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

Element ON original element Meaning Examples
a ey nf island Foula HT9539, Fladda HU3784
ay ey nf island Orfasay HU4977, HousayHU6771
ayre eyrr nf gravelly bank Ayre of Breiwick HU5561, Fugla Ayre HU4661
baa boði nm hidden submerged rock, breaker, reef Flugga Baa HU6299, Gerda Baa HU5799
back, bakka bakki nm bank of a river, slope Backarass HY4148, Ness of Bakka HU1751
beck bekkr nm brook, burn Knowes of Maebeck HY4952, Burn of Swartabeck HY3808
berg berg nn promontory, rock, rocky soil Longa Berg HU3520, MidbergHU5988
bie bœr, býrnm farm Murbie Stacks HU3062, Houbie HU6190
bister bólstaðrnm dwelling place, house Kirkabister HU5495, Westerbister HY4602
bratta brattr adj steep Bratta Stack HU5989, Brattibeck HU2844
breck brekka nf slope Brattabreck HU3892, Breck of Hillwell HU3714
brei breiðr adj wide, broad Brei Geo HU3787, BreiwickHU2256
bretta brattr adj steep Brettabister HU4857, Brettavale HY3020
brim brim nn surf Brim Ness HP5105
burra borg nf fortification West Burra HU3632, Noust of Burraland HU3775
by bœr, býrnm farm Houseby HY6721, TiptobyHU6091
clett klettr nm rock Clett Skerry ND3095, Clett of Thusater ND0671
cliff kleif nf rock Cliffdale HY6325, Moo CliffHY3906
crook krókr nm bend The Crook HU2986, Crooksetter HU4076
cros, cross kross nm cross, junction Crosbister HP5803, Cross KirkHU2178
dale dalr nm valley Deepdale HU3825, QuendaleHU3714
deep djúpr adj deep Deepdale HU3825
fair, far fær nf sheep Fair Isle HZ1871, Fara ND3295
fell fjall nn rough hill, mountain Kat Fell HU3268
firth fjörðr nm firth, fjord, sea-loch Sellafirth HU5198, LaxfirthHU4759
fiska, fiski fiskr nm fish North Fiski Geo HU4696, Fiska Ness HU3066
fladda flatr adj flat Fladdabister HU4332, FladdaHU3797
fors, forse fors nm waterfall Forse HY5300, Burn of ForseHU5289
foul fugl nm fowl, bird Foula HT9539, FoulageoHU4335, Foula Wick HU3664
garth garðr nm enclosure, fence, farmyard Frustigarth HY5218, Garths of Tresta HU6190
geo gjá (gjó) nf chasm, rift, gully Ramnageo HP6200, SultigeoHY3011
gerdi gerði nn enclosure Gerdie HP6208
gil, gill gil nn ravine, narrow gully Djupa Gill HU4066, Feetnies Gill HU3615
gro grár adj grey Grobister HY6524, GrobustHY4249
gruin, grunna grunn nn shallows Grunna Voe HU4766
grut grjót nn gravel Grut Ness HU6592, Grut WickHU5070
ha, haa hár adj high, upper Ha Banks HY4919, HahouseHY4551
ham höfn nf haven, harbour Hamister HU5463
hamar hamarr nm steep rock, rocky hillside Hamar HU5894, Hamar GeoHU5191
hamma, hammer hamarr nm steep rock, rocky hillside Hamma Cletts HU3166, Hamma Ayre HU3361
hamna höfn nn haven, harbour Hamna Heog HP6509, Hamna Dale HU5065, HamnavoeHU4980
heog haugr nm mound, cairn Heog HU4971, Heoga BergHU4538
hesta, hesti hestr nm horse, stallion Hesti Geo HU3881, HestwallHY4702
hevda höfði nm headland Stour Hevda HU5273, Hevdawick HU3365
ho hár adj high, upper Hoy HU3744, Hoo FieldHU4227
hoga hagi nm outfield, pasture Hogaland HU3936, Hoga NessHP5500
holm holmr nm islet Holm of Burrafirth HU3557, Long Holm HY3014
hope hópr nm bay Longhope ND3292
houll hóll nm hill Moss Houll HU5181, Queys Houll HU6098
housa hús nn house Housabister HU4958, Housa Wick HU5491
howe haugr nm mound, cairn Howe Taing ND4294, Maes Howe HY3112
hus hús nn house The Hus HU1655
is eystri adj easterly Isbister HU3790
kirk kirkja nf church Kirk Ness HU5565, KirkabisterHU5495
lama lamb nn lamb Lama Ness HY6843
