfold (the former in the plural viðir). Sandnes and Stemshaug point out that the vast majority of modern names in Ve- derive from ON viðr and not (p.484).

Vang (ONorw. vangr), now means “field, plain” in modern Norwegian. In heathen times this might well have denoted a plain where certain rituals or rites were performed, although its existence by no means certainly indicates the presence of former cult, especially when it is not attributed to a specific deity name. They can more reasonably assumed to have been cultic sites if they later became sites for churches or churches were built near them although this is by no means a certain test of validity. This comment applies equally well to the other examples discussed in this article. Simplex Vang is known for example from 1) a parish in Hamar municipality, Hedemarken (1358: a Vange) and 2) a municipality in Oppland (1341: Vangs sokn) - both ON vangr, while Vangen from the same noun is a gard and parish in Aurland municipality, Sognefjorden (1338: a Vanghenum i Aurlande). As a compounding element it is more significant, e.g. Ullensvang “Ull's plain”, Vangseng “meadow plain”, Vangsnes (gard and parish in Vik municipality, Sognefjorden (c.1400: a Wangsnesi (dative)) from ON vangsni “ploughshare” + nes), Hovsvangen (Oppland) “plain with a shrine”, Gudvangen (Sognefjorden) “god's plain”. Found compounded as first elements with vangr are: guð- (1), hofs- (1?), Þórs- (1), Ullins- (1).

Uncompounded Old Norwegian and Norse lundr (modern Norwegian lund) “grove” upon which a church has later been built (or else closeby) may possibly have been a holy grove in heathen times. This becomes almost a certainty when that grove is linked to a theophoric name. On Norwegian soil I have no figures for uncompounded Lund but it is rather common, e.g. 1) area of Kristiansands municipality, Vest-Agder; 2) municipality in Rogaland; 3) gard in Nærøy municipality, Nord-Trøndelag. Sandnes and Stemshaug make some useful comments about the status of lund in Norway (which applies well elsewhere) and this is tied into the three examples just given above:

Når gårdsnamnet Lund finst nær kyrkje eller kultstad (som 1) eller har gjeve namn til sokn eller bygd (som 2), er det truleg at det siktar til ein “heilag lund” frå heiden tid. Men elles treng det ikkje liggje noka slik tyding i det.” (p.296 - colours mine)

Dative form Lunde is found for example as 1) a parish name in Nome municipality, Telemark (1399: Lunda Sokn; ON *Lundar sókn) and 2) a parish in Øvre Sirdal, Sirdal municipality, Vest-Agder. A derivative of simplex lundr is to be found in Lunder, a parish in Ringerike municipality, Buskerud (c.1400: Lyndi), where ON lyndi means “place where there is a grove”.

Lundr appears compounded with the son of Balder, Forseti, in the genitive Forseta- (1 - on Onsøy, eastside of Olsofjorden, Østfold) and with “god” Guðs- (3). To these, Sandnes and Stemshaug add the common name Lundeby, e.g. a gard in Eidsberg municipality, Østfold from ON *Lundarbýr “farm near or at the grove”).

A word not found in living use in historical Scandinavian but also known from Swedish place-names and English ones is ONorw. *al (from Gmic *alh or *alg(i) - Gothic alhs, OSwed.*al(a), OE ealh (cf. OE ealgian “protect, defend”)) which appears in Norwegian place-names a few times as Æl- or Elg- (the latter from probable side-form *alg). With -vin it is found contracted in the place-names Ælin (4) (i.e.*al-vin) and mutated in ON *Elgjartún (1?) (i.e. *alg(ar)-tún), the latter of which has probably become such common Østlandet forms as Elton (a gard in Vestre Toten municipality, Oppland), Eltun, Elgeton and Elgetun. Olsen conceives of an ON *elgr cognate to Gothic alhs but the jury is still out on this issue. To Olsen's instances, Sandnes and Stemshaug add Elgeseter, an area in Trondheim (medieval Ælgisætr; ON *Elgisetr - first element is probably Gmic *alg(i) and there must have been a cultstead there in heathen times) and Elnes, a gard in Nittedal municipality, Akershus (probably ON *Elgjarnes). This term for cultic site is at any rate clearly of great antiquity and very likely denoted a more primitve type of cultic place or construction than hörgr, hof or .

Old Norwegian and Old Norse salr “hall” is only found in the names of settled districts. It is twice found compounded with Odin: Óðinns- (1) in Østfold and 2) in Steinkjer municipality, N-Trøndelag). As such, its significance is unclear.

Sandnes and Stemshaug reject any notion of heliolatry being reflected in Norwegian place-names of the type Sol- (there are for example more than 100 instances of Solberg or Solbjørg in Norway), regarding this as mere speculation (cf. the section on Denmark). None of the several toponyms in Sol- that they consider are regarded as having any heathen associations and their first element can always be explained in other, more prosaic ways.

The highest mountain range in Norway, Jotunheimen between Gudbrandsdalen, Valdres and Sogn, takes its name from ON jötunn “giant” and heimr “home, dwelling” and is a literary creation used by the poet A. O. Vinje in one of his works of 1862. This name was inspired by the remarks of a geologist made some years earlier, who likened the range to the German Riesengebirge. Vinje took his inspiration from ON mythology in which Jötunheimr was the home of the giants. As a Norwegian word,  jøtun is purely literary, but jutul and jøtul are found in Nynorsk dialects from ON *jøtull (Sandnes/Stemshaug).

An alternative way of presenting the material (and perhaps clearer to some) is by affixed element. Thus the entire corpus of material, with forms from Sandnes and de Vries added to those of Olsen, breaks down as follows:

-á - Guðá (1), Helgá (4 - e.g. Ogna, in Jæren).
akr - Frøysakr (3), Guðakr (3), Helgiakr (1), Njarðarakr (2), Óðinsakr (3), Ullinsakr (3).
áll - Ullaráll (1).
áss - Guðsáss (1), Helgáss (3), Þórsáss (1).
berg, björg - Baldrsberg (1 - Vestfold), Frøy(ju)berg (3), Helgaberg (3), Ullarberg (1), Véberg (1), Þórsberg (1), Þórsbjörg (1 - now a haug on north side of Trondheimsfjorden).
bólstaðr - Helgibólstaðr (13), Vébólstaðr (1).
dalr - Guðdalr (3), Helgidalr (3), Ullardalr (1), Védalr (4).
eng - Ullareng (1).

-ey - Baldrsey (1), Guðey (3), Helgey (7), Njarðey/Njarðarey (7), Óðinsey (4), Ullarey (4), Véey (1), Þórsey (1).
fjall - Helgafjall (1).
fjörðr - Baldrsfjörðr (1).
guð/goð or goði - á (1), akr (3), dalr (3), ey (3), heimr (3), vangr (1), vin (6), -guðs - áss (1), land (4), lundr (3), þveit (1).
haugr - Þórshaugr (7).
heilagr- á (?), -akr (1), -áss (3?), -berg (3?), -bólstaðr (13), -ey (7), -heimr (5), -land (44), -mörk (1), -nes (3), -setr (6), -sjór (1), -skógr (1), -steinn (1), -sund (1), -vatn (2), -vík (2), -vin (1), -völlr (1).
heimr - Baldrsheimr (1), Guðheimr (3), Helgheimr (5), Hofheimr (1), Njarðarheimr (7).
hlíð - Frøyshlíð (2).
hof-, -hof - Frøyjuhof (3), Frøyshof (2), Njarðarhof (2), Óðinshof (1), Ullarhof (3), Þórshof (24+), Hofheimr (1), Hofland (41), Hofsland (4), Hofsetr (2), Hofstað(i)r (?), Hoftún (3), *Hofvin (23).
hóll - Baldrshóll (1), Njarðarhóll (1).
holmr - Véholmr (1).
hreys - Dísahreys (1).
hváll - Ullarhváll (1).
hörgr - Hörgvin (8).
land - Frøy(ju)land (9), Frøysland (17?), Guðsland (4), Helgaland (44), Hofland (45), Hofsland (4), Njarðarland (5), Óðinsland (2), Ullarland (11), Þórsland (10).
laug - Frøyslaug (1), Helgalaug (1).
- *Ásló (1), Véló (1).
-lundr - Forsetalundr (1), Guðslundr (3).
mörk - Helgamörk (1).
nes - Baldrsnes (3), Frøy(ju)nes (4), Frøysnes (1), Helganes (3), Týrsnes (1), Ullarnes (1), Þórsnes (9).
salr - Óðinssalr (2).
setr - Elgisetr (1?), Friggjarsetr (1), Frøyjasetr (2), Frøyssetr (12), Helgasetr (6), Hofsetr (2), Þórssetr (2).
sjór - Helgisjór (1).
skjölf - Válisskjölf (1), Viðarskjölf (1).
skógr - Helgiskógr (1).
staðr/staðir - Frøysstaðr (2), Hofstaðir (uncertain), Véstaðr (1?).
steinn - Frøyssteinn (1), Helgisteinn (1), Vésteinn (1).
-strönd - Véströnd (1).
sund - Helgasund (1).
teigr - Frøysteigr (1), Véteigr (1).
-tún - Hoftún (3).
vangr - Guðvangr (1), Hofsvang (1?), Ullinsvangr (1), Þórsvangr (1).
vatn - Helgavatn (2), Vévatn (1).
- (8 (2 uncertain)), bólstaðr (1), dalr (4), ey (1), holmr (1), (1), setr (?), staðr (1?), steinn (1), strönd (1), teigr (1), vatn (1).
vík - Baldrsvík (1), Frøyjuvík (3), Frøysvík (3 (4?)), Helgavík (2), Njarðvík / Njarðarvík (5), Ullarvík (3), Þórsvík (2).
vin - Alvin (4), Dísavin (5), Frøysvin (3), Guðvin (6), Helgvin (1), Hofvin (23), Hörgvin (8), Njarðarvin (1), Óðinsvin (3), Ullarvin (6), Ullinsvin (1), Ælvin (4). Þórsvin (2?)
völlr - Frøysvöllr (1-3), Helgivöllr (1), Þórsvöllr (1).
þveit - Frøyjuþveit (2), Frøysþveit (1), Guðsþveit (1), Ullarþveit (3), Þórsþveit (1).


The present section on Denmark uses primarily Kristian Hald's excellent Vore Stednavne as a source but much use has also been made of the chapters on “Danmark” by Gunnar Knudsen in Nordisk Kultur 26 and by the same author in Nordisk Kultur 5. Alleged theophoric toponyms have been cross-checked in the excellent and up-to-date Stednavneordbog by Bent Jørgensen and Houken's Håndbog i danske stednavne has also proved useful as a second opinion. Finally, Hald's chapter on “Kultminder og folketro i stednavne” in Stednavne og Kulturhistorie has been very useful in supplying many instances of cult and mythology preserved in the smaller nature-names and has been the only source discussing belief in the lower mythology as reflected in Danish toponyms.

There are a large number of Danish place-names which involve theophoric names or references to heathen worship. The sites included cover the whole range of importance from large cities like Odense (captial of Fünen) and Thisted to small towns and hill-names, field-names and rivernames such as Gudenå “divine stream”. Quite a few sognenavne (parish-names) provide evidence of heathen worship and some sognebyer (parish district towns) could have been the sites of earlier heathen cult places, with the churches later erected in their stead. There is no way this could apply to all parish towns however, and the following sites suggesting former heathen cult practice never became parish-names: Torslunde, Onsved, Tislund, Nærum, Vivede, Vibøge and Vedde. Also telling is the fact that Vojens “Odins' shrine” (ODan.*Othinswî) only became a sognnavn in 1914! (I’ve been there – it’s nothing more than a large village). So the notion that numerous old pagan sites were consecrated and renamed by the church in later periods may be far-fetched. The work done by Olaf Olsen [see booklist] argues against the tenability of this argument. Excavations that have thus far been conducted in and around Danish churches have not revealed much evidence that they were built on earlier pagan sites. The evidence from Denmark at least suggests that such was rarely, if ever, the case. Jelling church for example, situated near the justly famous Jelling runic monuments, has been excavated and evidence of earlier wooden buildings' foundations has been uncovered. It is now known that a wooden church or even two often preceded a later Romanesque church on a site. However we cannot fully dismiss the notion of the continued use into Christian times of sites which were considered holy during the heathen period. A similar argument highlighting the fact that barrows and heathen-period runestones often exist in close proximity to Danish churches (156 out of 263 known barrows are near to churchyards) - and therefore these sites were once heathen - also has its inherent weaknesses. Barrows are a rather common feature of the Danish landscape anyway and only a small fraction of these barrows date from the Viking Age (probably the very largest ones). Like churches, barrows were usually built on the high ground and this would further explain their frequent proximity to the local parish church. Despite these objections, continued use of the pre-Viking-Age barrows through heathen times and into Christian times as sites of religious function cannot be entirely rejected but their presence near later Christian sites hardly validates the theory that churches usually occupied earlier pagan sites.

The names referred to in this section will cover not only present Denmark but also the once Danish (now Swedish) provinces of Skåne and Halland, as well as former parts of the Danish kingdom that stretched into South Schleswig as far as the Eider. Many of the forms recorded from the southern regions were first done so by North German Hansa officials and hence reflect a (Low) Germanised spelling, rather than a genuinely Old Danish one, e.g. Flensborg (Schleswig-Holstein) was first recorded as Flensburg and the region of Slesvig as Schleswig. First, however, a few notes on the history of theophoric place-name study in Denmark are appropriate.

As early as Saxo Grammaticus, some observations of traces of heathen cult in Danish place-names are being made. However Saxo's remarks are for the most part naive or just plain wrong. In the 1600s, interest for Nordic antiquity and heritage was revived in Denmark (and elsewhere in Scandinavia) as a result of the cultural renaissance that was sweeping across Europe. The first man to seriously concern himself with cultic place-names in Denmark was antiquarian and linguist Ole Worm. But his claims of heathen traces in place-names, like Saxo's much briefer remarks before, were often over-enthusiastic and sometimes ridiculous. Many who followed Worm adhered to his unreliable views and it was not until Peter Syv in the 1700s that some critical scrutiny was brought to bear. Syv recognised that many of the supposed theophoric place-names could much more reasonably be supposed to contain the personal names of men. Many men of the heathen age (and indeed later) bore names which were not identical with (since this was a sacrilege) but closely modelled on or derived from the names of their favoured deieties. As Aage Houken puts it:

Det var ganske simpelt formasteligt at bære en hedensk guds navn, og i den kristne tid ville det være endnu mere umuligt. Derimod ansås det for pietetsfuldt at bære et navn, der var afledt af et gudenavn, så barnet altså blev indviet til guden.” (p.47)

So parents might call their child Øthæn but not Odin (thus *Øthænslof > Ønslev), Torstein but not Tor and Frøsten or Frøger rather than Frøj (Frey). In this way, as Johannes Steenstrup puts it (p.16) “Paa en afledet Maade bærer dernæst et stort Antal Landsbyer Mærke af vor hedenske Fortid...” and although not theophoric toponyms in any true sense, these place-names with theophoric personal names as their initial element still, albeit indirectly, bear testimony of the veneration of heathen gods.

Since, however, it is not possible to find personal names in all cases where a theophoric name is probable, some must be from the names of the deities themselves, rather than from the names of men derived thereof.

The first worthwhile treatment of the theme of theophoric place-names in Denmark was written by Oluf Nielsen in his Spor af den hedenske Gudsdyrkelse. Nielsen, after a thorough examination of the sources, established that there were far fewer theophoric place-names in Denmark than previously thought, and his work is still of value even today.

Contemporary researchers have been much more sober about the existence of theophoric place-names than their predecessors of the previous two centuries. Johannes Steenstrup divided Danish theophoric place-names into three groups according to the significance of the elements the deity names combined with. Thus we have:


1) Natural concepts or relationships

-ager “field”, -bakke “hill”, -dal “valley”, -eng “meadow”, -hælde “slope”, -holm “islet”, -holt “wood”, -kilde “spring”, -land “open land”, -lund “grove”, -næs “promontory”, -sal “hall, house”, -sten “stone, rock”, -sæter “hill pasture”, -“lake”, -tun “yard, enclosure”, -vig “inlet, creek” and -ø “island”.

2) Human dwelling places

-bo “farm; stall”, -“farm, enclosure”, -by “settlement”, -lev “inheritance, something left”, -ryd “clearing”, -stad “town” and -thorp “emigrant settlement”.

3) Heathen Shrines

-harg, -hof and -vi.

