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Glossary of Scandinavian origins of place names in Britain

Place names are made up of components which are referred to as elements. These elements are simply the words people used to describe a place or their response to their environment. A more complete background to Scandinavian in place names, pronunciation and spelling can be found in our brief introduction to the Scandinavian language.

This is a glossary of the elements from Scandinavian most frequently found in the place names of Britain. The first column gives the name element in the form found in place names. The original Old Norse word from which the element derives follows, together with its meaning. Examples (with grid references) are given for each element. The examples are taken from Orkney, Shetland and north-east Caithness, since in those areas the Scandinavian origins have been comparatively little changed by later language influences.

Abbreviations:

adj = adjective

nf = noun feminine

nm = noun masculine

nn = noun neuter

ElementON original elementMeaningExamples
aey nfislandFoula HT9539, Fladda HU3784
ayey nfislandOrfasay HU4977, Housay HU6771
ayreeyrr nfgravelly bankAyre of Breiwick HU5561, Fugla Ayre HU4661
baaboði nmhidden submerged rock, breaker, reefFlugga Baa HU6299, Gerda Baa HU5799
back, bakkabakki nmbank of a river, slopeBackarass HY4148, Ness of Bakka HU1751
beckbekkr nmbrook, burnKnowes of Maebeck HY4952, Burn of Swartabeck HY3808
bergberg nnpromontory, rock, rocky soilLonga Berg HU3520, Midberg HU5988
biebœr, býr nmfarmMurbie Stacks HU3062, Houbie HU6190
bisterbólstaðr nmdwelling place, houseKirkabister HU5495, Westerbister HY4602
brattabrattr adjsteepBratta Stack HU5989, Brattibeck HU2844
breckbrekka nfslopeBrattabreck HU3892, Breck of Hillwell HU3714
breibreiðr adjwide, broadBrei Geo HU3787, Breiwick HU2256
brettabrattr adjsteepBrettabister HU4857, Brettavale HY3020
brimbrim nnsurfBrim Ness HP5105
burraborg nffortificationWest Burra HU3632, Noust of Burraland HU3775
bybœr, býr nmfarmHouseby HY6721, Tiptoby HU6091
clettklettr nmrockClett Skerry ND3095, Clett of Thusater ND0671
cliffkleif nfrockCliffdale HY6325, Moo Cliff HY3906
crookkrókr nmbendThe Crook HU2986, Crooksetter HU4076
cros, crosskross nmcross, junctionCrosbister HP5803, Cross Kirk HU2178
daledalr nmvalleyDeepdale HU3825, Quendale HU3714
deepdjúpr adjdeepDeepdale HU3825
fair, farfær nfsheepFair Isle HZ1871, Fara ND3295
fellfjall nnrough hill, mountainKat Fell HU3268
firthfjörðr nmfirth, fjord, sea-lochSellafirth HU5198, Laxfirth HU4759
fiska, fiskifiskr nmfishNorth Fiski Geo HU4696, Fiska Ness HU3066
fladdaflatr adjflatFladdabister HU4332, Fladda HU3797
fors, forsefors nmwaterfallForse HY5300, Burn of Forse HU5289
foulfugl nmfowl, birdFoula HT9539, Foulageo HU4335, Foula Wick HU3664
garthgarðr nmenclosure, fence, farmyardFrustigarth HY5218, Garths of Tresta HU6190
geogjá (gjó) nfchasm, rift, gullyRamnageo HP6200, Sultigeo HY3011
gerdigerði nnenclosureGerdie HP6208
gil, gillgil nnravine, narrow gullyDjupa Gill HU4066, Feetnies Gill HU3615
grográr adjgreyGrobister HY6524, Grobust HY4249
gruin, grunnagrunn nnshallowsGrunna Voe HU4766
grutgrjót nngravelGrut Ness HU6592, Grut Wick HU5070
ha, haahár adjhigh, upperHa Banks HY4919, Hahouse HY4551
hamhöfn nfhaven, harbourHamister HU5463
hamarhamarr nmsteep rock, rocky hillsideHamar HU5894, Hamar Geo HU5191
hamma, hammerhamarr nmsteep rock, rocky hillsideHamma Cletts HU3166, Hamma Ayre HU3361
hamnahöfn nnhaven, harbourHamna Heog HP6509, Hamna Dale HU5065, Hamnavoe HU4980
heoghaugr nmmound, cairnHeog HU4971, Heoga Berg HU4538
hesta, hestihestr nmhorse, stallionHesti Geo HU3881, Hestwall HY4702
hevdahöfði nmheadlandStour Hevda HU5273, Hevdawick HU3365
