Authentic Medieval Scandinavian place names?

edited February 2008 in Story Games
Hey, gang,

Does anyone know where I could find some resources on authentic village & town names for the various cultures & nations in medieval Scandinavia?

Thanks!

Comments

  • National Geographic's done so many articles and maps. I'd start there. Actually they did an article about Gottland that was pretty good and had some maps if I remember correctly. Some time in the '70s I think.
  • Here is a few real examples of old Danish towns:

    Viking Age:
    Odense (holy site of Odin)
    Roskilde (spring of Ro)
    Hedeby (city in the marshes)
    Vibjerg (holy hill)
    Trelleborg (castle built by slaves)

    - if you look in any historical book about the Danish Viking Age, you will find these and more.

    Medieval Age:
    København (merchants' harbour, copenhagen)
    Nyborg (new castle)

    Renaissance:
    Nykøbing (-købing means a city with municipal charter)
    Hillerød (-rød means city built in a cleared forrest)

    On the Danish wikipedia there is a list of the largest Danish cities, most of these go back to the Middle Ages:
    http://da.wikipedia.org/wiki/Danmarks_st%C3%B8rste_byer

    The spelling may have changed, so if you want to get a more historical feel, you would need to find old texts with earlier spellings. You may also be able to dig out a lot of names by reading up on e.g. Danish history on Wikipedia.
  • Hey Ryan, check out this collection of links. The English used on the page is a bit funky in places, but just let me know if you get stuck.

    Here's an English source.

    I googled the following search term to find these sources: medieval +scandinavian +"place names"

    There are of course tons more if you can read any Scandinavian languages?
  • Duh, Wikipedia is always a good place to start, just keep clicking away... :)
  • Suffixes in Swedish:

    by = village
    torp = hilltop (I think) or meadow
    holm = harbor
    berg = mountain
    ö = island
    borg = city

    If you go to a map of any Scandinavian country and look in the rural areas, you'll come up with lots of names.
  • For finding Finnish town and village names, one of the best resources is the the list of medieval stone churches in Finland. Being a Finnish-only -site, the right-hand navigation has the churches indexed to geographical areas, from Varsinais-Suomi to Ahvenanmaa, Sakastit being a list of sacristies and Viipuri being a town in itself with several churches.

    As for the towns:

    Turku (capital, town since ca. 1200)
    Viipuri (town since 1403)
    Ulvila (1365)
    Porvoo (ca. 1380)
    Rauma (1442)
    Naantali (1443)
  • The Swedish "borg" actually means "castle."

    "Torp" means "crofter's holding," or just "croft."

    "By" can also translate to "hamlet."

    "Holm" comes from "holme," which means "islet." It is in particular used to describe an islet in a river. It is actually also called "holm" in English.
  • edited February 2008
    Kaupang - Market (also a placename in itself)

    Kvisl - Rivermouth (e.g) Tanakvisl = Mouth of Don (Tanais), also Os as in Nidaros (Trondheim) = Mouth of Nid

    Míklá - Big, Great (e.g.) Miklagard (the Great City) = Byzantium, Mikla Svithjòd = Russia (from Scythia Magna)

    Vín - Green, Lush, Meadow (e.g.) Vinland = Newfoundland, Bjórgvin= Bergen (Lush Sanctuary, bjórg=borg=castle)
  • Awesome. "Borg" is castle. *smacks self in head* "Slott" could also be used, yes?
  • 'Slot' is more like palace and is not used for cities only for the actual palace. Borg is older and for defense.