Steenstrup hypothesised that elements from 2) cannot have been compounded with god-names. Human habitations, he argued, are only found combined with the personal-names of men. Those settlement-names which appear to be compounded with god-names can easily be explained as personal names - Balder, Idun and Oden (among others) are all known as personal names from medieval Denmark and Sweden. Steenstrup's observations regarding the types of environs associated with god-names seem to me borne out not only from the names I have listed from Denmark, but also Sweden, Norway and even England. Gods are almost without exception associated with natural phenomena (if we count fields as such) and not human constructions, with the rather common “shrine” denotations being an obvious exception to the rule (but many of these may not have been “buildings” as such but open-air meeting places). In other claims, Steenstrup is on shakier ground. His assertion that deity names are nowhere connected to rivers (but only springs and wells) cannot be certainly validated from the extant evidence. We should note that Jan de Vries admits only those in 3) - with a few exceptions - i.e. sites which refer specifically to cult-places and not natural features or younger habitation names. But in this he is surely wrong. There is ample evidence to suggest that deities were directly associated with natural features such as hills, streams, fields, groves and woods - as can be seen from the examples below. Needless to say though, such natural sites of veneration as these, probably not involving any permanent structural features, are almost impossible to verify archaeologically.

Svend Aakjær has done a great deal of work with assumed cultic names in naturnavne (the names of natural features like streams, hills, springs) and has used as his source - for the most part - the village land registers (markbøger) of the 1600s, which record these features incidently. His results shed some interesting light on the possible relationships between nature names and cult in Denmark but the relatively recent nature of the forms recorded in the markbøger means that to draw absolute conclusions is risky. Late surviving forms of nature names often give rise to several etymological possibilities. (Worth noting is Knudsen's caution about attaching too much import to the relatively young marknavne, while Johan Sahlgren and Jan de Vries have both argued that a name can only be cultic when it has a certainly cultic element as a second element - e.g. vi- in place-names can often be ved “wood” (ODan. with) or ODan. wîthi “willow tree”. Genuine theophoric names presumably enter into marknavne to a very limited extent but many aspects of the lower mythology are quite frequently preserved in them. Despite the fact that many of the marknavne are medieval, and not a few early modern, the possibility still exists that a small fraction of them go back to the Viking Age - which is far enough back to allow them to contain heathen related or mythological elements).

Høje (eminences) provide the greatest number of cultic toponyms, with around 54% of the total nature-names. Of these, -bjærg constitutes about 32% (e.g. Gudbjærg, Helligbjærg, Torsbjærg, Onsbjærg and Vidbjærg (ODan. )) and almost all the remaining 22% are found with -høj “hill” as the second element (e.g. Vihøj, Onshøj, Torshøj, Hellehøj). Mose “moor” and kær “marsh” constitute the next largest group with about 34% of the total. Thus we find Vonsmose, Torsmose, Hovmose, Hellemose, Hellekær. With a much smaller part are eng “meadow” and holm “islet”, while “lake”, bæk “brook”, kilde “spring” together form another small element. Very surprising is that such natural places where cultic rites were traditionally held i.e. lund “grove”, skog and ved “wood, forest” (ODan. with) make up such a small part of the total.

Odin, Old Norse Óðinn (Old Danish Ôðen - written Othen), was more widely venerated in Denmark, it being a more aristocratic society in the Viking Age than the more agricultural and mercantile Norway and Iceland. In place-names we find the following forms: Oden-, Oen-, On-, Von-. The last of these, Von-, has come about from the dipthongisation of long ô- to - in Jutlandic dialects, which is modern Danish is rendered by vo-. In other cases Old Danish -ð- has been lost, hence the forms in Oen- and On- etc. Examples are numerous Odense (Fyn) “Odin's sacred place”, (1018 coin: ODSVI; from Adam of Bremen, c.1080: Odansue, 1109: Othenswi; note- Odense Herred probably got its name from the city of Odense), Oddense (Salling, Jylland) “Odin's sacred place” (Otens; 1439: Othensæ, 1464: Odens) - both these last two examples combine ODan. - Onsbjerg (Samsø) “Odin's hill” (1424: Othensberg), Onshøj (Randersområdet, Jylland, near Sønder Onsild) “Odin's hill” (1683: Onshøj), Onsjö (Halland, Sweden) “Odin's island”, Onsjö Härad (Skåne, Sweden) “Odin's lake” (Valdemars Jordebog: Othænsheret), Onsala (Halland, Sweden) “Odin's shrine” (from OSwed.*Odhinssala (de Vries prefers to read *Odhinssalr and therefore “Odin's hall”)), Onsild Herred (containing Nørre Onsild and Sønder Onsild) (Randersområdet, Jylland) “Odin's hill” (1186: Othenshylle; Valdemars Jordebog: Othænshyllæheret; from ODan.*Othenshillæ “hill”), Onslunda (Skåne, Sweden) “Odin's grove” (1401: Othænslunde), Onsved (Skuldelev Sogn, Frederiksborg Amt, Sjælland) “Odin's wood” (< -with) or “Odin's shrine” (< -) (1085: Othense, 1320: Othænsweth), Vojens (Haderslevområdet, Jylland) “Odin's sacred place” (1421: Wodens, 1475: Wodense; ODan.*Othinswî), Vognsild (Himmerland, Nørrejylland) “Odin's shrine” (1428: Otensild), Vonsbæk (Haderslevområdet, Jylland) “Odin's brook” (1413: Odensbek, 1462: Odensbeke in Germanised form), Vonsild (Nørre-Tyrstrup Herred, Haderslevområdet, Jylland) “Odin's hill” (1436: Odensschulde in Germanised form, 1480: Odenshyldh; combines ODan.*hillæ “hill”), Vonsmose (Jylland) “Odin's moor” (1417: Odhensmose), Wonsdamm (Sydslesvig) “Odin's pond” (Danish form is Vonsdam), Wonskjær (Sydslesvig) “Odin's marsh” (Danish form is Vonskjær). There is also a Vojenshøj (Øster Løgum sogn, Sønderjylland) “Odin's hill” (1609: Woyerhugell; with forms in Woyens- in some younger sources - note the closeby Vojens ODan.*Othinswî). A name in Ølsted Sogn, Vejleområdet, Jylland is Oens probably “Odin's shrine” (1484: Otthens, 1494: Wodens). However, along with Odensballe (also in Ølsted Sogn), this may represent a personal-name and the jury is still divided on this issue (Houken for example, prefers in Oens to see the Old Danish man's name Vagn). Oens kilde (Særløse Sogn, Volborg herred) “Odin's spring?” (markbog form; note the Swedish parallel in 1287: Odhens kyældu) is a lost name.

As mentioned earlier, when looking for the name Þór we are faced with the problem that this was also a popular personal name for men. It is can therefore be impossible to decide if we are dealing with a holy site at which the god was venerated or merely reference to the local land owner. In Denmark this may be even more the case than in Norway, for example, where this god was more popular and likely to have a relatively larger role to play as a place-name element. Note the cautionary remark of Huisman:

Aan de talrijke Skandinavische namen, waarin Thor optreedt, zal meestal een antroponiem ten grondslag liggen.” (p.12)

The god's name Þór probably appears in Torslunde (7 instances, 2 of which are sognenavne, e.g. Sjælland - Reerslev Sogn & Kundy Sogn; Lolland - Købelev Sogn) “Thor's sacred grove” (1308: Torslundæ), Torsager (2 instances, 1 is a sognnavn, i.e. Djursland, Jylland) “Thor's field” (1231: Thorsakar), Torshøj (Vendsyssel, Nørrejylland) “Thor's hill” is a modern name, Torsø (Hovlbjærg Herred, Viborgområdet, Jylland) “Thor's hill” (1351: Thorhøj - prob. mistake for *Thorshøj; 1423: Torsyø; 1467: Torsøø) - there is also a Torsølund (1486: Torsyø lwndh) in the same place - , Thorsø (Djursland, Jylland) (1442: Tharssyø, 1468: Tordsiø), Torssjö (Skåne, Sweden) “Thor's lake”, Tårs (Børglum Herred, Vendsyssel, Nørrejylland) “Thor's lake” (1264: Thorse; 1408: Thoorssæ) - 2 instances of Tårs in Lolland are probably *Tornnæs “tower-headland” -. Besides these there a quite a new place-names of local areas and so forth which may contain the god-name Þór, e.g. Torsbjerg and Torsmose but it is more reasonable to assume personal-names in these. The well-known Torsbjerg (or Tåsbjærg) in Angel, however, is first recorded in sources from 1700 and as local Plattdütsch speakers pronounce it /Toss'barg/, it cannot reasonably be thought to contain the god-name. A lost Thorslund near Odense (Fyn) was first recorded in 1245 (as this was a forest name near the old cultic site of Odense (“Odin's shrine”), there can be little doubt that this was also a cultic site), and the name of an island, Tåsinge, was according to Valdemars Jordebog Thosland in his time, and therefore a suspected Thor-name, i.e. ODan.*Thorsland. Further possible instances of Þór but which could equally well contain personal-names (especially those in which Tor- appears in the stem-form) or other elements are: Torø (Fyn) probably in fact “island with an elevated area” (Valdemars Jordebog: Thorø), Turø (Valdemars Jordebog: Thorø maior), Torøje (1397: Thorøwe from *ODan. Thorshøgh) and Torrig (Lolland) probably contains element either ODan. torf “turf” or thorn “hawthorn” (1447: Thorwigh). Certainly from personal-names or nouns denoting natural features are Torslev (Vendsyssel, Nørrejylland) (1408: Thørsløv), Toreby (2 instances on Lolland: 1) Musse Herred - 1231: Thoræby from the man's name Thôri; 2) Ryde Sogn - 1473: Tornby from ODan. thorn “hawthorn”) and Tureby (Præstøområdet, Sjælland) (1323: Thureby from the man's name Thûri) - theophoric names are seldom (if ever) found compounded with settlement names, especially later ones like -by. Many other names (settlement and nature names) in Tor(s)- can be explained by personal-names beginning in Tor-, an element which was very common, as well as being found in a string of appellatives and other words. Thor has been seen in many place-names and his name can easily be mixed up with the many personal names derived from his, such as Tore, Torsten and Toke. Furthermore, Gudmund Schütte's theory that theophoric names may appear compounded in place-names in their stem-form has lead to many mistaken interpretations, e.g. Torhøj, Torløkke and Tordys. These most certainly contain personal-names. DeVries claims there are several examples of Torsdal in Jylland but I cannot find any evidence of them so far. Most probably they contain personal-names.

Tyr the Norse and Germanic god of war (ODan. - written Ti, ON Týr, OE Tîw) is a little less common and it is possible that by the time some of the later places were named, his cult was already old. Nevertheless, his is the second most common theophoric name element in Danish place-names and his cult must have been strong (the most common being Thor). The Danes seemed to have cultivated him more than the Norwegians and Swedes - judging at any rate from the place-name evidence. There are many examples of in Denmark being compounded with with “wood” and lund “grove”. His name usually appears as Ti(s)- in such place-names as: Tim (Ringkøbing Amt, Jylland) “Tyr's homestead” (older Tyym from 1325; ODan.*Timheimr), Tibirke (Frederiksborg Amt, Sjælland) “Tyr's birch” (1208: Tibirkæ), Tikøb (Frederiksborg Amt, Sjælland) “Tyr's wood purchase” (1164: Tiwithcop, i.e. “Tyr” + with “wood” + køb “purchase”), Tilst (Hasle Herred, Århusområdet, Jylland) “Tyr's road” (1203: Tislæst), Tisbjerg (Als) “Tyr's hill”, Tise (Salling, Jylland) “Tyr's wood” (1503: Tiiswed) - Tise in Børglum Herred, Vendsyssel, Nørrejylland (1369: Thisæ) is doubtful because of the th- spelling and is probably ODan.*thî “bondwoman” -, Tiset (2 instances in Jylland - 1) Haderslevområdet; 1409: Tiiswid; 2) Århusområdet; 1494: Tisszwid) “Tyr's wood” seem fairly certain (both compounded with ODan. with “wood”), Tislum (Vendsyssel, Nørrejylland) “Tyr's grove” (1340: Tydslund), Tisvilde (Frederiksborg Amt, Sjælland) “Tyr's spring” (1389: Tiswillæ), Thisted has two instances (Thyholm, Jylland; 1376: Tystath) and (Viborgområdet, Jylland; 1497: Thistedtt) “Tyr's place”, Tislund (Jylland) “Tyr's grove” is found in four separate locations: i) a sognenavn near Haderslev, Nørre-Rangstrup Herred, Haderslevområdet, Jylland (1325: Tiislwnd); ii) Brørup Sogn, Esbjergområdet, Jylland (1392: Tyslund); iii) once a forest and thing-stead at Handewitt (earlier Hanved Sogn), near Flensborg in Sydslesvig; iv) once a forest near Ringsted, Sjælland (1148: Thislund), Tisted (Himmerland, Nørrejylland) “Tyr's place” (1467: Tiistet), Tissø (vest Sjælland) “Tyr's lake” (1452: Tisøe).

Balder, radiant son of Odin and Frigg, is generally agreed to be found in Ballesager (locally known as Boldesager) (Esbjergområdet, Jylland) “Balder's open land” (1566: Boldersagger; corresponding to ODan.*Baldrsakr). Two now disappeared names: 1387: Baldirs æng (Børglum Herred, Vendsyssel, Nørrejylland) and 1485: Bollershøwe (Hassing Herred; ODan.*Baldrshøgh), as well as current Baldersbrønde (Københavns Amt, Sjælland) “-spring, well” (1321: Baldorpsbrynnæ) and Bollerslev “-heritage” contain personal names (the last two Balli and Balder respectively). Possibly containing the god-name is Boldershøj (Agerskov Sogn, Haderslevområdet, Sønderjylland) “Balder's hill”? (1700s: Boldershøy, Bollershøy), while South Jutish Baldersbæk is to be considered a very unlikely candidate. A couple of nature-names found in Sønderjylland, Boldersmark “field” and Bolderstoft “enclosure” probably compound the South Jutish male name Bolle in the genitive as their first element.

Ulborg Herred “Ulborg County” may hide the name of the Old Norse god Ullr (found as Vlburgheret in 1231), however this god is known to have been not much venerated in Denmark, even though an Eddic poem counts him among the 12 foremost members of the Æsir (he was primarily, if not exclusively, a Swedish-Norwegian god, where his name is found thickest in Uppland and around Oslofjorden). For this reason it may well be that the names in Ul- actually refer to uld “wool” and likewise many names which at first sight appear to contain Ullr in reality contain only ulv- “wolf”. The parish-name Ulbjerg (Rinds herred, Himmerland, Nørrejylland) (1363: Wlbiergh, 1401: Wolbierg) almost certainly contains only ODan. ull “wool” (Jørgensen prefers to read ODan. slette “plain” (cf. ON völlr) and thus “hill on the plain”). Ulborg Herred is probably the only Danish place-name that refers to this god - if indeed it really does.

Njörd the most important fertility god and a member of the Vanir has his name preserved in a number of toponymns but he was generally better known in Norway and Sweden. ODan. Niærth (cf. ON Njörðr) appears in Nærum (Søllerød Sogn, Københavns Amt, Sjælland) “Njörd's homestead” (1186: Niartherum, 1193: Niartharum; ODan. Niarthar (gen. sing.) + hêm) and twice in (Nørre and Sønder) Nærå (Odenseområdet, Fyn) “Njörd's hill” (1304: Niærthøu; 1383: Nærdøwæ; ODan.*Niærthhøghæ). Also possible is the parish-name Nørager (Djursland, Jylland) “Njörd's open land?” (1334: Nærakær; 1338: Næragær) but old forms may simply show delabialising with Nørre-. There is some support from two runestones from Fyn containing the compound nurakuþi “Nore-god” that a by-name for Njörd, *Nori, is found in Nørre Herred (Salling, Jylland) “Njörd's County?” (1231: Nørgæheret, Valdemars Jordebog: Nørgæhereth; 1407: Norgehæreth) and (Vester and Øster) Nordlunde (Lolland) “Njörd's grove?” (1354: Nørlunde) but neither Jørgensen nor Hald make any mention of this theory.