hohár adjhigh, upperHoy HU3744, Hoo Field HU4227
hogahagi nmoutfield, pastureHogaland HU3936, Hoga Ness HP5500
holmholmr nmisletHolm of Burrafirth HU3557, Long Holm HY3014
hopehópr nmbayLonghope ND3292
houllhóll nmhillMoss Houll HU5181, Queys Houll HU6098
housahús nnhouseHousabister HU4958, Housa Wick HU5491
howehaugr nmmound, cairnHowe Taing ND4294, Maes Howe HY3112
hushús nnhouseThe Hus HU1655
iseystri adjeasterlyIsbister HU3790
kirkkirkja nfchurchKirk Ness HU5565, Kirkabister HU5495
lamalamb nnlambLama Ness HY6843
landland nnpiece of groundHoulland HU5080, Mailand HP6008
langlangr adjlongLanga Skeo HY3208
laxlax nmsalmonLax Firth HU4760
leehlið nfhillside, slopeLee of Laxo HU4563, Lee Taing HU4333
lerleir nmmud, clayLerwick HU4841, Ler Geo HU2585
linglyng nnheatherLingarth HP6009
lund, lunnlundr nmgroveLunnasting HU4665, Lunna Ness HU5071
midmiðr adjmiddleMidbister ND4490, Midness HU4572
miremýrr nfswampy moorland, mireHesta Mires HU4994, Mires of Oddsetter HU5992
nenyr adjnewNebister HY6337
neapgnípa nf, gnúpr nmsteep hillHamara Neap HU5966, West Neap HU5891
nessnes nnheadland, promontoryNess HU2158, Scat Ness HU3809
nornorðr adjnortherlyNorbister HU3732, Norwick HU3681
noupgnúpr nmpeakNoup Head HY3950, Noup of Noss HU5539
pappapi nmpriest, clericPapa Skerry HU3738, Papa Stour HU1660
pundpund nnenclosurePund of Burravoe HU3890, Houlls Pund HP5805
quikví nfenclosureQui Ayre HY2115, Qui Ness HP6203
quoykví nfenclosureQuoys of Catfirth HU4454, Gritquoy HP5803
ramnahrafn nmravenRamna Geo HU5591, Ramna Taing HU3242
roerauðr adjredRoe Clett HU3978, Roeness HU3243
ron, rona, roo, roonieshraun nnrocky hill-groundLanga Roonies HU3367, Roonie Geo ND3792
ros, ross(h)ross nnhorseRoss Geo HY4849
scordskarð nnvalley crossing a ridgeScord HU5992, Northscord HU3366
settersetr, sætr nndwelling place, houseDalsetter HU5099, Winksetter HY3415
silsild nfherringSilwick HU2942
skaskagi nmcape, low point of landSkaaga HU1655, Skaw HP6516
skaillskáli nmhut, shielingLangskaill HY4321, Aikerskaill HY5804
skeoskjá nfhut for drying fish or meatLanga Skeo HY3208, The Skeo HU4434
skersker nnskerryTaing of Tor Sker HY7345, Innsker HY5221
sosauðr nmsheepSorquoy ND4691
stastaðir (pl) nmsteading farmHoversta HY4117, Griesta HU4144
stack, stakkstakkr nmhill, precipitous rockAastack HU4596, Stakka Vatn HU3529
stanesteinn nm(standing-)stoneWhitestanes HY4715, Kirk Stane HY5316
stavstafr nmstaff, post, stick, staveStav Geo HU3786, Stava Ness HU5060
stem, stensteinn nm(standing-)stoneStenness HU2177, Stembister HY5302
stersetr, sætr nndwelling place, houseSwinister HU3380, Ocklester HY5102
stourstórr adjbigPapa Stour HU1660, Stour Houll HU3073
strandströnd nfcoast, shoreStrand HU6691
stromstraumr nmstream, running waterStrom HU3948, Stromfirth HU4050
swartsvartr adjblack, darkSwarthoull HU2978, Swart Hamar HY6238
sweinn, swinsvín nnpigSweinna Stack HU4391, Swinister HU3380
tafttopt, tupt nfhouse, site, foundationEvertaft HY4551, Kirkatafts HU5598
taingtangi nmtongue, spit of landTaing of Berstane HY4710
tingþing nmassembly, meeting place of parliamentTingwall HY4022, North Nesting HU4559
tofttopt, tupt nfhouse, site, foundationTofts of Tain ND2465, Thurdistoft ND2067
tonguetunga nftongue, spit of landThe Tongues HU3721, Tongue Field HU4131
twattþveit nfpiece of land, clearingStennestwatt HU2351, Brunatwatt HU2450
vat, vatnvatn nnlakeVatsland HU4646, Virda Vatn HU3529
vird, virdavarða nfheap of stones, cairnVats Virda HU4333, Middis Vird HU3072
voevágr nmsmall sheltered bayLoura Voe HU4453, Snarravoe HP5602
wall, wellvöllr nmfield, level ground, meadowTingwall HY4022
westvestr adjwesterlyHolm of Westquoy HY3607
whal, whalehvalr nmwhaleWhale Firth HU4693, Whal Geo HU1751
wickvík nfbayWhale Wick HU3632, Wick of Aith HU6389

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