A Walk Through Norwegian Place Names – Part 1

A walk through Norwegian place names GjøvikThe city of Gjøvik got its name through a misspelling.

The origin of a place name is complex – why is Norway called Norway, why was Oslo called Christiania, Kristiania and then Oslo again, which kings have a city named after them and what does Brønnøysund really mean? Norwegian cities are full of history.  

Founded in 997 AD, archaeological evidence indicates that Trondheim in South Trøndelag County is the oldest existing city in Norway. The name Trøndelag derives from Old Norse Þróndalog meaning “Trøndernes statutory area,” – lagen/logen (the law). Þrónd(h)eimr (Trondheim), dative Trændum, which is Norse for “home of the Trønder people,” was also used in the Iron Age about the settlements around the Trondheim Fjord. The first joint is the word þróndr, “trønder”, which is related to the verb þroásk, “grow”, and translates as “the strong, fruitful” (people).

What do other Norwegian place names mean – and what’s in a name?


Alta – from Old Norwegian alpt meaning ‘swan’, probably the first name of the Alta fjord

Bergen – from Old Norwegian Bergvin/Bjǫrgvin likely ‘(pasture) meadow between the mountains’

Bodø – The Old Norwegian name was Boðin, a composition between vin ‘natural meadow’ as the last part and perhaps boði meaning ‘wave’

Brønnøysund – from Old Norwegian brunnr meaning ‘uprising, source ‘ + island (øy) + strait (sund). The name Brønnøy( a) occurs several places along the coast and originates from where seafarers could find drinking water

Drammen – Old Norwegian Drafn, originally the name of the innermost part of the Drammen Fjord. The name is probably derived from the river name Drǫfn which was the Old Norwegian name of the Drammen River. This name may be connected with the Old Norwegian neuter word draf ‘waste’ and New Norwegian (nynorsk) feminine word drevje ‘soft mass’

Drøbak – from Old Norwegian Drjúgbakki ‘the roughly hill’

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A walk through Norwegian place names EgersundEgersund(photo) – the original name of the strait between mainland Norway and Eigerøya (from Old Norwegian Eikund meaning the ‘island with lots of oak’)

Gjøvik – from Old Norwegian Djúpvik ‘the deep inlet’ (misspelled farm name; jø- became gjø-)

Hamar – from hamar meaning ‘crag’

Hammerfest – from hammer ‘steep cliff’ and the Old Norwegian word festr a ‘place where one can tie boats’

Kirkenes – renamed after a church (kirke) was built there in 1862. An older name is Pisselvnes and Håkjerringnes . Girkonjárga in Sami, Kirkkoniemi in Finnish – both meaning ‘church-cape’

Kongsberg – founded by King Kristian 4th and given the name Konningsberg

Kristiansand – named after and by King Kristian 4th

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A walk through Norwegian place names KristiansundKristiansund (photo) – named after King Kristian 6th, the old name was Fosna from Old Norwegian Fólgsn meaning ‘hideout’

Levanger – from Old Norwegian Lifangr, composition with angr ‘bay, fjord ‘. First element is unknown

Lillehammer – ‘the small hammer’ unlike Storhamar – see Hamar

Lillestrøm – At the opening of the main line from Christiania (Oslo) to Eidsvoll in 1854, the railway station was located west of Nitelva on the farm “Lille Strøm”. In 1862, when the Kongsvinger railway opened, the station moved over to the east side. The name was kept and later named the whole growing settlement

Mo i Rana – from Old Norwegian mór ‘dry sand plain’

Molde – from Old Norwegian Moldar, plural of mold meaning ‘soil’

Mosjøen – Composition of farm name Mo and the word sea, meaning ‘landing place for a farm by the sea’

Mysen – from Old Norwegian Mysin, composed of mosi ‘marsh’ and vin ‘natural meadow’



Text by: Anette Broteng Christiansen, ThorNews

Source: The Language Council of Norway, Wikipedia

Photos from top: Øyvind Holmstad/Wikipedia, Jon Magne Bøe/Wikipedia, Kristiansund Municipality

Categories: Language

1 reply

  1. Thank you, this is most interesting reading! 🙂
    Ha en god helg!

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