What does the ‘r’ represent at the end of Norse names?

An unhappy vikingNorse names can look and sound strange to the English reader but they are often steeped in meaning and history. Ragnar, for example, means ‘someone who advises the army’ and was first used in the 9th Century (you may know this name from the lead character in the TV show ‘Vikings’).

Sometimes Nordic names gain an extra ‘r’ at the end (as in Olafr, Astridr and Ragnarr). This additional ‘r’ can be seen in many nouns in old Norse writing. For the grammar gurus among you, it refers to the ‘nominative case of a noun’ or, in plain English, the subject of the sentence. To illustrate the point, let’s consider two men called Olaf. We could say “Olafr hit Olaf”, but we wouldn’t say “Olafr hit Olafr”, as that wouldn’t fit the grammatical rule. The nominative case of a noun is in contrast to the ‘accusative’ case, which is the direct object of the sentence (in this instance, the direct object is the Olaf who is being hit!).

There are some interesting quirks that have evolved over time to do with this extra r. Sometimes the ‘r’ at the end is capitalised due to the runic script that was once used – so you might see GrimR instead of Grimr. Some names/words will not have an extra ‘r’ at the end but rather gain an extra ‘l’ or ‘n’. A famous example would be Odin, which becomes Odinn in the nominative case (an extra ‘n’ rather than an extra ‘r’). Such double endings can be seen in modern Norwegian/Swedish/Icelandic in the –ur endings of some names.

So now that you are equipped with this grammar knowhow, you will be able to give Norse names their proper endings (e.g. Thorr). The perfect skill for impressing all your Viking friends.

Answer by Jenny Schofield

Image credit: Lucas Leite via Flickr

Article by Jennifer Schofield

May 11, 2015

A nuclear physics PhD student with a penchant for computer programming, Jenny likes to spend her time hitting people with swords (otherwise known as the gallant sport of fencing!). Despite not possessing a rapier wit, she now also turns her hand to writing.


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