    Examples: Egeskov Slot, Valdemar Slot, and even Frederiksborg Slot and Rosenborg Slot.
  • Thanks. Been 25 years since I lived in Sweden. Still ganska kunnig med språket, but the nuances have slipped away.
  • Ryan, you have got to check out the Carta Marina at Wikipedia.
  • You guys are freakin' awesome! I didn't chime in earlier with thanks because I didn't want to seem like I'm closing the thread from other suggestions (as I'm totally not). A huge thanks to you all -- Josh, Jason, Blake, Frederik, Haakon, Yoki, Jukka, James & Clint!
  • Since I was asked in whisper: For those not aware, I'm working on my "Christian knights invading a mythic Scandinavia to kill pagan beasts & gods" game called Mythender. I ended up realizing as I was writing up a play example that I had a good grasp of the "mythic beasts" & "mythic adventure" parts of the game, but little about the land itself. While that's not as important to what I'm going for (as I'm not making a historically-accurate game, I'm merging around 400 years of history into this timeless land called Mythic Norden, and the heart of the game is "let's go be glorious badasses while hopefully not succumb to the power of the land's own mythic nature"), it's still good to be able to say "you're outside the town of Vibjerg" with the confidence that it's not just something you're making up on the spot, and to be able to come up with twenty other games as the campaign progresses on without sounding like a broken record.

    The reason I asked for authentic medieval is because I figured there would be better documentation and that would still give the right sounding names. Perhaps I assumed wrong, though?
  • edited February 2008
    Then you should check out Saxo Grammaticus' History of the Danes. You can find it online at Project Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/1150

    He was a Christian munk that around 1200 wrote a "history" of Denmark to legitimate the Danish royal line. He wrote all the legends from earlier ages into the book in the best language he knew - latin. You can find e.g. the original story of Hamlet (Amled), the story of Starkad, and the story of Sigurd Fafnersbane in there. Great stuff.

    Using real historical names has the benefit of sounding "right" but also has the risk of meaning something very specific and unrelated to the theme to someone at the table. If you will be playing with e.g. Danes, they would know that Rosenborg Slot is the place where the crown jewels are kept, and that Kronborg is where Holger Danske sits waiting for his country's call for help.

    Finally, Denmark actually became Christian pretty early (around 980) and later (around 1220) led crusades against the heathen people of the east as Christian knights in a race with the German Order.
  • Posted By: Ryan MacklinThe reason I asked for authentic medieval is because I figured there would be better documentation and that would still give the right sounding names. Perhaps I assumed wrong, though?
    Not sure. Using authentic names in imagined setting might prompt players to look for authentic stuff from places where there clearly is none. On the other hand, it's kind of pointless to just conjure up names if you have the option of using real ones. Coming up with naming conventions might backfire as well, as it'll probably just populate the setting with ten variations of Björnborg.

    I think some settings have used the approach of using real places and names, but stressing out that because the setting is mythic, the places might not be where they are supposed to be, and might not be how they appear in history books. Which kind of gives both you and the players freedom to use authentic names, but doesen't bind you to official history.
  • I say, "You want authentic names in a mythic world, be my guest."

    But maybe the detractors of such could be placated by having TWO names for each significant location: authentic, Scandinavian-language name and the mythic name given by the Christians (who ain't Scandinavian anyway, and so would probably use Latin, Old English, or Frankish). That way, the mythic could echo, reinforce, or undermine the authentic implications in interesting ways.

    Further, the hordes of Danes and Swedes (heh) who will play this game will just end up being stymied or fooled, if they assume Historical Event FOO is valid when the mythic has saturated these far-northern lands. If "Kronborg is where Holger Danske sits waiting for his country's call for help" then maybe he's waiting because he's already turned mythic and really doesn't want to pull his country out of it. Or maybe he's not waiting at all--he's imprisoned! The history that bubbles down to us now, lo a millennium later, has been rarefied, polished, and even redacted by various ebbs and flows of politics and the power of The Church; why wouldn't all mythic past be expunged?