His son, Frey (ON Freyr, ODan.*Frøj), normally appears in place-names as Frø(s)- and his name required the genitive in -s. An old Common Germanic word forms the root of this god-name, cf. Gothic Frauja “lord”. This god of fertility appears in Frøs Herred (Haderslevområdet, Jylland) “Frey's County” (1231: Frøsheret; Valdemars Jordebog: Frøshæreth) and Frøsmose (Fjenneslev Sogn, Alsted Herred, Sjælland) “Frey's moor” (Knytlingasaga: Freysmosi; 1343: Frøsmose). A Frøsbjerg “Frey's hill” and a Frøshøj “Frey's hill” are also known from Denmark. The 3 instances of Frøslev in Denmark contain either ODan. frø “lord” (the same word as *Frøj) or a compound of the god-name and ODan.*(r) “heathen priest” - (1) Mors, Vestjylland - 1412: Frøsløff; 2) Præstøområdet, Sjælland - 1291: Fræslef; 3) northwest of Flensborg, Åbenråområdet, Sønderjylland - 1472: Frossleue). A name recorded in a markbog compounding *Frøj appears to be Frøes Kilde Aaszen and has given rise to modern Frøskilde (Fyrendal Sogn, Sorøområdet, Sjælland) “Frey's spring”. The local names Frøkær “frog-marsh” and Frømose “frog-moor” however both contain ODan. frødh “frog”.

His sister and Njörd's daughter, Freya (ON Freyja, ODan.*Frøja), normally appears in place-names as Frø - without the -s genitive because she is feminine. Thus we find Frølund (Gellerup Sogn, Hammerum Herred, Ringkøbing Amt, Jylland) “Freya's grove” (1497: Frølund), Frølunde (Tårnborg Sogn, Slagelse Herred, Sorøområdet, Sjælland) “Freya's grove” (1485: Frølunde) and Frøbjerg (Assensområdet, Fyn) “Freya's hill” (1383: Frøbyærgh). Jan de Vries also argues for a Frøbjerg with this meaning on Sjælland. A disputed place-name is the gård Frøjk (Måbjærg Sogn, Ringkøbing Amt, Jylland) in which some (such as Aakjær) have sought to see *Frøja (1418: Frøydewikh, 1586: Frøicke) but this is rejected by Houken, who argues that the -d- in the spelling from 1418 excludes this possibility (Jørgensen reads ODan. frødh “frog” as the first element and Hald ODan. viik “creek” as the second). The name of a herred, Hindborg (Salling, Jylland) (1231: Hærnburg, Valdemars Jordebog: Hærnburghæreth) possibly involves a by-name for Freya, known from both Old Danish and Old Icelandic sources: ODan. Hærn, ON Hörn but more likely compounds ODan.*hærn “elevation, hill” (Jørgensen, Hald). Names containing Frue “lady”, have been ruled out as referring to Freya-cult and without doubt stem from later Catholic times.

The name Hel, in Norse mythology goddess of death and ruler of Niflheimr (the underworld) is thought to be preserved in Helligsø (Thyholm, Jylland) “Hel's lake” (1410: Helliszøe). ON Borr, ODan. Bor, father of Odin in Norse mythology, some toponymists have found in the parish-name Boeslunde (Sorøområdet, Sjælland) “Borr's grove?” (1231: Borslund) but this probably compounds ODan. borth “edge, rim” (Jørgensen). Also possible, but doubtful is Bovlund (Agerskov Sogn, Haderslevområdet, Sønderjylland) “Borr's grove?” (1266: Borlund). Goddess and guardian of the apples of rejuvination, Iðunn, has been claimed to be the first element of Enø (Sorøområdet, Sjælland) “Idunn's island?” (Valdemars Jordebog: Ithænø) but Jørgensen has a more likely explanation (p.71). Gudmund Schütte has also seen her name in two instances of Jebjerg (1- Randersområdet - 1342: Ebyærgh, from ODan.*Ekbiargh; 2 - Salling - 1390: Jebergh) “Idun's hill”(?) but Jørgensen prefers (probably quite rightly) to read ODan. ek “oak” and hence “hill with oak trees”, which sounds much more likely. Houken agrees with this interpretation of Jørgensen, at least in the Salling case. A final case of a minor god having been claimed to be found in a Danish place-name is that of the ON god of the sea Hléyr (a by-name for Ægir). This name, according to Oluf Nielsen, appears in the genitive in Læsø (Vendsyssel, Nørrejylland) which is itself recorded in Old West Norse sources (1200s: Hlérsey). Danish forms of the same period lack the -r- however (c.1200: Lessø, 1219: Lesø, Leshø, 1231: Læsø) and this gives room for some doubt (coupled with the complete lack of a parallel in Denmark - or anywhere in Scandinavia, as far as I know). Kristian Hald and Jørgensen both prefer to see a supposed ODan.*læs (which answers to OE læs “grass meadow”) compounded with ø “island”. Basing an interpretation on a form which is lacking from Old Danish (and indeed OSc. to my knowledge) and supposing a parallel to a West Germanic word is certainly risky, but their conjecture still seems more reasonable than Nielsen's fantastic claim and must be accepted until a better interpretation is offered.

Place-names in unspecified Gud- “god” (ODan. guth) have been identified in about ten place-names, although there is always a risk of possible confusion with later Christian developments. It has to be said though that the naming of natural features of the landscape or settlements after the divinity or related aspects of the faith was felt in the Christian tradition to be blasphemous and most names beginning with this element are almost certainly heathen. Safely referring to a pre-Christian god we may assign: Gudensø (Jylland) “divine lake”, Gudenå (4 sites - Randersområdet; Skanderborgområdet; Viborgområdet; Vejleområdet - all in Jylland) “divine stream, river” (Knytlingasaga: Goðnarfjörðr; 1478: Gwden - original river name was Guden with the second element -å “small river, stream” added later), Gudbjerg (Svendborgområdet, Fyn) “divine hill” (1423: Gudberre, 1433: Gudhberghe), Gudhjem (Bornholm) “divine settlement, homestead” (1547: Gudium; ODan.*Guthhêm - could have been a settlement around a goði-temple or a divinely protected settlement), Gudme (Svendborgområdet, Fyn) “divine settlement, homestead” (1231: Guthumheret; ODan.*Guthhêm), Gudsø (Vejleområdet, Jylland) “divine inlet” (1524: Gutzwiig - present name is modernised assumption based upon a misinterpretation in the early modern period of the original Old Danish name), Gudum (Ringkøbing Amt, Jylland) “divine settlement, homestead” (1266: Guthum; ODan.*Guthhêm), Gudum (Sorøområdet, Sjælland) “divine settlement, homestead” (c.1170: Guthum), Gudum (Himmerland, Jylland) “divine settlement, homestead” (1379: Guthemlund), Lille Gundsø (Roskildeområdet, Sjælland) “(Little) divine lake” (1282: Guthingsio - Gundsølille is a village near Lake Gundsø), Gundsømagle (Roskildeområdet, Sjælland) “(Great) divine lake” (1282: Guthingsio - Gundsømagle is a village near Lake Gundsø). A lost nature-name (known from the local markbog) is Guid Bierig (Mørke Sogn, Øster Lisbjerg herred; cf. Gudbjerg above) “divine hill”? but this late form is harder to separate from possible etymologies with profane meaning.

Danish place-names containing the adjective hellig “holy, sacred” (ODan. hêlagh) are also quite numerous, especially in Jylland (in passing we can note that local versions of Helgenæs are found in Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Finland, as well as Denmark). They generally manifest themselves in names beginning Hel-, or in the dialect form Helle-. The word hellig and the place-names derived from it are not be be confused with that deriving from the goddess Hel [see above]. The given toponyms all refer to pre-Christian customs and worship of various kinds, since to name a place as being holy in Christian times was considered blasphemous. Thus we find: Hellebæk (Frederiksborg Amt, Sjælland) “holy brook” (1582: Hellebeck), Hellehøj (Thyholm, Jylland) “holy hill”, Hellesø (Als) “holy lake”, Helgenæs (Djursland, Jylland) “holy headland” (c.1186: Helghænes), Hellenæs (Lolland) “holy headland” (1420: Helnes), Hellerød (Thyholm, Jylland) “holy strand” (1564: Hieller - modern form is a false reconstruction, probably with Hillerød (Sjælland) as a model), Helleskov (Jylland) “holy forest”, Hellested (Præstøområdet, Fyn) “holy place” (1261: Hælgæstathæ), Helleved (Notmark Sogn, Als) “holy wood” (1569: Helwit (Germanised spelling)), Hellighøje (Vendsyssel, Nørrejylland) “holy hills”, Helligkilde (Thyholm, Jylland) “holy spring” (1360: Hellekield - modern form is a romantic reconstruction), Hellum (Himmerland, Jylland) “holy settlement” (1231: Hellyumheret), Hellum (Vendsyssel, Nørrejylland) “holy settlement” (1465: Helym) - both ODan. hellig + hêm, Helnæs (Assensområdet, Fyn) “holy headland” (1231: Hælghænæs) and Helleholm (Agersø) “holy islet”. Care has to be taken with this element - as many others - because the source of many other Hel(l)- names (or even some of these) may be in personal names such as Helge, words like Helvede “hell” or personal names compounded with hêlagh which have later become contracted. Note that Helligsø (Thyholm, Jylland) “Hel's lake” (1410: Helliszøe) was later not recognised as denoting the goddess and taken to mean “holy”. Equal caution is needed, for example, when interpreting the Icelandic place-names supposedly incorporating this element (see below).

An element relating to heathen worship that appears quite often in Denmark is the local parallel to ON (ODan., , with rather common side-form ) “heathen shrine, sanctuary”. There are several examples: Vedde (Munke-Bjærgby Sogn, Sorøområdet, Sjælland) “shrine at a forest-clearing” (c.1250: Wæthwetæ, i.e. + thwetæ cf. the English “Danelaw” place-name element thwaite), Vemb (Ringkøbing Amt, Jylland) “shrine homestead” (c.1325: Weæm), Viborg (Viborgområdet, Jylland) “shrine hill” (1075: Wiberg - berg “hill” was later misinterpreted as borg “town”), Viby (2 sites on Fyn -1) Bjerge Herred, Assensområdet -1447: Wiby; Odensenområdet - 1430: Viby) “settlement by a shrine” (ODan. Wiby), Vibøge (Tandslet Sogn, Als, Jylland) “shrine by beech trees” (1245: Wibøki), Viuf (Vejleområdet, Jylland) “shrine...?” (1330: Wigøth, second element gøth is unexplained but possibly a corruption of ODan.*guth), Vium (2 sites) “shrine homestead” (Salling, Jylland - 1400: Vyvm; Viborgområdet, Jylland - 1442: Wium) and Vivede (Hylleholt Sogn, Præstøområdet, Sjælland) “forest with a shrine” (1380: Wiuede), Viengevej (north of Århus, Jylland) “meadow-shrine road” and in (Skåne, Sweden) we have a likely example of uncompounded “shrine, sanctuary”. A disappeared village (from Vindinge Sogn, Tune Herred), Visby “settlement by a shrine” was probably called originally *Vi or *Vindingevi since in 1085 it is recorded as Winnincgawe but by the 1200s this had been compounded with -by - (N.B. Gotland's famous Visby was also originally only called Vi). Other names with initial Vi- probably derive from ODan. with “wood” (cf. ON viðr), wîthi “willow” or wîk “inlet” and it is difficult to separate them out. The name of a local natural feature, Viemose “moor with a heathen shrine” (?) has been rejected by Hald, who prefers to read ODan. wîthi “willow tree” and therefore “willow moor”. Hald does admit that a simplex nature name Vi could denote “sanctuary” and such is the name of a locality in the vicinity of Husby in Angeln (1714: Wiehe), whose somewhat elevated situation rules out the alternative derivation from vidje “osier willow”.

Hov, Old Norse hof, arguably does not appear in Denmark. All names supposingly incorporating this element are at any rate heavily disputed. Critics argue that in all instances of hov appearing in a Danish place-name, it denotes either “hill” or “small harbour”. However in Hove (2 sites) some have sought to find a plural form of hov (1) Københavns Amt, Sjælland - 1164-78: Hofwum; 2) Ringkøbing Amt, Jylland - c.1325: Houæ). But again, this may have simply denoted “elevated ground”, using a word which has cognates in other Germanic languages (and therefore reducing the “shrine” argument somewhat), although it appears that in Norway this word developed in meaning from “little hill” to “(elevated) shrine”. A further contested example in Denmark is Hovby (Fakse Herred, Præstøområdet, Sjælland) “settlement by a shrine?” (1348: Howby) but Jørgensen prefers to find ODan.* “trough, vessel”. As a further note of caution we can remark that five instances of Hov are all dismissed by Jørgensen: (1) Langeland, Fyn - 1231: Ho, 1347: Hov - the earliest spelling rules out hof and points to a noun formed from ODan. adjective * and therefore signifying “the towering one”; 2) Randersområdet, Jylland - 1340: Haug - a compound with ODan.* “high” and høgh “hill”, therefore “the high-hill”; 3) Thyholm, Jylland - 1458: Hoo - is identical with ODan.* “trough, vessel”; 4) Vendsyssel, Nørrejylland - 1548: Hov, 1552: Hwo - is probably ODan.* “trough, vessel”; 5) Århusområdet, Jylland - 1608: Haa Havn - is ODan.* “trough, vessel” and havn “harbour”, therefore “the trough-forming harbour”. Hovum (Jylland) and Hovborg (Esbjergområdet, Jylland) have been championed by some but are doubtful, the latter being either ODan.* “trough” or ODan.* “wood” + borg, according to Jørgensen (1451: Hoborg, c.1525: Hoffbor). Houken mentions a Hobro (near Onsild, Randersområdet, Jylland) “bridge incorporating a shrine”(?) which he points out is named after the bridge which spanned the Onsild river (1421: Hobroo, 1498: Hoffbro). This bridge would lead to a hill on which Odin was venerated - ODan.*Othinshillæ i.e. modern Onsild. This is unconvincing because of the recent nature of the oldest forms (especially the fact the spelling which might suggest a Danish eqiuvalent to ON hof only appears in the youngest form!) and for the fact that such a name would be unique in Danish toponymy - even if it is near to a certain former heathen site. One of the possibilities stated above must be seen in it.

Old Danish *hargh, *hørgh (ON hörgr, OE hearg, OHG harug) forms no theophoric compounds on Danish soil and it is therefore difficult to decide whether examples of the name have heathen connotations or merely imply its secular meaning “stony ground” (the theophoric sense probably translates as “stone altar”). Place-names which are claimed to preserve this element are Harre (Salling, Jylland) (Valdemars Jordebog: Hargæheret; 1386: Harre), Harreby (Haderslevområdet, Jylland) “settlement by a stony outcrop” (1206: Harghby, 1481: Hareby) and Hørby (3 sites - 1) Himmerland, Jylland - 1452: Hørby; 2) Holbækområdet, Sjælland - 1316: Hørby; 3) Vendsyssel, Nørrejylland - 1408: Hørby) “settlement by a stony outcrop”. Also possible are Harris and Harrild (Nørrejylland). A number of other sites which have been championed to contain the heathen sense of this element in reality have been found to contain profane elements such as havre “oats”, hare “hare” or hør “flax”. As with the other names thought to compound terms for “shrine, sanctuary”, the oldest forms are the only ones capable of deciding with any certainty that a place-name may be connected to former heathen cult. It is almost impossible and very dangerous to use more recent forms as religious historical evidence. Only those instances compounded with a god-name can be considered certain.

Old Norse þulr “sage” or “pagan priest” is reckoned to appear in a couple of Danish place-names: Thulshøj (near Sønder Onsild, Randersområdet, Jylland) “priest's hill” (1683: Thulshøj) and Tulshøj (also near Sønder Onsild, Randersområdet, Jylland) “priest's hill”.

Suspected heathen heliolatry (sun-worship) has been the interpretation of two Danish parishes called Solbjerg “sun-hill” and there at least 6 sites with this name (1) Esbjergområdet, Jylland - 1292: Solbiærigh; 2) Himmerland, Jylland; 3) Holbækområdet, Sjælland - 1228: Solbiargi; 4) Københavns Amt, Sjælland - 1186: Solbiarge; 5) Mors, Jylland; 6) Århusområdet, Jylland). Those which have become the names of villages must be very ancient and it is not inconceivable that they might at one time have been connected with heathen cult. Solhøj “sun-hill” is also known from Sønderjylland but this may be much younger. Another element which appears to be very old (perhaps antedating the belief in the Æsir) is found in modern toponyms as spå- and is identical with modern Danish spå “to prophesize, predict”. Finding this element in the place-names of a locality would suggest that the ancient inhabitants of the area would look to certain natural features to provide them with indications for future weather trends, crop yield and perhaps even other types of events. Such a naturally prophetic ability appears to be associated with water. Thus we find a Spåbæk in Vinding Sogn, Ringkøbing Amt, Vestjylland “brook where prophecies are given” (1610: Spabeck) and the same in Nørre Omme Sogn also in Ringkøbing Amt, Vestjylland. Both of these are now settlement names (suggesting that they are of some antiquity) and are no longer used of the local brooks. The implication is that the brook's level and condition can predict a dry or wet summer. Spåmose (Franekær Sogn, Langeland) “moor or marsh where prophecies are given” is found in a markbog as Spaa Mosze.