land land nn piece of ground Houlland HU5080, MailandHP6008
lang langr adj long Langa Skeo HY3208
lax lax nm salmon Lax Firth HU4760
lee hlið nf hillside, slope Lee of Laxo HU4563, Lee TaingHU4333
ler leir nm mud, clay Lerwick HU4841, Ler GeoHU2585
ling lyng nn heather Lingarth HP6009
lund, lunn lundr nm grove Lunnasting HU4665, Lunna Ness HU5071
mid miðr adj middle Midbister ND4490, MidnessHU4572
mire mýrr nf swampy moorland, mire Hesta Mires HU4994, Mires of Oddsetter HU5992
ne nyr adj new Nebister HY6337
neap gnípa nf, gnúpr nm steep hill Hamara Neap HU5966, West Neap HU5891
ness nes nn headland, promontory Ness HU2158, Scat NessHU3809
nor norðr adj northerly Norbister HU3732, NorwickHU3681
noup gnúpr nm peak Noup Head HY3950, Noup of Noss HU5539
pap papi nm priest, cleric Papa Skerry HU3738, Papa Stour HU1660
pund pund nn enclosure Pund of Burravoe HU3890, Houlls Pund HP5805
qui kví nf enclosure Qui Ayre HY2115, Qui NessHP6203
quoy kví nf enclosure Quoys of Catfirth HU4454, Gritquoy HP5803
ramna hrafn nm raven Ramna Geo HU5591, Ramna Taing HU3242
roe rauðr adj red Roe Clett HU3978, RoenessHU3243
ron, rona, roo, roonies hraun nn rocky hill-ground Langa Roonies HU3367, Roonie Geo ND3792
ros, ross (h)ross nn horse Ross Geo HY4849
scord skarð nn valley crossing a ridge Scord HU5992, NorthscordHU3366
setter setr, sætrnn dwelling place, house Dalsetter HU5099, WinksetterHY3415
sil sild nf herring Silwick HU2942
ska skagi nm cape, low point of land Skaaga HU1655, SkawHP6516
skaill skáli nm hut, shieling Langskaill HY4321, AikerskaillHY5804
skeo skjá nf hut for drying fish or meat Langa Skeo HY3208, The SkeoHU4434
sker sker nn skerry Taing of Tor Sker HY7345, Innsker HY5221
so sauðr nm sheep Sorquoy ND4691
sta staðir (pl) nm steading farm Hoversta HY4117, GriestaHU4144
stack, stakk stakkr nm hill, precipitous rock Aastack HU4596, Stakka VatnHU3529
stane steinn nm (standing-)stone Whitestanes HY4715, Kirk Stane HY5316
stav stafr nm staff, post, stick, stave Stav Geo HU3786, Stava NessHU5060
stem, sten steinn nm (standing-)stone Stenness HU2177, StembisterHY5302
ster setr, sætrnn dwelling place, house Swinister HU3380, OcklesterHY5102
stour stórr adj big Papa Stour HU1660, Stour Houll HU3073
strand strönd nf coast, shore Strand HU6691
strom straumrnm stream, running water Strom HU3948, StromfirthHU4050
swart svartr adj black, dark Swarthoull HU2978, Swart Hamar HY6238
sweinn, swin svín nn pig Sweinna Stack HU4391, Swinister HU3380
taft topt, tuptnf house, site, foundation Evertaft HY4551, KirkataftsHU5598
taing tangi nm tongue, spit of land Taing of Berstane HY4710
ting þing nm assembly, meeting place of parliament Tingwall HY4022, North Nesting HU4559
toft topt, tuptnf house, site, foundation Tofts of Tain ND2465, Thurdistoft ND2067
tongue tunga nf tongue, spit of land The Tongues HU3721, Tongue Field HU4131
twatt þveit nf piece of land, clearing Stennestwatt HU2351, Brunatwatt HU2450
vat, vatn vatn nn lake Vatsland HU4646, Virda VatnHU3529
vird, virda varða nf heap of stones, cairn Vats Virda HU4333, Middis Vird HU3072
voe vágr nm small sheltered bay Loura Voe HU4453, SnarravoeHP5602
wall, well völlr nm field, level ground, meadow Tingwall HY4022
west vestr adj westerly Holm of Westquoy HY3607
whal, whale hvalr nm whale Whale Firth HU4693, Whal GeoHU1751
wick vík nf bay Whale Wick HU3632, Wick of Aith HU6389

(from The Ordnance Survey)

See also

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