Viking nicknames

according to the Icelandic sagas

Every few years I re-read the Icelandic sagas in translation. This time, I kept a notepad handy and jotted down the more interesting nicknames. Here are a few of them. For those unfamiliar with the sagas, I should mention that they were regarded by the 12th- and 13th-century Icelanders for whom they were written as essentially factual works, albeit with some literary embellishments. In other words, the following names all belonged to ostensibly historical figures.

Onund Tree-Foot
Gudbrund Hump
Ivar Prick
Geirmund Hell-Hide
Thorir Long-Chin
Olvir Child-Sparer
Olaf the Broad
Bork the Stout
Helgi the Lean
Asmund the Beardless
Ketil Thistle
Eirik Ale-Lover
Hallstein Horse
Aud the Deep-Minded
Thorgeir Flask-Back
Thorkel Moon
Geirmund the Shifty
Odd the Orphan-Poet
Thorir Paunch
Ogmund the Evil
Thorarin Foal-Brow
Torfi Bundle
Asgeir the Rash
Thorbjorn Oxen-Might
Hallvard Travel-Hard
Thorodd Poem-Piece
Olaf the Peacock
Bersi the Godless
Thord the Coward
Ketil Flat-Nose
Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye
Thorolf Bladderbald
Thorstein Cod-Biter
Thorolf Twist-Foot
Bolverk Blind-Snout
Gunnlaug Serpent-Tongue
Mord Fiddle
Asmund Grey-Bush
Ulf the Unwashed
Orm Wood-Nose
Thorleif Crow
Ketil the Smooth-Tongued
Sigurd Hog-Head
Onund the Handsome
Ogmund Tangle-Hair
Thorkel Braggart
Thorir Snippet
Grim Hairy-Cheek
Ketil Trout
Thorstein Sleet-Nose
Hallbjorn Half-Troll
Gunnstein the Berserk-Killer
Ornulf Fish-Driver
Bjorn Butter-Box
Eilif Eagle
Hroald Backbone
Thorgeir Earth-Long
Bjorn Iron-Side
Killer-Hrapp
Mord the Careless
Thorstein Shiver
Bolli the Elegant
Sarcastic Halli
Hallfred the Troublesome Poet
Thorold Sledgehammer
Eyvind the Proud
Hrolf the Walker
Ragnar Shaggy-Breeches
Thorbjorn Raven
Thorbjorg Pride-of-the-Farm
An Twig-Belly
Geirmund Thunder
Eysteinn Fart
Frodi the Valiant
Erlend the Torpid
An Bow-Bender
Audun the Uninspired
Bard the Peevish
Thorbjorn the Pock-Marked
Thord Horse-Head
Thorfinn Skull-Splitter
Goat-Bjorn
Giant-Bjorn
Asgeir Scatter-Brain
Brand the Generous
Eyvind the Plagiarist
Finn the Squinter
Thord Bellower
Eirik the All-Wise
Filth-Eyjolf
Ulf the Squinter
Thorgeir Thorn-Foot
Strut Harald
Sigtrygg Silk-Beard
Ketil the Lucky Fisher
Einar Fly

Sources: Grettir’s Saga, tr. Denton Fox and Hermann Palsson (University of Toronto Press, 1974); Njal’s Saga, tr. Magnus Magnusson and Hermann Palsson (Penguin, 1960); Eyrbyggja Saga, tr. Hermann Palsson and Paul Edwards (Penguin, 1972); The Sagas of Icelanders, ed. Leifur Eriksson (Penguin, 2000).

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14 Comments


  1. time for a new notebook eh?

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  2. I used my big notebook, not the pocket one. Though it is just about full. Might get me one of those moleskine things next time.

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  3. they’re not exactly plebeian but then neither are your thoughts.

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  4. I can’t even pick a favorite. What would the world be like now if we called each other names like that?
    (Moleskine’s got some satisfying cahiers.)

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  5. I am drawn to the third name down for a reference far removed from the turbulent seas off Iceland & a brave longship, square sail beating. My cousin used to work for the Prudential Assurance in Wandsworth, South London, where her boss was named Ivor Cock.

    Sorry. It’s been a long day…

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  6. I read once that almost all Icelanders have had their genetic codes mapped; it was a project that some genome readers conceived because of Iceland’s relative isolation and small size. I wonder how many of the modern population have the wood nose gene. And is fish-driving an innate or learned behavior?

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  7. We called our boss where I used to work “Ida the Impaler.”

    Check out the Miquelrius notebooks. That’s what I use. I think they’re cheaper than Moleskine and they have flexible rather than hard covers. I found a pretty good source for them online, but you could search around.

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  8. Thanks for the comments and notebook tips. I was considering a Moleskine simply because my favorite local bookstore now carries them. (I’m usually pretty lazy about ordering stuff online, especially since I have to borrow someone else’s credit card to do so.) And for whatever reason I can’t draft poems on lined paper; currently I am using a cheap sketchbook from a drugstore.

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  9. Those are terrific.
    We recently took a vacation in Denmark and I made up a list of fake place names – but these are real. And even funnier.
    thanks

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  10. Aren’t they terrific? I remember quite a few of these… Bjorn Butterbox is one of the most puzzling, and Thorarin Foal-brow is pretty, but there are so many crackers!
    Not many women there, wasn’t there a Somebody the Fecund? Probably one of the few characteristics considered worthy of mention.

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  11. Aud/Unn the Deep-Minded is the only female included in this list. The few other female nicknames I ran across were along the lines of Helga the Fair and Thordis the Prophetess – not terribly colorful.

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    1. Not to forget Herjólfr Shrivelled-Testicle, Ásmundr Hip-Thruster, Eysteinn Harm-Fart, Erlendr Back-Hole and Árni Harm-Penis.

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