The following place-names: Ølby (Ringkøbing Amt, Jylland (c.1325: Ølby) and Roskildeområdet, Sjælland (1302: Ølby)), Ål (Esbjergområdet, Jylland; 1325: Aal), Åle (Skanderborgområdet, Jylland; 1432: Aall), Ålum (Viborgområdet, Jylland; 1231: Alum) and Albøge (Djursland, Jylland; 1469: Albøgi), it has been claimed by some, include the same mysterious word alu (ODan.*al) found on Proto-Norse runic inscriptions and which probably corresponds to Gothic alhs “shrine”, OSwed.al(a) and OE ealh “shrine”. However, this word cannot be proven for certain to exist in Danish place-names and it appears unlikely that it was used as a theophoric name element in Denmark (but see Sweden and Finland below). The word itself has not survived in the Scandinavian languages. De Vries and Houken reject all of these and Jørgensen explains them by either Jutish ål “furrow; water channel” or øl “beer” (in the case of the two Ølbys), except Albøge which he seems to agree involves ODan.*al “heathen shrine” and ODan.*bøki “beech-tree” (Hald also entertains the possbility of Albøge from *al). Jørgensen also admits the possibility of Albjerg (Svendborgområdet, Fyn) compounding ODan.*al and biargh “hill” - as does Houken. The earliest form is 1473: Albiergh and the name might mean “hill with, or by, a heathen shrine”.

Uncompounded Lunde “(sacred) grove” is found 13 times (e.g. Esbjergområdet, Jylland - 1325: Lunde; Odenseområdet, Fyn -1231: Lundæheret, 1329: Lwndæ; Svendborgområdet, Fyn; Tønderområdet, Sønderjylland) and Lund is found 9 times on Danish soil (Præstøområdet, Sjælland; Ringkøbing Amt, Jylland; Salling, Jylland; Skanderborgområdet, Jylland; Sorøområdet, Sjælland; Thyholm, Jylland; Tønderområdet, Sønderjylland; Vendsyssel, Nørrejylland; Viborgområdet, Jylland). The eldest recorded form is of the Lund in Sorøområdet, Sjælland: 1259: Lund.

Thietmar of Merseburg testified (1012 AD) that Lejre (Roskildeområdet, Sjælland) was a centre for sacrifical offerings but it is very uncertain that the name itself has cultic connotations. Those who have sought to find evidence of heathen cult in other names with this (or a similar) element, including a series of nature-names, are on very controversial ground.

The names of small localities and nature-names seem to give a huge amount of affirmation to the belief that sacrificial offerings and heathen festivals were held in the open air at specific sites. Names such as the following are found across Denmark: Blodager (Søborg Sogn, Randersområdet, Jylland), Blodeng (Søborg Sogn,  Randersområdet, Jylland), Blodhøj (Salløv, Roskildeområdet, Sjælland - among others) “field/meadow/hill where sacrifices were made”, Blodbjærg “hill where sacrifices were made”, Blodbold literally “blood-brave” (i.e. a site where people were accustomed to spilling blood, a sacrificial spot), Blodmose (near Holstebro, Ringkøbing Amt, Jylland) “moor where sacrifices were made”, Blodkær “marsh or moor where sacrifices were made”, Blodsig “heath pond at which sacrifices were made”, Blodholm (in Lyngby, Roskildeområdet, Sjælland) “islet where sacrifices were made”, Blodsten “rock at which sacrifices were made”, Gildbjærg “hill at which festivities were held”, Gildhøj “hill at which festivities were held”, Gildsig “heath pond at which festivities were held”, Gildebrønde “spring or well at which festivities were held”, Gjeldmose “moor on which festivities were held”, Drabbold literally “slaughter-brave” (i.e. a site where people were not afraid to kill or sacrifice), Mordbjærg “hill where sacrifices (lit. “murders”) were performed”, Morddal “valley where sacrifices (lit. “murders”) were performed”, Mordhøj “hill where sacrifices (lit. “murders”) were performed”. Hald is doubtful of any of the Blod- names and prefers to see various compounds in blå- “blue”. An interesting case is Dejbjerg (Ringkøbing Amt, Jylland) “hill of the dead” (c.1325: Døthbyergh). In heathen times places of the dead were probably held to be sacred and this site may have been the location of cultic rituals. Heathen rites on hills have been associated by Aakjær with the holding of the thing and he claims these two activities are interrelated.

Since we have dealt with the lower orders of mythology and Germanic folk-belief in the Icelandic, English, Dutch and German sections, they ought to be treated here. Belief in the lower orders of mythical beings survived in the folklore of the ordinary people long after remembrance of the heathen gods had passed away. Such elements ought then be detectable in relative abundance in the place-names of small localities and nature-names. And this is indeed the case - traces of theophoric names, rituals or sanctuaries are not very significant in Danish marknavne but references to the lower mythology and later folk beliefs are quite common.

Beginning with giants, ODan. iötun (cf. ON jötunn, OE eoten) gives a Jutish side-form jynd- (found in the local term jyndovn (standard Danish stendysse) “dolmen”), from which we can mention Jyndbjerg (Mammen Sogn, Viborgområdet, Jylland) “giant's hill” and Jyndevad (Burkal Sogn, Tønderområdet, Sønderjylland) “ford where giants live” (1230-45: Jotenwath, 1238: Jønewath, 1245: Iøthnewath, 1504: Jvnnewow). Also appearing are Stor Jenild and Liten Jenild (Hover Sogn, Vejleområdet, Jylland) which are hill names and compound ODan. iöten + hillæ “hill”. Modern Danish jætte “giant”, known from ODan. in the plural form iætther (cf. ON jötunn), is found in a now lost name Jætthavne Aas (Køng Sogn, Præstøområdet, Sjælland) “ridge in the giant's garden” according to the local markbog. Old Danish vættæ (cf. ON véttr, vættr) “being, sprite, wight” is found compounded with a number of names for hills. In Kirkerup Sogn, Sorøområdet, Sjælland, we find a Vættebjerg “sprite's hill” and two lost names are also known: Wett Høy Aasz (Drøsselbjerg Sogn, Holbækområdet, Sjælland) and Wæte Høyesz Aaz (Herlufsholm Sogn, Sorøområdet, Sjælland) both according to their respective markbøger and meaning “sprite hill's ridge”. This name for a mischievous and secretive being is especially frequent in Sjælland and used there to denote subterranean beings living in the hills.

Dwarves, another staple element of Germanic folk belief and lower mythology (in the West Norse scheme of things at any rate, they had a rather significant role) are to be found in a number of Danish nature-names. Dværghøj “dwarf's hill” is found five times in Sønderjylland, where a less certain Dværgholt “dwarf's copse”(?) is also known. This same Dværgholt is found three times in Tolne Sogn, Vendsyssel, Nørrejylland, while in the same parish, Dverretved “dwarf's forest clearing” is the name of a village and there seems little doubt the two are related. A now lost toponym containing this element is found in a markbog from Estvad Sogn, Ringkøbing Amt, Vestjylland, where Duere dalsz aarsz Giøe is recorded. As a place-name element, dværg- appears to be characteristically Jutish, as Kristian Hald rightfully points out. Associated with dwarves was their great skill in metalworking and their reputation for being hoarders of treasure. A belief that dwarves undertook metalworking in the hills where they supposedly lived is preserved in such names as Smedebjerg, Smedehøj and Smedjehøj all “smith's hill”, of which a number of examples are known. Dwarves' reputation for hoarding treasure led to the belief that one could hear them locking their treasure chests up in the hills. This belief is the origin of the rather common Kistehøj “chest-hill”, which is found three times in Nordslesvig, as well as - for example - in Hornbæk Sogn, Frederiksborg Amt, Sjælland (known as early as 1164). A couple of now lost names from markbøger are Kiste høys agre (Nørager Sogn, Djursland, Jylland) “field in the environs of chest-hill” and Kist Høys Fald (Hasle Sogn, Bornholm) which means the same.

Elves are very well represented in local names for natural features. ODan. ælf “elf” survived as the dialect form el until at least 1800 and as such appears in a number of names in the landscape. However, simplex el is often difficult to distinguish from the tree name el “alder”. Fairly certain (because alder trees rarely grow on hills) is Ellehøj “elf hill”, which is found in a number of instances. On the other hand, Ellekær “marsh” and Ellemose “moor” must represent the tree name. The island Helgenæs (Djursland, Jylland) offers a Ellemandsbjerget “hill of the elf-man” (1595: Ellemansbirg) which seems certain, as does Elle Mands Bierge, a now lost name from a markbog from Mårslet Sogn, Århusområdet, Jylland. Another lost name from a markbog is Ellemandsz Holm “elf-man's islet” from Køng Sogn, Præstøområdet, Sjælland. Also certain seems to be Ellekons Høj (Gjellerup Sogn, Ringkøbing Amt, Vestjylland) “elf-woman's hill”.

Bjergfolk which translates rather vaguely into English as “rock-dwellers”, is the theme underlying several names denoting local natural features. As such, the name appears to refer to the kin of dwarves and perhaps also vætter as a whole. There are numerous examples of Mand(s)bjerg and Mand(s)høj across the Danish landscape. Mandbjerg “hill inhabited by a rock-dweller” is the name of a village in Sønderjylland (just south of Toftlund, Haderslevområdet) and the name of a hill in Øster-Velling Sogn, Viborgområdet, Jylland. A Mandhøj “hill inhabited by a rock-dweller” is the name of an eminence in Ibsker Sogn, Bornholm. Several now lost names recorded in markbøger can be mentioned: Mands biergs Agere (Herlev Sogn, in Københavns Amt, Sjælland) “field of the rock-dweller”, Mandtz Høge (Trige Sogn, Århusområdet, Jylland) “hill inhabited by a man” and the curious Stue Mands Aaszen (Særløse Sogn, Roskildeområdet, Sjælland) “man who lives in a chamber in the river”. Under this heading we might also include the many toponyms for local features which are compounded with trold “troll” (ON troll) and it seems difficult to draw a distinction in meaning between these and the bjergfolk. There are many instances of Troldhøj “hill inhabited by a troll” in Nordslesvig, as well as cases of Troldkær “marsh visited by a troll”. Care has to be taken with South Jutish toponyms, since a more recent meaning there of trold has been “(the) Devil”.

Finally, we ought to note the warning of Gunnar Knudsen, who cautions against the over-enthusiastic “finding” of supposed very ancient cultic (i.e. pre-Norse pantheon) elements in Danish place-names. He confesses some reservations in interpreting stolpe, stav and stok as phallic symbols and points out that elements supposedly denoting fire-worhip (ild, lys and skin) are dubious since fire certainly had many other uses and plain skin would be anomalous as a place-name element. Furthermore, hjul and ring as supposed evidence of heliolatry he argues as far more likely to refer to agricultural or other implements. The many place-names incorporating animal elements are not certain evidence of cultic practice or sacrifice. True enough both men and animals were given as offerings at Lejre, but he requires that a second element denoting “sacrificial place” be present before a place-name with an animal element can be reasonably considered as having former connections to cult.


* Note: In order to avoid confusion and demonstrate continuity of usage, the place-names in the former Danish provinces of Skåne, Halland etc. (now in present day Sweden) have been included in the sections for both Denmark and Sweden.



This section on Sweden has as its main informants Oskar Lundberg's chapter on “Sverige” in Nordisk Kultur 26 and that of the same name by Gösta Franzén in Nordisk Kultur 5. A good deal of further information and instances of theophoric toponyms have been culled from de Vries' Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte.

Names such as Torslunda and Odenslunda and even contracted Onslunda have never completely disappeared from folk-memory as former cultic places. Olaus Petri, writing in the 1600s, mentions helgelundar and the element vi- has been long recognised as denoting a holy place or shrine from names like Odensvi and Torsvi.

During the revival of learning in the 1500s and 1600s, Scandinavia's ancient religion became better known and speculations were inspired about heathen cultic traces in Swedish place-names. Johan Loccenius in 1654 recognised Ulleråker in the vicinity of Uppsala as having mythical or cultic significance, although he drew the wrong assumptions about the meaning of Ull-. However no reasonable scientific investigation was conducted on the theme until 1878 when Magnus Lundgren published his Språkliga intyg om hednisk gudatro i Sverige. Partly inspired by the pioneering work in Norway done by Olaf Rygh and later Magnus Olsen, the study of Swedish place-names has really taken off over the course of the present century. A noted onomastician (and also in equal measure for his work on English place-names) has been Eliert Ekwall. The great Swedish linguist and runologist Elias Wessén has also been a noteworthy contributor to this field. Wessén has put forth the view that of those theophoric Swedish place-names which later become parishes, the evidence suggests that those in Ull- and När- are the most ancient. From the Svea-provinces names in Ull- and När- (i.e. Njörd) extend down into Östergötland and quite a few appear in the northeasternmost part of this region. He further claims that subsequent to these, the cults of Thor, Frey and Freya became the prevailing ones in Sweden and the cult of Odin is therefore the youngest. Wessén posits therefore three successive waves of cultic influence spreading across Sweden, probably from Denmark in the south. Studies on the distribution of the various names have suggested that names with Ull- and När- denote a central position within cultural inhabited areas, where towns later arose, especially in Östergötland. The more ancient cult of these two deities appears to have been common in Norway and north and eastern Sweden but is rare or absent from southwest Sweden or Denmark. Place-name evidence therefore suggests a cultural division across Scandinavia, north of which the older cult remained for longer or was more popular but to the south the cult of Frey, Thor and later Odin replaced it. Fertility-cult in eastern Sweden's central habitations revolved around Ull, Thor and particulary, Frey, as the famous Uppsala temple suggests. Southwest Sweden is less rich in specific deity-names than the rest of the country and this supports the notion of a different cultural milleu there. Odin, however, is the most common deity name in this region.

Odin is represented in Odensberg (nr. Falköping, Skaraborgs Län, Västergötland) “Odin's hill” (Othensberg) - Jan de Vries also argues for etymologically identical Onsberg and Onsberga (nr. Runtuna, Södermansland Län), in additon to the semantically similar nature name Odenshög “Odin's hill” (Vassända-Naglums socken, Västergötland). The core-area for his cult in Sweden is believed to be Västergötland and Småland - according to what the place-names inform us. Odin is further found in Odensjö (nr. Lidhult, Kronobergs Län, Småland; nr. Grimslöv, Kronobergs Län, Småland; nr. Jönköping, Jönköpings Län) “Odin's lake”, Odenslanda (nr. Grimslöv, Kronobergs Län, Småland) “Odin's land”, Odensåker (Västra Götalands Län) “Odin's open land”, Odensåker (nr. Tidan, Skaraborgs Län) “Odin's open land”, Onsala (nr. Kungsbacka, Hallands Län, Halland) “Odin's shrine” (from OSwed.*Odhinssala (de Vries prefers to read *Odhinssalr and therefore “Odin's hall”)), Onsjö (north of Halmstad, Hallands Län) “Odin's hill” (from OSwed.*Odenshög) Onsjö (nr. Fagersta, Västmanlands Län), Odensala (nr. Märsta, Stockholms Län, Uppland; in Östersund, Jämtlands Län, Jämtland) “Odin's shrine” (OSwed.*Odhinshargh), Odensvi “Odin's shrine” (nr. Gamleby, Kalmar Län, Småland), Odensvi “Odin's shrine” (nr. Köping, Västmanlands Län, Västmanland), Odenslund (nr. Skebobruk, Stockholms Län; in Östersund, Jämtlands Län, Jämtland and several examples in Västergötland (e.g. nr. Ekeby, Örebro Län) and Odenslunda (nr. Fresta, Stockholm, Stockholms Län; nr. Tidan, Skaraborgs Län) and Onslunda (nr. Tomelilla, Skåne Län, Skåne; nr. Björklinge, Uppsala Län, Uppland) “Odin's grove” (1401: Othænslunde (Skåne)) all suggest Odin was worshipped in sacred groves. In Skåne Län there is also an Onsjö härad “Odin's-lake county” (Valdemars Jordebog: Othænsheret). Odenfors “Odin's waterfall” is found twice, once in Uppland and once in Östergötland. He is never found compounded with -tuna, suggesting his cult came late to Sweden. A lost name from near Gudhem, Västergötland is 1287: Odhens kyældu “Odin's spring”, while Othensaker (1292) and the same of 1382, Odhensaker once existed in Östergötland. Two now lost Swedish names compound the elements Odhin + land, the first of which was a village - i Odhenslandom (Småland; - recorded here in the dative plural) and Odhinsland (Uppland) “the open land of Odin”.

