Image: Loelva, Loen, Stryn, Norway. | © Sergey Bogomyako – stock.adobe.com.
The land to the north
Today, the official name of the country is The Kingdom of Norway. Let us start by looking at what the Norwegians themselves call their country.
- Norge – Bokmål
- Noreg – Nynorsk
- Norga – Northern Sami
- Vuodna – Lule Sami
- Nöörje – South Sami
In German, the name is Norwegen, in French Norvège, in Spanish Noruega – and in Italian Norvegia, just like the most excellent Norwegian cheese.
The most common interpretation of the name Norway is the land to the north, the northern route – or – the route leading north.
By looking at Norway on a map, with its long-stretched coastline leading north, such meanings make much sense.
However, according to linguists, there is also a possible second – and third – option.
Land of the narrow fjords
In 1847, the student Niels Halvorsen Trønnes claimed that Norge is based on the Old Norse word nór, in this context meaning narrow inlet or channel.
According to the Cambridge dictionary, the word inlet is a narrow strip of water that goes from a sea or lake into the land or between islands.
When we think about Norway, with all its fjords, such an interpretation certainly makes sense. In recent years, this second meaning has gained support.
Named after King Nor?
Einar Haugen’s excellent Norwegian-English dictionary translates the Norwegian dialect word nor into the English word mite – as in an infant or small child.
Michael Schulte, a linguist at the University of Agder, Norway, suggests a possible connection between (1) this meaning of the word nor – (2) the name Norge – and (3) the mythological King Nor.
King Nor was a short man: a nor – a childlike man in size. According to the History of the Earls of Orkney, King Nor was the founder of the first Norwegian kingdom. Maybe a reference to his land was the origin of the name Norge?
We may never know the exact connection, but the above snippets of information and theories will nevertheless help tickle our imagination.
Main source: Store Norske Leksikon – snl.no – Michael Schulte, Ernst Håkon Jahr and Dag Gundersen.