Sunday, 8 February 2015

Origins of Place Names: Danish Cities

Having blogged samples of my books on English place names and also examined the etymologies of the nations of the world and their respective capitals I thought it time I cast my net a little wider. As English place names share some links to other tongues it would be interesting to see if any of the elements contributing to our place names could be found elsewhere. This time we continue the tour of Western Europe and a look at the largest Danish cities.

Copenhagen is derived from the Danish kiopman havn and describes 'the merchants' harbour'.

Aarhus stands at the mouth of the River Molle and the name reflects this in Danish aa os, 'the mouth of the river'. Water must have been one of the earliest words to have been coined, it is vital to every lifeform on the planet. Looking at the relationship of the words for 'water' in related languages would, theoretically, bring us to the original and the Danish aa cannot be very far removed from that earliest word. Consider how closely it resembles Old English ea particularly in pronunciation, fully understandable considering these are both Germanic languages. Yet is also very similar to French eau, particularly in pronunciation, although these languages are several linguistic generations removed from each other. Even the modern English 'water' is related. While hidden by modern spelling, in parts of northern England the pronunciation is as 'wah-ter' rather than 'war-ter'. Ignoring the second syllable the name can still be seen as related to the Proto-Indo-European for 'water' and more than likely to the (unknown) word first coined many, many millennia ago.

Odense has mythological origins and named from the Scandinavian god Odin.

Aalborg shares its first element with Aarhus and speaks of 'the fortification at the river'. The suffix is common to many English place names and comes from Old English burh.

Frederiksberg shares its suffix with that of Aalborg and, having been given to some twenty Danish-Dutch peasants by King Frederick III, became known as Ny Hollaenderby 'New Dutchmantown' on June 2nd 1651. This proved an agricultural failure and it was not until 1703 when Frederik IV built his palace here that the name was officially changed to Frederiksberg. Prior to the Middle Ages this area was known as Tulehoj or 'thyle hill'. The first element tells us a thul or thyle lived here. This is more often used as a title in historical documents, used for Unerth in Beowulf and even Odin himself. Whilst it translates as 'song', it would probably be better to view it as a job description and thus one who narrates an oral history through verse and/or song.

Horsens is thought to have come from Danish hors naes or 'the headland where horses are seen'. Both words are related to English, the former is obvious while the term 'ness' is now most often seen in the north of Britain but can also be found in Totnes in Devon, an ancient settlement and one which considers itself the oldest town in England.

Vejle is from an Old Danish word waethel meaning 'ford' or, quite literally, 'wading place' and sharing its name with the Vejle River. This is not a chicken and egg argument, for neither the river nor the settlement were named first but named for the river crossing.

Roskilde has its origins in 'Ro's spring', this a reference to legendary King Roar, who may or may not have been here in the 6th century.

Helsingor, often given as Elsinore, comes from Old Danish hals meaning 'neck' and a reference to the narrow strait Oresund. In turn this can be traced to Iceland and Old Norse terms and refers to 'the gravel beach strait'.

Silkeborg, as a city, was not formerly founded until 1844. However the name can be traced to least the 15th century when the islet in the lake was known by this name and means 'silk castle'.

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