Thor appears in Torstuna (nr. Fjärdhundra, Uppsala Län, Uppland) “Thor's farmstead”, Torsvi “Thor's shrine” (nr. Lillkyrka, Uppsala Län, Uppland), Torsås (Kalmar Län, Småland; nr. Ingelstad, Kronobergs Län, Småland) “Thor's ridge”, Torslund (nr. Hovmantorp, Kronobergs Län, Småland) and Torslunda (generally common in eastern Sweden) is also known in Denmark - see above (nr. Simtuna, Uppsala Län, Uppland; a small locality nr. Frihamra, Stockholms Län; right next to Fröslunda, nr. Öresundsbro, Uppsala Län; nr. Fjärdhundra, Uppsala Län (and in the immediate vicinity of Torstuna, 2 x Fröslunda and Härnevi); a small locality nr. Haga, north of Sigtuna, Stockholms Län; nr. Färjestaden, Öland, Ölands Län) both mean “Thor's grove”, Torshälla (nr. Eskilstuna, Södermansland Län, Södermanland) “shrine to Thor” (older Thorshargher), Torsjö (nr. Ingelstad, Kronobergs Län, Småland; nr. Ljungbyhed, Skåne Län, Skåne; nr. Zinkgruvan, Östergötlands Län; nr. Eksjö, Jönköpings Län; a small locality nr. Hult, Hallands Län; a small locality in Ö. Ryd, Östergötlands Län) “Thor's lake”, Torsholma (nr. Kårsta, Stockholms Län, Uppland; nr. Älmhult, Kronobergs Län, Småland) “Thor's islet”, Torsåker (nr. Hammerby, Gävleborgs Län, Gästrikland; nr. Sund, Södermansland Län, Södermanland; nr. Vallentuna, Stockholms Län, Uppland; nr. Bollstabruk, Västernorrlands Län, Ångermanland) “Thor's open land”, Torsö (nr. Solvesborg, Blekinge Län; an island and parish nr. Mariestad, Skaraborgs Län) “Thor's island” and Torsåkra (nr. Horn, Östergötlands Län, Östergötland) - these two similar names comprising 8 sites in all. De Vries mentions a lost Þórinne of 1391 from Bohuslän (OSwed.*Þórsvin “Thor's meadow”), as well as a Torsvalla (nr. Söderköping, Östergötlands Län, Östergötland) interpreted by him as deriving from OSwed.*Þórsvellir “ plains of Thor”. Tor(s)- is also known to be compounded with -fors “waterfall”, -klint “hill” (Torsklint, an eminence nr. Åby, Östergötlands Län), -mosse “moor” (Torsmyran, an island north of Nordmaling, Västerbottens Län) and -näs “headland” (Torsnäs - a small locality nr. Ö. Husby, Östergötlands Län; a headland nr. Karlskrona, Blekinge Län).

The rather obscure figure of Tyr is probably evidenced in Tista “Tyr's place” (nr. Stigtomta, Södermansland Län, Södermanland), Tisby “Tyr's settlement” (a small settlement nr. Fjärdhundra, Uppsala Län), and Tisjön (nr. Limedforsen, Dalarnas Län; small lake nr. Kolsva, Västmanlands Län – Odensvi is closeby) “Tyr's lake”. Tyrskälla (Östergötland) “Tyr's spring” [?] is a possible case.

Balder, not often preserved in place-names in any country, is probably the first element in Baldersberg (also called “Basberg” - Ukna socken, Småland). Baldersnäs (a headland nr. Långvik, nr. Stockholm, Stockholms Län; headland nr. Billingsfors, Älvsborgs Län).

In Sweden, Old Norse Ullr or the side-form Ullin appear mainly associated with akr, hörgr, lundr and and therefore suggestive of public worship. Examples from Sweden compounding him are Ullentuna (Skepptuna socken, Stockholms Län, Uppland) and Ultuna (Bondkyrka socken, Ulleråkers härad, Uppland) both meaning “Ull's farmstead”, Ullerud (Värmland) “Ull's island” (originally Ullerö), Ullsjö (2 – both nr. Dorotea, Västerbottens Län) “Ull's lake” and Ullasjö (Älvsborgs Län) “Ull's lake”, Ullevi (nr. Gårdby, on Öland, Ölands Län) and the same as a locality in Göteborg, Göteborgs och Bohus Län “Ull's shrine”, as well as 4 instances of Ullevi in Östergötland (e.g. nr. Vadstena and nr. Mjölby, Östergötlands Län), Ullavi (Småland), Ullervi (3 instances in Södermanland – e.g. nr. Gnesta, Södermansland Län), Ullvi (Uppland; 2 or 3 instances in Västmanland – e.g. nr. Köping, Västmanlands Län; Närke; nr. Leksand, Dalarnas Län) and an Ullevi on Öland (Ullvi on Gotland is doubtful though, as is Ullviar on Gotland), Ulleråker (2 instances in Uppland: one a district near Uppsala, the other a settlement near Simtuna; 1 instance in Bohuslän) means “Ull's open land”, Ullunda (Södermanland; Uppland; Västergötland) “Ull's grove” and Ullvättern “Ull's lake” is found in both Värmland (nr. Storfors, Värmlands Län) and Närke.

Frey-names are more numerous than in Norway, and indeed this god of fertility and crops was the most popular in this country, as Adam of Bremen explains in his account of the great temple at Uppsala. There are many instances of *Freysvé and *Freyslundr. In Svealand he is especially associated with agricultural elements, e.g. Frösåker (< *Freysakr) and this agricultural region was probably the centre of a Frey cult over a long period. Examples are: Fröstuna (northeast Sweden) “Frey's farmstead”, Frösön (on Storsjö nr. Östersund, Jämtlands Län) “Frey's island”, Frösvi (nr. Västervik, Kalmar Län) and Frösve (nr. Skövde, Skaraborgs Län) “Frey's shrine” (parallel to WN *Freysvé), Fröseke (2 instances in Småland – e.g. nr. Alstermo, Kronobergs Län) “Frey's oak grove”, Frösäter (Medelpad) “Frey's hill pasture” (cf. Norwegian Frøset, Frøyset), Frösdal (Ångermanland) “Frey's valley”, Fröstland (Bjärta socken, Ångermanland) “Frey's open land”, Fröslunda (2 instances in Uppsala Län – 1) nr. Orsundsbro, 2) nr. Fjärdhundra) and Frösslunda (on Öland, Ölands Län) “Frey's grove” (WN *Freyslundr). There are two examples each of Friggeråker (one in Östergötland, the other near Falköping, Skaraborgs Län, Västergötland) “Frey's open land” and Frösåker (Uppland; Västmanland; corresponding to WN *Freysakr). Frö(s)- is also known to be compounded with -fors “waterfall”, -klint “hill”, -mosse “moor” and -näs “headland”. De Vries adds a Fredsberg from Västergötland (a hill nr. Töreboda, Skaraborgs Län), which was recorded in medieval times as Frösbiærgh (i.e. “Frey's hill” - see the Freya parallels below) and a Fröshamar (Västmanlands Län) “protruding mountain ridge of Frey”.

His sister Freya as an element is numerous and varied - especially in Uppland - and evidenced in such names as Frötuna (nr. Norrtälje, Stockholms Län and nr. Uppsala, Uppsala Län, both Uppland; 4 in Västergötland: 1 - Askim; 2 - Kind; 3 - Gällstad; 4 - Tidavad; 2 in Södermanland: 1 - Sorunda; 2 - Stenkvista) “Freya's farmstead”, Frövi “shrine to Freya” (corresponding to WN *Freyjuvé and implying public worship; 1 - near Högsby, Småland; 2 - near Edsberg, Närke; 3 - near Skultuna, Västmanland), Fröjel (Gotlands Län, Gotland) “shrine to Freya” (1300s: Fröale), Fröåkra (near Lyrestad, Skaraborgs Län, Västergötland) “Freya's open land” (note the identical lost names from Västergötland, Friggjarakr and Friggiærakær, the latter from near Gudhem), Fröäng (near Västre Skedvi, Västmanland) “Freya's meadow” and Frövättern “Freya's lake” is known from both Värmland and Närke. Other natural features also testify to the strength of her cult: Fröjaberg (Skåne), Fröaberg (Halland), Fröberga (on Selön, Södermansland Län; Östergötlands Län, Östergötland) all “Freya's hill”, Fröbäcken (nr. Nysätra, Västerbottens Län, Västergötland) “Freya's brook”, A number of place-names corresponding to WN *Freyjulundr and implying public open-air veneration also exist in the modern form Frölunda (2 in Stockholms Län – 1) nr. Järna and 2) nr. Kungsängen; a locality in Göteborg, Göteborgs och Bohus Län). There are besides found a number of instances of Frölland “Freya's open land” (2 near Edsta, Gävleborgs Län) in Sweden (2 in Helsingland: 1 - Hög; 2 - Forsa; 1 - Timrå, Medelpad; 1 - Säbrå, Ångermanland). There are at least 8 instances of Frösjön “Freya's lake” in Sweden (5 in Småland; 2 in Södermanland; 1 in Uppland and 1 in Västergötland), while 2 cases of Frövik (Småland and Dalsland) further illustrate her cultic associations with water. Corresponding to the Fröjel given above (OSwed.*Fröal), de Vries supplies Friel (nr. Tun, Skaraborgs Län - from older Frøial), Fryele in Jönköpings Län, Småland and Fröall some waste ground in Ångermanland, while of Friggaskulle (Sävedals härad, Västergötland) “Freya's hillock” [?] he remarks “ist kaum ein ursprunglicher Kultname”. Finally, de Vries cites an alleged Freya-name in Fristad from Östergötland (nr. Norrköping, Östergötlands Län - earlier Frigiastadum) whose name would then denote “Freya's site, place”. This must be considered possible until further information is forthcoming. A bye-name for Freya, which is also found in Denmark (see above) and Icelandic sources, is thought to be the first element in Härnevi (4 instances in Uppland: 1 - near Bro; 2 - near Enköping, Uppsala Län; 3 - near Rasbo; 4 - Husaby near Uppsala was earlier Hærnawi) “Hern's shrine”, Järnevi (Nässja socken, Dahlshärad, Östergötland) also “Hern's shrine” and Järneberga (Nässja socken, Dahlshärad, Östergötland) “Hern's hill”. Frö- is also known to be compounded with -fors “waterfall”, -klint “hill”, -mosse “moor” and -näs “headland” (e.g. on Öland, Ölands Län; nr. Stjärnhov, Södermansland Län; nr. Nynäshamn, Stockholms Län), while a Friggesäter near Rönö is probably formed from the personal-name Fridhger (de Vries).

In total Sweden boasts 8 Fröslunda (in central Sweden and on Öland), 6 Frölunda, 5 Frötuna, 1 Fröstuna, 8 Frösvi , 4 Frövi, as well as 2 Frösåker, 1 Fröshult and 1 Fröjel. If this were not ample testimony to the cult both enjoyed in Sweden, there are in Edsberg socken, Närke, 2 villages called Frövi and Frösvi while the same is found in Romfartuna socken and Skultuna socken, both in Västmanland. These tend to suggest a firm connection between the cults of the siblings.

Also appearing is Old Norse Njörðr, god of the sea, in Närtuna (nr. Kårsta, Stockholms Län, Uppland – Torsholma is closeby) “Njörd's farmstead”, Norderhov (Jämtland) “Njörd's shrine”, Norderön (on Storsjö, Jämtland) “Njörd's island” (1438: Nærdrö), while Nalavi (nr. Kumla, Örebro Län) and Mjärdevi (near Linköping, Östergötlands Län) are both descended from OSwed. *Niærdhavi “Njörd's shrine” (corresponding to ON *Njarðarvé). Närlunda “Njörd's grove” (OSwed. *Nærdhalunda - corresponding to ON *Njarðarlundr) is found for example in Södermanland and there are 7 instances in southern Sweden as far north as Uppland (e.g. 1) nr. Undenäs, Skaraborgs Län; 2) on Ekerö, Stockholm, Stockholms Län, Uppland). Þórhallur Vilmundarsson mentions Nälsta, a gård in Sollentuna härad, Stockholms Län, Uppland (1354: Nærthastaff (WN *Njarðarstafr); according to Magnus Olsen, this -staff (cf. ON stafr) may represent an idol made of wood and thus mean “wooden idol dedicated to Njörd”). Jan de Vries offers up Nälberg “Njörd's hill” (nr. Kumla, Örebro Län; nr. Svärta, Södermansland Län), a Närdala “Njörd's valley” in Skåne (cf. Frösdal above) and a Närdingen in Stockholms Län, Uppland (the last of these looks a dubious claimant at present).

Jan de Vries mentions two instances of Swedish toponyms compounding the name of Mimr as a first element. Both of these, Mimeså and Mimesjöen, are associated with water (river and lake). Frankly, I remain highly sceptical of a topographical reference to this minor mythological figure until further data can be obtained.

Finally, we can note the probable appearance of minor female deities from old northern mythology - the dís (plural dísir), which are found in two sites from Östergötland, Disevid (near Heda) “shrine dedicated to the dísir” (older Disavi) and Diseberg (near Ekeby, Östergötland) “hill of the dísir”. Corresponding to Norwegian Disen, Disin (ON *Dísavin) is Swedish Disasen “meadow of the dísir” near Brastad, Bohuslän. De Vries mentions an apparently now lost Swedish assembly name Dísaþing “thing-stead of the dísir” from Uppland.

The adjective denoting “holy” or “sacred” when referring to heathen sites appears not to be as common in Sweden as in as Denmark or Iceland. Connected to natural features are for example Helgesjön (nr. Undersåker, Jämtlands Län) and Helgasjön (nr. Växjö, Kronobergs Län) “holy lake”, Helgö (2 in Stockholms Län – 1) nr. Mora, 2) nr. Ekero; Småland) “holy island” and Helge å “holy river” (nr. Östanå, Skåne Län; nr. Gärds Köpinge, Skåne Län; nr. Älmhult, Kronobergs Län). Referring presumably to man-made (or else adapted) sites are Helvi (Gotland) (1280: Helghawi) and a Helvis (Gotland) both “holy shrine”. The first element Gud- tends to imply the cultivation of many gods (as opposed to one specific named deity) and may therefore also be said to carry a meaning corresponding to “divine” or “sacred”. Gudhem is found in 2 cases in Västergötland (e.g. nr. Falköping, Skaraborgs Län; Danish Gudhjem is the same name).

Elements which are not theophoric in the strict sense of the word but are nevertheless the most widespread across the whole of Scandinavia are , hörgr and hof (to give their ON forms). Sweden is quite rich in sites suggesting these three significations for “cult-place, shrine” but especially the first mentioned: , OSwed. vi, “heathen shrine, sanctuary”. Many of these refer to the cultivated deity directly. Thus we find: Frösvi “Frey's shrine”, Frövi “Freya's shrine” (lack of genitive case indicates the feminine), Mjärdevi “Njörd's shrine” (OSwed. *Niærdhavi), Odensvi “Odin's shrine”, Torsvi “Thor's shrine” and Ullevi “Ull's shrine”. In Alguvi (Kaga socken) we have “shrine dedicated to all the gods” and “shrine of the Goths” has been read in Göteve (nr. Falköping, Skaraborgs Län) but this not accepted by all. On Gotland a Hellvi “holy shrine” (1280: Helghawi) and a Hellvis are known. Plain uncompounded instances of the word are also found and appear as in the modern orthography - (nr. Kristianstad, Skåne Län), (nr. Reftele, Jönköpings Län, Småland) and (Tärby socken, Ås härad, Västergötland). Visby, the pretty and ancient but ruined capital of the Swedish island of Gotland, is clearly a compound of OSwed. vi and by “settlement”, although the town was at the very beginning called merely Vi.

