Doubts about the Origin of Norway

Norvegia Map of Norway

Norvegia: The first map that only includes Norway was drawn by the Dutchman Johannes Blaeu (1596-1673), published in Amsterdam in 1662. Variations of the name Norway had been used for centuries. (Facsimile: Bergen University Library/


Article was first published in Norwegian on

The common opinion is that the name Norway means “the northern route” or “the way northward”. – This is not correct, says Professor Michael Schulte at the University of Agder.

Schulte is one of the authors behind the four-volume work Norwegian Language History (2016). Here, he describes several weaknesses in the established name theory and argues that the name derives from Old Norwegian “nór” which means “narrow or cramped water, strait”, related to the English word “narrow” and also the mythological king “Nór”.

– During the work with Norwegian Language History, I became aware that the traditional interpretation has many absurdities. Science is regarded as rational, but we must remember that it is formed by ideology and national emotions. “The way northward” is an appropriate explanation reminiscent to ancient Nordic ski traditions, Schulte explains.

According to him, “the way northward” is a result of so-called folk-etymology, where the definitions are changed and reinterpreted over time. He believes the reinterpretation began in the early Viking Age. When Ottar describes Norway as “Norðmanna land” and “Norðweg”, a reinterpretation has already occurred.

– Makes No Sense

Schulte points out that the name never appears with the letter “ð” in neither inscriptions nor poetry. He sees this as a clear indication that the name does not derive from “north” as a cardinal point, but from Old Norwegian “nór” meaning narrow waters or narrow strait.

He refers to the inscription on the Danish Jelling stone from about 960 A.D. and the Norwegian Kuli stone from around 1020. The two inscriptions are referred to as Denmark and Norway’s “baptism certificate”.

Schulte highlights that name Nóregr in skaldic poetry rhymes with words such as stór (huge) and fóru (for), which he believes underpins the “nór” theory.

– In Norse poetry tradition in the 900s, there were strict poetic requirements and rules. A short vowel could rhyme with another short vowel and a long vowel with a long, but short could never rhyme with a long. Nóregr has a long vowel, which indicates that the origin of the name is the word “nór” as in the Norwegian dialect word nor and King Nór, says Schulte.

Norse King

King Nór, as Schulte points out, was a mythological dwarf in the Edda poem Völuspá.

A number of Norwegian place names indicate that “nór” means narrow, small or compressed, or connect with King Nór – for example Nore, Norheimsund, Norangsfjorden, Norefjord and Norefjell.

– The female name Noru meaning “the little” occurs on a South Germanic inscription from Aalen around the year 500, Schulte adds.

However, with the introduction of romantic nationalism in the mid-1800s, the myth of King Nór disappeared.

– Unlikely

Cand.philol. Tore Korslund questions Schulte’s theory. He points out that the oldest forms of national description of Norwegian (norðmaðr) and the related adjective Norse (norðrænn), undoubtedly relates to “the way northward”. In addition, there is every reason to believe that it also applies to the name of the country.

Korslund also shows that the oldest designations of Norway is the Latin Nor(th)vegia from about 840 and the Old English Norðweg from around 880. These sources are over 100 years older than the runic stones Schulte refers to, and the spelling corresponds with the interpretation “the way northward”.

Adjusted the Encyclopedia

Schulte adds that the alternative theory of the origin of Norway is far from new. In 1847, student Niels Halvorsen Trønnes launched the theory in an article in the Norwegian Journal of Science and Literature. In 1897, the Swedish philologist Adolf Noreen in the book Swedish Etymologies clarified this theory.

Until January 2016, the Norwegian Encyclopedia unequivocally stated that Norway means “the way northward”. Now, the alternate name theory is added to the article.

Schulte says one of the goals with launching Norwegian Language History is to clean up the obsolete glossary.

– The point was to edit the encyclopedia, which we have accomplished. Even in the 21st century, certain things need to be adjusted, and who knows, maybe King Nór is on his way back, says Schulte.


Text modified by: Anette Broteng Christiansen, ThorNews

Categories: Culture, History, Language

3 replies

  1. This was interesting reading !


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