    HTH;
    David
  • I have not yet seen Mythender but one way to end a myth is to re-name everything. So give places cool witchy names and have the players give new names to the places they pacify. Whatever names they like.
  • edited February 2008
    Posted By: Jason MorningstarI have not yet seen Mythender but one way to end a myth is to re-name everything. So give places cool witchy names and have the players give new names to the places they pacify. Whatever names they like.
    Jason, you've just given me something to chew on as I'm trying to figure out a social issue in the design. Seriously, that's gold. Thanks!
    Posted By: MertenNot sure. Using authentic names in imagined setting might prompt players to look for authentic stuff from places where there clearly is none.
    Note that I didn't ask for authentic places, but just their names. I am essentially compressing 800-1200 AD into this "mythic time," where characters from anywhere in Europe during any of those times journey together in a larger-than-life, storybook version of the land, killing dragons & gods while bringing Christianity to the people (through, at the very least, their actions). I want a list so that, as you say, people are equipped to do better than just keep visiting Björnborg.

    In Mythender, the history dial is down to 2 or 3 and the fantasy dial is up to 11.
  • First, thumbs up to Jason's idea. Also because that actually happened.
    Posted By: Ryan MacklinNote that I didn't ask for authentic places, but just their names.
    Yes, but the names carry a load of history and recognition, even if the place they represent in the setting, do not. If there's a village called Paris, someone will come up with the fact that there are unnaturally lot of bakeries there (or whatever your image of Paris is). While the names are way less recognized than some of the big Medieval towns, there's still a fair change that it has popped up somewhere. Looking at the name of a concrete-build local suburb in middle of Hârn was funny - for the first time.

    I don't know if you're building a setting or just tools for making one (latter, I presume), but as a lot of scandinavian place names are compound words, it might be fun to just give words (and translations) from which to make the place names, and maybe some easy to learn linguistic rules to go with that? Like everything that has to do with castle in the examples above (and Björnborg or Björneborg is probably a Bear Castle).
  • Posted By: MertenI don't know if you're building a setting or just tools for making one (latter, I presume), but as a lot of scandinavian place names are compound words, it might be fun to just give words (and translations) from which to make the place names, and maybe some easy to learn linguistic rules to go with that? Like everything that has to do with castle in the examples above (and Björnborg or Björneborg is probably a Bear Castle).
    A little of the former, though more of a "setting framework" for the latter. The game has a bit of Dogs in the Vineyard-scale, where the important thing at the moment is the Town, not the Territory or Nation or anything larger than that. So I'm approaching the larger elements of the setting in a similar manner to how Dogs did -- talk about it, then focus on the Town as an entity.

    I love the idea of giving words & translations to place names. That's serious adventure hook material right there. When Frederik did it, I totally thought "holy hill...what could I do with that?" Yeah, that has to go in. :)
  • Connotations are tricky to control. Like playing WHFRPG with just a little understanding of German. Kirsten Krank? Altdorf as the capital of the Empire? Well, players learn to adapt if the game is good enough to set the proper mood by other means. Anyhow, I assume your interest is more in the game than in the setting? Then just provide some samples and let the players expand as they see fit.
  • I once gave a savage Icelandic warrior-princess a name that apparently means "to break wind" auf Deutsch.
  • Posted By: Frederik J. JensenThen just provide some samples and let the players expand as they see fit.
    That's the intent. I just want to provide plenty samples that touch on the various cultures of the time. One of my goals in writing up the world is not to treat everyone like a monolithic culture/nation, which may be a challenge as I'm also trying to paint in broad strokes.
  • Oh, yeah? Well I once named an amnesic character--who was so mentally ill that he hallucinated that he was in a medieval realm--"Daht Bhum." Why? Because it was the first this a "lord" called him, when steering his "lady" past on the street (in Manhattan): "No, honey, don' talk ta Daht Bhum."

    SIR Daht Bhum, to you, mister.
  • Posted By: Josh Bonobo RobyRyan, you have got to check out theCarta Marinaat Wikipedia.
    I love that map. I use it for my wallpaper on my PC. The only problem is that you can lose track of your icons against all the detail.
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