Old Swedish *hargher (ON hörgr, ODan. *hargh, *hørgh) appears in quite a few compounds. For example, Odensala (Uppland) “Odin's shrine” (OSwed. *Odhenshargh), Hörby (Skåne Län - cf. Danish Harreby) “settlement by a shrine or stony outcrop” (medieval Hørghby) and is also found in simplex form in Höör (Skåne Län) “stony outcrop” or (possibly) “shrine” (1145: Hørg). The last two of these are considerably more uncertain, since neither are found with god-names and one is compounded with a settlement name while the other stands alone. In both it is more natural to see the profane meaning of “stony outcrop”.

Old Norse Hof, Swedish Hov(-), is rather less common than in Iceland, where it is the most common name element relating to heathen cult and probably belongs to the end of the heathen period. It is also quite often found uncompounded in Norway. In Sweden, uncompounded Hov is for example found in Växjötrakten and Storsjön, Jämtland, as well as nr. Båstad, Skåne Län, nr. Värnamo and nr. Ölmstad, Jönköpings Län, on Bolmsö, Kronobergs Län, nr. Annelund and nr. Almestad, Älvsborgs Län, nr. Vadstena and nr. Söderköping, Östergötlands Län, and nr. Upplanda, Uppsala Län. But Hov is mainly a West Norse phenonemon and is thought to be absent from Denmark in this meaning. Care has to be taken not to by fooled by Swedish place-names Hovgården, which stem from the Middle Ages or later and refer to the hovmän or mounted warrior.

Corresponding to Gothic alhs “shrine” and OE ealh “shrine” (cf. OE ealgian “protect, defend”) is OSwed. al(a) (Proto-Norse *alh). This word denoting a heathen sanctuary has left a few reminders of its existence in the landscape in Götala (near Skara, Skaraborgs Län, Västergötland; nr. Skänninge, Östergötlands Län), Friel and Fröjel both “Freya's shrine” (the latter of these OSwed.*Fröal, recorded in the 1300s as Fröale). The town of Motala, Östergötlands Län, is composed of mot “towards, against” and OSwed. al(a) “shrine” and therefore probably denotes something like “the place where people meet at the shrine” (Wührer).

Sites presumably once featuring a sacred grove are denoted by -lund(a) (ON lundr) and are not uncommon in Sweden. There are many examples of simplex Lund, especially in the eastern and central parts of the country. In uncompounded Lund (Skåne Län) we have the capital city of the province of Skåne and of this, Wührer remarks: “… während Lund die schöne Universitätsstadt, seinen Namen von lundr, neuschwed. auch lund “Hain”, wahrscheinlich ursprünglich kultisch gemeint, herleitet.” (colours mine). Lunde is found as the name of at least 3 sites in the central-east Sweden, and Lunden is found as the name of at least 4 sites in the south-west part of the country. When -lund(a) is found compounded with another element, especially a settlement name like -by, it is much less likely to have originally been the site of a sacred grove. The compound Närlunda “Njörd's grove” (OSwed. *Nærdhalunda) speaks for itself.

As a second element in theophoric place-names, -tuna “farmstead” (cf. OE tûn “enclosure”) is almost exclusively confined to Sweden (although it appears in Norway with Hof-). It is never found with Odin and is therefore assumed to be older than his cult. Its significance as a theophoric place-name element has probably to do with crop fertility and abundance, just as -åker below. The heathen Swedish landowner might cultivate Thor (particularly associated with this second element), Frey, Njörd or Freya with the hope of a positive return to his estate's productivity. Thus we find Torstuna (Uppland) “Thor's farmstead”, Ulltuna and Ullentuna both mean “Ull's farmstead”, as does Ultuna (Bondekyrka socken, Ulleråkers härad, Uppland), Fröstuna (northeast Sweden) “Frey's farmstead”, Frötuna (northeast Sweden) “Freya's farmstead” and Närtuna (northeast Sweden) “Njörd's farmstead”. As an element in theophoric place-names, -tuna is typically northeast Swedish and is most dense in the Mälar-region.

Modern Swedish åker denoted “open land” (i.e. cultivated land) in Old Swedish, and the association between crop yield and deities is evidenced in a number of theophoric names combining with this place-name element. In pre-Christian Sweden Frey in particular was worshipped as a god of fertility and harvest, but a few of the other gods also become associated with an agrarian role. In this country, as in Denmark, both Odin and Thor are associated with place-names denoting crop growing and this suggests that their cults were late in coming to Sweden. For Frey we have two examples each of Friggeråker and Frösåker, for Freya Fröåkra, while Odin is found in Odensåker (2 sites), Thor in Torsåker or Torsåkra (5 sites in all!) and finally Ull appears twice in Ulleråker.

The waterfall in Västergötland called the Trollhättan (Älvsborgs Län), near the mouth of the Göta Älv river, may possibly preserve some pre-Christian folklore in its first element. Wührer provides an account of recent scholarship (p.17): the second element means “mountain peak” and is often found in the names of the northernmost mountains. The first element has been variously explained, perhaps simply from troll (thus Hellquist), or from Germanic *troðla, truðhan “step, tread, stamp” (thus Sievers) or perhaps from Germanic *truzla, Gnutish trysa “strong, powerful, advancing” and therefore referring to the speed of the flow of water (thus Falk-Torp). According to Huisman, the island in the swamp occupied by Grendel in Bêowulf is now called Trollholm “demon island”, while the swamp itself is called Halekier “holy bog”. The village nearby is called Vixö “lake that has a shrine connected to it” (apparently from the genitive of OSwed. vi + sjö). Huisman’s claims in this matter must been regarded as questionable until further evidence is forthcoming.



This section on Iceland is indebted to Ólafur Lárusson's seminal discussion of theophoric names (“Island”) in Nordisk Kultur 26 and equally useful, has been Svavar Sigmundsson's discussion and critique in his recent article “Átrúnaður og örnefni” [see booklist]. Lárusson's section on “Island” in Nordisk Kultur 5 has also been useful. Facts are taken from Lárusson's articles unless stated otherwise.

A glossary to some of the more frequently cited Icelandic toponymic elements may be helpful at this point (for more, see the Old Norse place-name element glossary in the Norway section):

akur “field”, á “stream, small river”, bær “farm, homestead”, bjarg “rock, boulder”, borg “rocky hill”, eng “meadow”, ey “island”, eyri “sandbank”, fjall, fell “mountain”, foss “waterfall”, gil “ravine, gorge”, hamar “crag, rock face”, hlíð “slope, hillside”, höfn “harbour”, hóll “hill”, holt “hill, ridge”, hvammur “grassy hollow”, klettur “rock, cliff”, lækur “stream, brook”, lág “hollow, depression”, mörk “forest”, sker “skerry”, skógur “wood, forest”, staður “place, site”, strönd “beach, shore”, teigur “strip of grassland”, tindur “peak, summit”, tjörn “pool, pond”, tún “enclosure”, vað “ford”, vatn “lake”, vík “inlet, creek”, völlur “plain”.

Iceland has few directly theophoric place-names compared to other countries in Scandinavia but many less specific place-names which hint at fomer heathen cult in the land. Many of these are compounded with features in the landscape. Judging from the place-names Þór was the most popular god, but the heathen element most obvious in Icelandic toponymy is Hof, from Old Norse hof (although like western Norway, never with a deity-name), with Goð- making a good second-place. Hörg- is also rather common as a prefix. Among the other major deities, we must count Freyr second and Njörðr third and this apparent pecking-order among the gods, with Þór and not Óðinn as pre-eminent, is contrary to the mythology expounded later by Snorri Sturluson.

Progress in the subject between the account given by Ólafur Lárusson in Nordisk Kultur 5 (upon which most of the following account is based) and the very readable revaluation given by Svavar Sigmundsson is summed up by Sigmundsson thus (p.241):

“Næstum því hálf öld er síðan Ólafur Lárusson tók saman sérstakan kafla um íslenska efnið í Nordisk Kultur (1942).”

There have been some specialised studies by Stefán Einarsson, Sveinn Níelsson, Gabriel Turville-Petre and Þórhallur Vilmundarsson, as well as Ólafur Briem's general study on Heiðinn siður á Íslandi (1945, 1985) but no overall critique of Lárusson until Sigmundsson in 1990. Bearing in mind Icelanders' great interest in their heathen past this is perhaps surprising. Svavar Sigmundsson provides some timely criticism to the observations of Lárusson and the others mentioned, in addition to adding a few more instances to the number of Icelandic examples.

An account of heathen and supranormal traces in place-names in Iceland has to be given with some reservations, since not all the available material has been collected and analysed. Local research has not been extensive enough, for example in excavations of sites whose names suggest they were once a hof or hörgr. The situation is made still less certain by the sparse appearance of theophoric place-names in extant medieval Icelandic sources combined with the Icelanders' great love of their own past. This love for their own antiquity has resulted in names with antiquarian meanings making appearances in comparatively recent times. The Old Norse language used at the time the first place-names were coined differs little from the Icelandic of today and this leads to extra difficulties in trying to determine the age of a place-name that has heathen overtones. Nevertheless, the instances cited in this article are generally agreed to be sites which contain genuine traces of fomer heathen cult and various manifestations of folk-belief from the Icelandic past. As is the case with Norway and elsewhere, the early farms and similar types of settlement are the most frequent and important bearers of theophoric names and elements.

In examining Icelandic theophoric toponyms (just as with those from elsewhere), we can make a distinction between primary theophoric names and secondary ones. The former refers to a base word or term, whereas the latter is derived from the primary but tells the scholar nothing extra about the nature of the cult. Thus Hof can be considered a primary name (often the first element of a farm-name) but the Hofsá or Hofsdalur in its vicinity, while interesting, is merely a derivation from the primary term and gives no essential or significant additional information.

Thor, Old Norse Þór, was very popular among the early settlers to Iceland, many of whom are reckoned to have come from south-western Norway where the cult of Thor perhaps had its strongest representation. Places in Iceland using Thor as an element are numerous and are spread over the whole country: Þórshöfn (5 sites - Stafnes, Gullbringu- og Kjósarsýsla; Mýrdalur, Skaptafellssýsla; Fáskrúðsfjörður, Suður-Múlasýsla; Vopnafjörður, Norður-Múlasýsla and Þistilfjörður, Þingeyjarsýsla) “Thor's harbour”, Þórsárdalur “Thor's-river valley”, Þórsmörk (Fljótshlíð, Rangárvallasýsla - a nature reserve) “Thor's clearing”, Þórsá (Helgafellssveit, Snæfellsnes og Hnappadalssýsla and Vatnsnes, Húnavatnssýsla) “Thor's river”, Þórsnes (5 sites all by the sea except Vellir (near a river) - Viðey, Gullbringu- og Kjósarsýsla; Helgafellssveit, Snæfellsnes og Hnappadalssýsla; Glæsibæjarhreppur, Eyjafjarðarsýsla; Vellir, Suður-Múlasýsla and Fáskrúðsfjörður, Suður-Múlasýsla) “Thor's headland”, Þórseyri (Öxarfjörður, Þingeyjarsýsla) “Thor's sandbank”, Þórshólar (Helgafellssveit, Snæfellsnes og Hnappadalssýsla) “Thor's hill”, Þórshnúa (Eyrarsveit, Snæfellsnes og Hnappadalssýsla) and Þórssteinn (Helgafellssveit, Snæfellsnes og Hnappadalssýsla) “Thor's stone”. More doubtful are: Þórisjökull “Thor's glacier?” (this probably compounds the personal name Þórir), Þórsvatn (Tunga, Norður-Múlasýsla; 1500s: Þórisvatn) “Thor's lake?” and Þórshamar (Breiðavík, Snæfellsnes og Hnappadalssýsla) “Thor's crag”. Sometimes Thor will appear without the genitive in -s: Þór-. Of these there are 2 each of Þórdalur “Thor's valley” and Þórfell “Thor's mountain” and 1 each of Þórhóll “Thor's hillock” and Þórvík “Thor's inlet”. However these non-genitive instances could equally be preserving contracted versions of earlier personal names in Þóris- or Þóru- and the problem is complicated by the fact that both deity names and personal names are found compounded without the genitive case. According to Svavar Sigmundsson of the around 25 place-names in Þór- or Þórs-, some will be variants of Þórir-, probably a variant of the deity-name and thus many of the names in Þórir- quite likely refer to the god (p.241). To reinforce his point he refers to the work of Halldór Halldórsson who claims no Icelandic man was called Þór until late last century - therefore we are unlikely to be dealing with personal names. The frequency of Þór compounded with the elements -höfn and -nes suggest that he was regarded as god of seafaring by the Icelanders and the small number of farms named after him suggest he was mainly cultivated out in nature or at the hof.

Unlike the case in Norway, there are no examples of Þór + akr or other agricultural names in Iceland and this suggests he was not worshipped as an agrarian god there. However western Norway does have a parallel to Icelandic Þórsnes. No places involving his name later became parishes in Iceland.

Other strictly theophoric place-names are less common in Iceland:

Baldr, son of Odin and most radiant of the gods very likely appears in two identical settlement names in the north of the country, Baldursheimur (Hörgárdalur, Eyjafjarðarsýsla and Mývatnssveit, Þingeyjarsýsla), which mean “Balder's homestead” (not of course implying that Balder was thought to live there! - both later had churches built at their sites). The second element -heimr is uncommon in Iceland and could therefore have been brought from Norway - a Ballesheim (ON *Baldrsheimr) is known from north Hordaland (Sigmundsson, p.244). Place-names in Baldur- are likely to be named after the figure from Norse mythology since Baldur is not recorded as a personal name until the 1850s according to Halldór Halldórsson (see Sigmundsson, p.244). It seems then almost certain that some of the early heathen settlers of Iceland cultivated Balder. Baldr also occurs as the name of a rock (!) and in modern Icelandic, Baldur is now quite a common personal name.

The fertility god Freyr can be traced in two different names occuring in the south-east of the country, Freyshólar (Vellir, Suður-Múlasýsla) “Frey's hill”and Freysnes (Öræfi, Skaptafellssýsla and Lagarfljót, Fell, Norður-Múlasýsla) “Frey's headland”. A name in which is probably (much) more recent is Freyfaxahamar (Hrafnkelsdalur, Norður-Múlasýsla) “Freyfaxi's crag” (a horse owned by Hrafnkell Freysgoði - see Hrafnkellssaga). No churches have been built on sites in Frey-. One parallel to the two instances of Freysnes is known in Norway.

Njörd, the sea-god (ON Njörðr) is found in the place-name Njarðvík (1 - Vatnsleysuströnd, Gullbringu- og Kjósarsýsla, 1269: niarvík, 1270: niardvík; 2 - Norður-Múlasýsla, Sturlubók/Hauksbók: Niardvík, Hauksbók: Niarðvík) “Njörd's inlet”. He was considered the god of fertility and navigation but Icelandic place-names suggest only the latter. Churches were later built at both sites. Genitives in Njarðar- known from Scandinavia represent an older stage of his cult (Sigmundsson, p.243). It is not impossible that the two instances of Njarðvík in Iceland were named in imitation of those from western Norway. A Njarðartún (Njarðvík, Norður-Múlasýsla) is probably from more recent times.

Conspicuous is the lack of an Icelandic place-names commemorating Óðinn. As god of war, it appears that the peace-loving Icelanders had no use for him. Svavar Sigmundsson, quoting a comment made by the great critic Gabriel Turville-Petre, suggests that the pioneer Icelanders were also fleeing the cult of Óðinn as well as the political ambition of Harald Finehair. There may well be some truth in this and the god has some representation in Norwegian place-names [see above]. Slightly harder to reconcile, bearing in mind Icelanders' great talent and delight in poetry, is that Odin is nowhere represented for this aspect of his role. Icelandic court-poets venerated the god as their muse and originator of their art. A nickname for Odin, known both from Icelandic texts and English place-names (see the section on England), was Grimr “the masked one” - presumably applicable when Óðinn was travelling incognito. Place-names which ostensibly appear to represent this persona such as Grímsá “Grim's brook”, Grímsey “Grim's island” or Grímsnes “Grim's headland” have been explained by Svavar Sigmundsson as being compounds with the rather common man's name Grímr, rather than the Odin-figure. This is regretible but almost certainly correct - cf. the many place-names in the old Danelaw which compound this personal name. In England, Grim is only known for certain from Saxon areas.

Several other names are known which at first may appear to be theophoric but on closer examination reveal themselves to contain personal or object names. Of this type a few examples will suffice: Týrsengi (Máfahlíð, Fróðárhreppur, Snæfellsnes og Hnappadalssýsla) “Tyr's meadow?” can hardly refer to the god Týr (however, Svavar Sigmundsson is more willing to entertain the idea than Lárusson (p.244)) and in Lokastaðir (Fnjóskadalur, Þingeyjarsýsla), Lokahvammur (Goðdalur, Skagafjarðarsýsla), Lokatindur (Mjóifjörður, Suður-Múlasýsla), Loki (hill name - Þistilfjörður, Þingeyjarsýsla) and Loki (single rock - Hreiðarsstaður, Fell, Norður-Múlasýsla) we almost certainly have nicknames and not the god-name Loki. The many place-names in Ullar- may at first sight reveal veneration of the ancient (and little known) god Ullr (e.g. Ullarfoss (next to Goðafoss), Ullarhóll, Ullargil, Ullarklettur (next to Goðaklettur), Ullarvötn), however far more likely is that these names merely combine the element ull “wool”, as some of the Danish place-names which begin with Ul- [see above]. Place-names in Ullar- in the vicinity of other apparently theophoric names (e.g. in Goða-, see above) are no certain indication (Sigmundsson, p.244), although Turville-Petre prefers to believe they are. For the sake of completeness, Ullar- may be found compounded with: -foss, -gil, -hamar, -hóll, -holt, -hvammur, -klettur, -lækur, -melur, -sker, -tjörn, -vað, -vík, -vötn. It is not impossible that one or more of these may be preserving the name of the god Ullr but the side-form Ullinn, is found nowhere in Iceland, whereas both forms of the name are quite common in Norway. Such would tend to support the view that this god's veneration was an old phenomenon and was not carried to Iceland by the original settlers.

Other deity-names are not known for certain in Iceland. Some place-names in Ránar- and Ægis- may preserve the names of the minor gods Rán and Ægir (the latter appearing in Snorri and the poetry as god of the sea). There are also many locations beginning with Hel(jar)-, which could refer to the goddess Hel [see section on Denmark]. However, an often cited farm-name Elivogar (Seyluhreppur, Skagafjarðarsýsla), does not contain her name but is derived from él “hail (storm)”.

Surtr, a leading giant who battled with Freyr at ragnarök (see the Eddic poem Völuspá “The Sybil's Prophecy”) is given his recognition as being a part of cherished Icelandic mythology and folklore in Surtsey (south Iceland) “Surt's island” which lies just off the southern Icelandic coast, and probably Surtshellir “Surt's cave”, which is known from one of the earliest Icelandic documents, Landnámabók (“The Book of Settlements”). The giant kills Frey and survives the final battle to set fire to the heavens and the earth - which eventually leads to the dawn of a new world. Surtsey is a recently formed (1963) volcanic island and is aptly named since Surtr was probably regarded by the heathen Icelanders as a fire-giant who inhabited the underworld. Two other names in Surts- however are not connected with the giant: Surtsstaðir derives from a personal name and Surtsteigur is of unknown origin but might be connected with the Old Norse word for “black” svartr.

According to Gabriel Turville-Petre [see booklist], in northwest Iceland there are some rocks known as the Landdísasteinar “stones of the land-dísir”, which are believed to have been considered protected by these nature spirits.

Three place-names are thought to compound ON rögn, regin “god”. Rögnaá “divine river” and Rögnamúli “divine promontory” are both at Heggstaðir, Kolbeinsstaðahreppur, Snæfellsnes og Hnappadalssýsla. Ragnaborg (Fljótsdalur, Suður-Múlasýsla) probably translates as “divine rock” (i.e. of the gods). Eggert Ólafsson has claimed a further example in Ragnahellir (Bervíkurhraun, under Snæfellsjökull) “cave of the gods”.

There are many Icelandic place-names compounding the prefix (only) element Goð- “god, deity”(ON goð) or much more commonly in the genitive plural form Goða-. However at least some of latter (if not all) will refer to the heathen temple priest and local chief, the goði, also found in a few Norwegian place-names. One such name which definitely denotes goði is Goðaskógur (Þingvallasveit, Árnessýsla). An opinion expressed by Þórhallur Vilmundsson, suggests that some names may instead be compounding the ON adjective góður “good, fine”, which is conceivable when refering to arable land or land well disposed to settlement. However this interpretation is questionable. From those which may well mean “god”, 3 are farm-names: Goðadalur “valley of the gods” (Bjarnarfjörður, Strandasýsla) and Goðdalir (Skagafjarðarsýsla - this one became the name of a main parish), Goðhóll (a smallholding in Kálfatjörn parish, Vatnsleysuströnd, Gullbringu- og Kjósarsýsla) “god-hill” but most describe natural features e.g. Goðafoss (4 sites, probably of great antiquity - e.g. Skjálfandafljót, Þingeyjarsýsla),”waterfall of the gods” - probably suggesting that heathens went out into the country to worship, in addition to some 21 other sites (which all occur in the southeast and nowhere else) named Goðaborg(ir) “rocky hill of the gods”, Goðafjall “mountain of the gods”, Goðaborgarfjall, Goðaborgartindur “rocky hill summit of the gods” and Goðatindur “peak of the gods”. All of these are names of hills except Goðaborg which are small cliffs. Tradition maintains that they once had shrines standing on their tops but the inaccessibility of most of them probably means these are mere folk-tales. Goð(a) is found compounded with the following natural features: -á, -borg(ir), -borgarfjall, -borgartindur, -botn(ar), -dalur, -dæld, -fjall, -foss, -gangur, -gil, -hóll, -hvammur, -klettur (Hamrar, Grímsnes, Árnessýsla), -lág(ar), -land, -laut, -nes, -skarð, -skógur, -steinn, -sund, -tindur, -tunga, -vað, -vík, -völlur . Many of these are in close proximity to a farm which either name or tradition suggests had once been the site of a shrine, but the same reservations apply as with the names in Hof-. Outside of the examples and elements given above, other compounds with Goð(a)- are rare, e.g. Goðaleiði (Goðdalur, Bjarnarfjörður, Strandasýsla), Goðatún “gods' enclosure” (Þingmúli, Skriðdalur, Suður-Múlasýsla).

There are twenty-four farm or settlement names called Hof spread across Iceland, Old Norse hof, an element which often denotes a former site of heathen worship - although a handful of these are uncertain (Hof- may at times have the alternative meaning “hillock”, so one needs to proceed with caution. Those examples given here are all certain, unless stated otherwise). Furthermore, there are 13 Hofstaðir “sanctuary-place”, 11 of which are farm-names. Svavar Sigmundsson notes that 16 farms called Hof or Hofstaðir later became parishes (p.247). Others are of medium size or smaller and we may assume that a shrine stood in these places during the heathen period. Two cases of Hofgarðar “shrine enclosure” are known (one of these is an abandoned settlement in Bárðardalur, Þingeyjarsýsla), as well as one each of the following spread across the land: Hofakur “shrine field”, Hofdæli “shrine valley”, Hofsá “shrine brook” (a farm-name), Hoffell “shrine mountain”, Hofströnd “shrine shore” (a farm-name) and Hofteigur “shrine grassland”. Nine of these farm or settlement names in hof are said to have been inhabited by the original settlers of Iceland (Landnámamenn) - 7 Hof, 1 Hofstaðir and 1 Hoffell. No instances in Iceland in “deity-name + hof “ exist. Some settlement names have acquired secondary Hof- names: Hofsá (Svarfaðardalur, Eyjafjarðarsýsla), Hofsborg and Hofsbær (Vopnafjörður, Norður-Múlasýsla), Hofsnes (Öræfi, Skaptafellssýsla). Hof also appears in individual farm names which first sprang up in later centuries: Háahof (a smallholding within the Hofgarðar estate, Staðarsveit, Snæfellsnes og Hnappadalssýsla), Hraunshof (a smallholding in the Hraun (“lava”) estate, Ölfus, Árnessýsla), Hoftún (a smallholding in the Kökkur estate, Flói, Árnessýsla).

Hof is sometimes found uncompounded in the vicinity of a farm or settlement which does not itself bear a theophoric name. In such cases the interpretation of “shrine” or “cult-stead” is even more certain. It is also found in the plural form Hofin and in the genitive plural in names such as Hofaborg, Hofadalur, Hofatjörn (Holt, Fróðárhreppur, Snæfellsnes og Hnappadalssýsla). Occassionally it is found as a second element -hof, as in Fífuhof (Krossavík, Arnarfjörður, Barðastrandarsýsla) or Sönghof (Sönghofsfjall, Ósfjöll, Norður-Múlasýsla). Other names with Hof- are rare, e.g. Hofgerði (Bakki, Öxnadalur, Eyjafjarðarsýsla). The remaining names found with hof- are nature names, e.g. Hofgil “shrine gorge”, Hofhóll “shrine hill”, Hofkinn “shrine mountain slope” and Hofklettur “shrine rock”. The whole catalogue of natural features hof- is found linked with are: -á (e.g. Skógar, Austur-Eyjafjöll, Rangárvallasýsla and Seljaland, Vestur-Eyjafjöll, Rangárvallasýsla), -fell (e.g. Fáskrúðsfjörður, Suður-Múlasýsla), -flöt, -gil, -hamar, -hóll (5), -kinn, -klettur, -reitur, -teigur, -tjörn, -torfa and -vogur. Hofhóll with its 5 separate instances is the most frequent of these however and the others are less frequent. Some of these are found in the vicinity of a farm called Hofstaðir and it might be the case that some were formed in later times owing to a tradition about a shrine on the estate. They are most convincing when found unconnected to other theophoric names on a site. Icelanders have also informed me of a Hofsjökull “shrine glacier” in southern Iceland (Skagafjörður), although the connection between place and alleged function is not clear.

Thus far, Hofstaðir in Mývatnssveit has received most archaeological investigation and the evidence found so far suggests it was used as a shrine of some kind (Sigmundsson, p.247). The large number of sites named Hof(-) or Hofstaðir which later became parishes Lárusson suggests were once heathen holy sites which Christians later adopted as their own, but the excavations done so far have not supported this theory.

Some 20 names compounding Goð- and/or Hof- refer directly to a shrine or cultic meeting-place, e.g. Hofhús, Hoftópt(ir), Goðahof, Goðhofstópt, Goðahús, Goðatópt(ir), Goðatættur. Ruins have been found in most of these places which tradition would have us believe are sanctuary or temple ruins and some 100 archaeological sites across Iceland have been the focus of similar claims. But local geography points against at least some of them being former temple sites and those excavations that have been done have proved inconclusive. Furthermore, an examination of the relevant topographical literature reveals that almost all of these so-called traditions date back to the antiquarianism and national Romanticism of the previous century. The strongest candidate for being the ruins of a former temple site are the remains at Hofstaðir in Mývatnssveit which were excavated in 1908.

A slightly less common appellative meaning “heathen shrine, sanctuary” (or more precisely, “líklega blótstaðir undir berum himni” - Sigmundsson, p.249) is Hörgur (ON hörgr, cf. ODan. *hørgh, *hargh, OSwed. *hargher, OE hearg, OHG harug). Ólafur Lárusson in his article on Icelandic place-names, lists 7 settlement/farm names: Hörgsdalur (Síða, Skaptafellssýsla and Skútustaðahreppur, Þingeyjarsýsla- 1 of these later a parish) “shrine valley”, Hörgsholt (Hrunamannahreppur, Árnessýsla and Miklaholtshreppur, Snæfellsnes- og Hnappadalssýsla - 1 of these later a parish) “shrine at a stony ridge”, Hörgshlíð (Mjóifjörður, Ísafjarðarsýsla) “shrine hillside”, Hörghóll (Vesturhóp, Húnavatnssýsla) “shrine hillock” and Hörgsland (Síða, Skaptafellssýsla) “shrine land”, as well as some other names of natural features which one might less readily associate with sites of worship: Hörgsá (Hörgárdalur, Eyjafjarðarsýsla; Jökulsárhlíð, Norður-Múlasýsla and Síða, Skaptafellssýsla) “shrine brook”, Hörgaeyri (Heimaey, Vestmannaeyjar - later a parish), Hörgshylur (Andakíll, Borgarfjarðarsýsla) “shrine near a river trench” and Hörgsnes (Hjarðarnes, Barðastrandarsýsla) “shrine headland”. Hörsey and Hörsvík (both at Kaldrananes, Bjarnarfjörður, Strandasýsla) were probably originally Hörgsey “island with a shrine” and Hörgsvík “inlet with a shrine”. In many cases, names with this element (which is rather common) are more likely to have a purely secular meaning of “gravel bed”, for this is what the base term means. As mentioned in the section on Denmark above, hörgr may have only in some cases denoted a stony outcrop used as a primitive cult-stead or meeting-place. Somewhat dubious are Hörgurnar and Hörghús (Reykjadalur, Þingeyjarsýsla). Not mentioned by Lárusson, but supplied by Sigmundsson, are Hörgur in Stóruvellir in Bárðardalur and Hörgur in Nónhörgurás in the same region (p.249). As is the case with hof-, hörgr- is not found compounded with any specific god-names and the names of deities, as a rule, tend to appear compounded with nature-names (rather than farm-names). One might argue that this fact weakens the case for assuming a heathen connection - in Iceland at least (but cf. OSwed. *Odhenshargh above). Hörgr- compounds or simplexes which later became the sites of churches have a much stronger case. The extant sources are ambiguous regarding the nature and meaning of this term.

Names of sites or natural features containing the adjectives heilagr or helgr “holy” are fairly numerous in the landscape. Some of these, however, may alternatively contain the personal names Helga or Helgi and it is very difficult to be sure one way or the other. Ólafur Lárusson claims the existence of Helgafell (e.g. Mosfellssveit, Gullbringu- og Kjósarsýsla and Garðahreppur, Gullbringu- og Kjósarsýsla) “holy hill” in 8 individual instances. From Eyrbyggja saga we know that this name was associated with heathen cult. As personal names are very seldom compounded with -fell, we can rule out the possibility of Helga or Helgi as first elements here. It is possible that other cases of Helgafell were named after this one, as the name is not found in Norway (Sigmundsson, p.247). One of these, Helgafell in Reykjadal, later had a church erected on the site. The remaining cases are natural features: Helgá (Hofströnd, Borgarfjörður, Norður-Múlasýsla and Munkaþverá, Eyjafjarðarsýsla) “holy brook”, Helgey (Akureyjar, Dalasýsla and Reykhólaeyjar, Barðastrandarsýsla) “holy island”, Helgadalur (Mosfellssveit, Gullbringu- og Kjósarsýsla) “holy valley” and Helganes “holy headland”. According to Svavar Sigmundsson (p.247), only one place-name in Iceland undoubtedly contains the adjective heilagr: Heilagsdalur (Mývatnsöræfi) “holy valley”, whereas the element is certain in many continental Scandinavian place-names.

The final element which can be considered directly connected to heathenism is ON blót “sacrifice, offering; idolatry; cursing” which presumably bears the first of these meanings when it is found in modern Icelandic place-names unchanged as Blót-. The element is always found compounded with natural features of the landscape so we probably are dealing with a primitive open-air cult practice. I assume names in blót are older than those refering to more permanent cult-places. Some names in Blót- may have been the result of an assumed connection with Hof- names (or others indicative of heathen worship) already in the locality but uncertainty will prevail until excavations are carried out. Thus we have: Blótabólsholt (Seiluhreppur, Skagafjarðarsýsla), Blótbjörk (Björk, Grímsnes, Árnessýsla), Blóthóll (Kvennabrekka, Miðdalur, Dalasýsla), Blóthvammur (Heiðnarey, Múlahreppur, Barðastrandarsýsla) “sacrifice place at a grassy hollow”, Blótkelda (3 cases - Hofteigur, Jökuldalur, Norður-Múlasýsla; Möðrudalur, Fjöll, Norður-Múlasýsla and Hof, Kjalarnes, Gullbringu- og Kjósarsýsla) “offer place at a spring”, Blótastígur (Heimaey, Vestmannaeyjar) “sacrifice place at a path”, Blótsteinn (3 cases - Hof, Hjaltadalur, Skagafjarðarsýsla; Bersatunga, Saurbær, Dalasýsla (tradition says there was a shrine here) and Heiðnarey, Múlahreppur, Barðastrandarsýsla) “offer-stone”. Added to Lárusson's catalogue by Svavar Sigmundsson are Blóti, a fishing pool in Blanda and Blóti on the bank of the Geirlandsá at Prestbakki in Síða, where ancient ruins are to be found. Blótabólsholt and Blótastígur however could contain a by-name Blóti-.

Old Norse “shrine, cult-centre”, fairly common in continental Scandinavian place-names - both compounded and simplex - is not known in Iceland, where presumably its meanings have been adequately covered by hof and hörgr or compounds involving them. However, a Véskvíar exists in Kambsmýrar, Flateyjardalur, south-Þingeyjarsýsla but whether or not this contains is very controversial (Sigmundsson, p.249). In Iceland, vangr is only found as an outer field-name in some farms in the west of the country (e.g. Hærrivangur, Neðrivangur) and is unlikely to have cult significations in this capacity.

It is possible that the several toponyms involving ON lundr (2 farms: Lundur in Lundarreykjadal and Lundur in Fljótshverfi) may have had some religious function but by no means certain. The Landnámabók mentions heathen activity at a Lundr in Fnjóskadalur (Sigmundsson, p.245). Lundarbrekka in Bárðardalur later became a parish. It certainly seems to be the case that, whatever the status of the lundr to the Icelanders, it never took on the significance that it had among, for example, the pagan Swedes.

Belief in the lower supernatural beings and various kinds of sub-human creatures during the Icelandic past has also left its mark in the place-names of the land. Of the numerous examples that could be cited, I will confine myself to: Tröllagil “giant's gorge”, Heiðnabjarg “heathens' rock”, Þursasker “giant's skerry”, Jötunsfell “giant's mountain”, Risalág “giant's hollow”, Gýgjarfoss “giantess' waterfall”, Stórkonugil “giantess' gorge”, Herkonugil “warrior woman's gorge”, Álfaborg “elf's rocky hill”, Huldufólkssteinn “fairy-folk's boulder”, Álfkonuklöpp “elf-woman's stepping-stone”, Hólkonuhnjúkur “hill-woman's summit”, Dverghamrar “dwarves' steep cliffs”, Draugastapar “ghost rock”, Útburðargil “exposed infant's gorge”, Púkabreið “fiend's lava plain”, Djöflalág “devil's hollow” and Skrattanes “warlock's (or devil's) headland”. Place-names therefore show us that dwarves had their place in early Icelandic folk-belief, even if there is no trace of them by the time the sagas are written down. For more names like these see the article by Ólafur Lárusson in Nordisk Kultur 5.

Of passing interest we can note a couple of 20th century place- or building-names which include theophoric elements. In Þingvellir (the site of the ancient parliament, the Alþing) there is a restaurant and hotel called Valhöll “hall of the slain” i.e. the hall which the mightiest warriors hand-picked by Odin would fight and feast, awaiting their final battle at ragnarök. Ásbyrgi “divine enclosure” (ON áss “god”) is a nature reserve in northern Iceland and Baldurshagi is apparently the name of a house.

Having considered and revaluated the evidence, a reasoned conclusion is reached by Svavar Sigmundsson which is worth repeating here:

En öruggust merki um að örnefnin séu heimildir um heiðinn sið tel ég vera þar sem byggð hefur jafnframt varðveist og einkanlega þar sem kirkjur hafa staðið. Örnefni úti í náttúrunni fjarri byggð sem hugsanlega gætu haft goðkennd nöfn að fyrra lið tel ég ekki eins líkleg til að vera heimildir um fornan átrúnað eins og þeir Ólafur Lárusson og Ólafur Briem töldu.” (p.250).

This may well apply not just to Iceland but to Scandinavia, England and the continental Germanic countries as well.

Faroe Isles

This section draws its evidence from the article “Færöerne” by Chr. Matras in Nordisk Kultur 5, in addition to Jakob Jakobsen’s excellent article “Strejflys over Færøske Stednavne”, while Per Hovda’s skillful account largely draws on the work of Jakobsen. Steensen, as a non-linguist, has to be regarded as unreliable.  

The name that first comes to mind when one considers this theme in the Faroes is the name of the capital, Tórshavn (Streymoy, 1403-7: þórshafn) “Thor's harbour”. Hósvík on Streymoy shows a characteristic Faroese sound-change from ON þ- (cf. Faroese Hósdagur (Thursday) < ON Þórsdagr, Faroese hesin < ON þessi, Faroese har < ON þar) and descends from ON *Þórsvík “Thor’s inlet” (cf. Icelandic Þórvík).

Chr. Matras mentions a hill on Eysturoy called Lokkafelli, which he claims to be derived from the ON “god” of mischief, Loki (modern Faroese Loki). While not impossible, Loki appears nowhere else (for certain) in Scandinavia, so Matras’ claim seems unlikely. 

Another place-name with possible connections to pre-Christian cult to be found in these islands appears to be Hov (Suðuroy), with a dative form of í Hovi (recorded in the saga as at Hofi), now a settlement of well over 200 people. Matras considers the heathen interpretation to be reasonable, even likely:

Vi kan ikke være i tvil om, at gården har haft et gudehus (hof) hvor man har forrettet offentlig gudstjeneste.” (p.56; italics/colours mine)

Steensen also considers it likely that this site was once a “Gudehov” (modern Faroese hov does indeed mean a heathen shrine). The saga tells us that the chieftain Hafgrímr lived here. However the original meaning may well be the older one of “farm” (as in the West Germanic lands) and this site was the main farm on the island in saga times (no possibility of the heathen interpretation is even entertained by Hovda and this possibility is passed over by Jakobsen). Steensen also mentions a certain Hørg on Suðuroy (and entertains the notion of this being the former site of a heathen shrine) but this is likely to have a secular and rather prosaic meaning.

Jakob Jakobsen adds some interesting examples which he considers to be indicative of heathen cultic activity and belief on the islands during the earliest times:

Nøvn frá heidnari tíð í Føroyum eru m.a. Heljareyga og Heljarhol, ið koma av teirri pátrúnni, at opningar leiddu frá jarðarskorpuni mitt inn í jørðina, til heljar. Nánes (norður á Viðoynni) tykist hoyra saman við Náströnd í teirri gomlu nordisku gudalæruni.” (“Staðanøvn”, p.109; colours mine)

Heljareyga (Streymoy) and Heljarhol mean “holy river” and “holy hollow” respectively. The Nánes theory must be viewed with some circumspection, but if true, it would denote something like “headland of the dead”. Also mentionable are Halgadalur near Fuglafjørður, Eysturoy, probably “holy valley”, Hálgafelli (southwest of Klaksvík, Borðoy) “holy hill” and Halgafelstindur also on Eysturoy “holy mountain peak”.

Worth noting are a few references to the lower mythology among the islands’ natural features. On Kalsoy there is a Trøllanes “troll’s headland” and then a Trøllhøvdi just off  Sandoy “troll’s head”, the later so called because of the appearance the islet may have when approaced by ship from the northeast. On Eysturoy there is a Trølldalur “troll’s valley” and a Trøllagjógv on Suðuroy “troll’s ravine” (ON troll + gjögr “cleft, rift”). A cape on the southeast coast of Vágar is called Trøllkonufingur “the troll-woman’s finger”. In central Streymoy we find a Gívrufjall “giantess’ mountain” from Farose gívur “giantess, ogress” (ultimately ON gífr “witch, hag” + fjall) and also a Gívrufelli on the north of that island with the same meaning. Finally, in the highland regions of eastern Eystroy we find a Dvørgjaskarð “dwarves’ mountain pass” (ON *Dvergarskarð; dwarves were commonly held to dwell in the mountains in the old folk-beliefs). 

Baltic Regions


Although Finland is only geographically part of Scandinavia, and Estonia is neither geographically nor culturally a part of it, I nevertheless decided to include some examples from these countries both because they are interesting and because they show undeniable heathen Scandinavian influence. Swedish vikings were already penetrating into Baltic rivers and settling the western coastal strip of Finland in the 600s AD, well before Sweden formally became a Christian state in the 1100s. These Swedish vikings subsequently went further afield, going on to form the Russian state itself further to the east. They must have used Baltic trading ports like Staraja Ladoga as stopping off points on their journeys further east and some of this pre-Christian colonising and trading activity has been reflected in local place-names. Care however is needed, in guarding against over-zealous interpretation of supposed theophoric names. Jan de Vries refers directly to the evidence of this region:

Auch in Finnland fehlen solche Namen nicht; aber die zahlreichen Beispiele für Torsön, Torsbacka, Torsviken u.a. enthalten wohl zum größten Teil Personnamen wie Tord.” (p.119 - italics mine)

Finland: From the Old Norse pantheon, Týr, Freyr, Óðinn and Þór are all undoubtedly preserved in Finnish place-names. Týr became a suffix, usually appearing as -teivas. In Österbotten we find Frösjön “Frey's lake”, Torsö “Thor's island”, Torsön “Thor's lake” and in Finnish Nyland another Torsö. Gothic alhs, Swedish -al “shrine”, appears in two Finnish place-names, one of which is Tenala (Västra Nyland) and the other Viiala, which has borne the name since 1410 at least.

Old Swedish vi, “heathen shrine, sanctuary” is also quite a common element in Finland. In Österbotten (Malax) there is a Viborg (cf. the Danish site) and a Vias. Furthermore, Viiainen was known in 1541 as Wiasby.

The Finnish parish-name Jomala (Åland) looks suspiciously like the old Finnish word meaning “god” jumala, but it is not clear that the Finnish word and the name of the parish are related. This possibility remains heavily disputed and is complicated by several similar sounding Swedish-derived Finnish place-names in the area.

Travelling eastwards into the Baltic Sea from the most southwesterly part of Finland (Hangö Cape) there is a group of islands bearing names reflecting heathen viking activity. An old Danish itinerary from the 1100s informs us that ships passed along these islands on the route to Reval (Estonia), Aldeigju (once Staraja Ladoga by Lake Ladoga) and Novgorod (Russia). This must have been the case before Christianity was introduced into Finland, otherwise the names would never have been formulated. The people on the islands and neighbouring shoreline must have been heathens. Thus we have: Odensö “Odin's island”, Torsö “Thor's island” and Gullö “Gull's island” (Gull is another name for Freyr). In addition to these, some island names bear testimony to those who lived there or visited: Russarö “island of the Rus”, Danskog “place of the Danes”, Jussarö “Jutes' island” (dubious etymology) and Skedö “Skeid island” (ON skeið was a type of viking ship and thus this place served as a harbour). On the Finnish mainland other Scandinavian derived place-names suggest a former heathen culture: Trollshöfda “The Troll's Head” (i.e. a high cliff where trolls lived) and several places ending in -bollstad “heathen shrine”, e.g. Mjölbollstad and Träbollstad.

In Estonia, in the north-west part of that country there is apparently a Odensholm “small island of Odin”, which clearly refers to the chief of the heathen gods and is a testament to the age and continuity of early medieval Swedish settlements along the coast of Estonia. In native Estonian the island is called Osmusaar.





Altgermanische Religionsgeschichte by Jan de Vries, 2 vols., Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1970;
“Átrúnaður og örnefni” by Svavar Sigmundsson in Snorrastefna 25.-27. júli 1990, Rit Stofnunar Sigurðar Nordals 1, ed. Úlfar Bragason, Reykjavík, 1992. pp. 241-54;

A Concise Dictionary of Old Icelandic by Geir T. Zoëga, London: Oxford University Press, 1961;

De Danske Stednavne by Johannes Steenstrup, København: G.E.C. Gads Forlag, 1908;

“Fra gudehov til kirkested: et kapittel av stedsnavnenes kulturhistorie” by Jørn Sandnes, pp. 48-62 in Norske Stedsnavn/Stednamn, ed. Botolv Helleland, Oslo: Grøndahl and Søn Forlag A/S, 1975;

“Færöerne” by Chr. Matras, pp. 53-9 of Stednavne [Nordisk Kultur 5], pub. Magnus Olsen, København, Stockholm and Oslo, 1939;

Færöske Stednavne (om betydningen af de i de danske søkort over Færøerne forekommende stednavne) by R. Steen Steensen, Tórshavn, 1936;

Germanisches Wörterbuch by Gerhard Köbler, Arbeiten zur Rechts- und Sprachwissenschaft Verlag (no. 12), Gießen-Lahn, 1982;

Hedenskab i Danmark. Schütte, G. København:  H. Aschehoug & Co., 1925.

Hørg, hov og kirke. Historiske og arkæologiske vikingetidsstudier by Olaf Olsen, København: G.E.C. Gads Forlag, 1966;
Håndbog i danske stednavne, by Aage Houken, Rosenkilde og Bagger, København, 1956;
Kortfattad Svensk Språkhistoria by Gösta Bergman, Stockholm, 1970;
“Kultnavn eller ej?” by Þórhallur Vilmundarsson in Sakrale Navne, Rapport fra NORNAs sekstende symposium i Gilleleje 30.11. - 2.12.1990 (NORNA-RAPPORTER 48), ed.
Fellows-Jensen, G. and Holmberg, B., pp.35-54;
Myth and Religion of the North by Gabriel Turville-Petre, London, 1964;

Namn i Noreg. Ei innføring i norsk namnegransking by Ola Stemshaug, Oslo: Det Norske Samlaget, 1985;

Norsk Språkhistorie by Vemund Skard, Oslo, 1977;
Norsk stadnamnleksikon by Sandnes, Jørn & Stemshaug, Ola (eds.), Oslo: Det Norske Samlaget, 1998;

Norrøn Ordbok by Heggstad, Leiv, Hødnebø, Finn & Simensen, Erik, Oslo: Det Norske Samlaget, 1997;

Old Norse and Finnish Religions and Cultic Place-Names. Ahlbäck, T. (ed.). Åbo: The Donner Institute for Research in Religious and Cultural History, 1990.
Ortnamnen i Sverige by Bengt Pamp, Studentlitteratur, Lund, 1970; (a good general textbook);
Our Forefathers by Gudmund Schütte, Cambridge, 1929;

Plaatsnamen van sacrale oorsprong by J.A.Huisman, Groningen, 1995;
Religionshistorie [Nordisk Kultur 26], pub. Nils Lid, København, Stockholm and Oslo, 1942; (contains a chapter on heathen place-names for each Scandinavian country);
Die skandinavischen Orts- und Personennamen by Karl Wührer, Zweite verbesserte Auflage, Wien, 1973 (Muttersprache Heft 6, Schriftenreihe des Vereins “Muttersprache”, Wien);

“Staðanøvn í Føroyum” by Jakob Jakobsen, pp. 108-110 of Jakob Jakobsen: Greinir og Ritgerþir. (Inngangur eftir Chr. Matras). Tórshavn, 1957;

Stednavne [Nordisk Kultur 5], pub. Magnus Olsen, København, Stockholm and Oslo, 1939; (contains a chapter on each Scandinavian country - the only general survey for the whole region);
Stednavne og Kulturhistorie by Kristian Hald, Dansk Historisk Fællesforenings Håndbøger, 2. oplag, København, 1969;
Stednavnordbog by Bent Jørgensen, (Gyldendals små røde ordbøger), Gyldendal, København, 1994;

“Strejflys over Færøske Stednavne” by Jakob Jakobsen, pp. 86-107 of Jakob Jakobsen: Greinir og Ritgerþir. (Inngangur eftir Chr. Matras). Tórshavn, 1957;

The Northern World by D. M. Wilson, London, 1980;
The Scandinavian Languages by Einar Haugen, Harvard U.P., 1975;
The Vikings by Johannes Brøndsted, Middlesex, 1965;
The Viking Achievement by P. Foote and D. M. Wilson, London, 1975;

Våra ortnamn och vad de lära oss by Hjalmar Lindroth (Natur och kultur 25), Stockholm, 1923;

Vad våra Ortnamn berätta by Jöran Sahlgren, Bonniers Förlag, Stockholm, 1932;
Vore Stednavne by Kristian Hald, København, 1950; (contains a chapter on heathen place-names in Denmark and is an excellent textbook on Danish place-names in general)

Wortschatz der germanischen Spracheinheit by Hjalmar Falk and Alf Torp, Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1979;

“Ymist om stadnamn på Færøyane” by Per Hovda, pp.115-28 in Færøyene:  frendeland i vest ed. Stein Stove, Norsk-Færøysk Lag, Oslo, 1981;

Ættegård og Helligdom by Magnus Olsen, Oslo, 1926;


*Credits: Many thanks to Svavar Sigmundsson of the Örnefnastofnun Íslands (The Place-name Institute of Iceland) for his expert and helpful comments on the Iceland section.
Thanks too to Guðmundur Skarphéðinsson and Guðjón Torfi Sigurðsson for their answering of my occasional enquiries about Icelandic names.


© Edward Smith 2011

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