Understanding Nicknames

I’ve had a brief look at offensive and shocking nicknames before, especially among the Anglo-Saxons, but here we’re going to look in a little more depth, with some more examples. Again, I’m drawing primarily from Peterson’s excellent 2015 thesis (which you can access here). Peterson often acknowledges a broad range of potential translations for these names – I’ve selected the most fitting here for comedic purposes, but there is certainly a fair amount of ambiguity and freedom for interpretation.

An interesting clear trend is that ‘offensive’ nicknames seem to be strongly associated with men . Certainly, women appear to be given nicknames of any kind substantially less – Landnamabok is an account primarily of the (male-dominated) heads of households in the settlement of Iceland. Even so, this seems to be a genuine social trend. Might this represent a deliberate connection between offense and a ‘Viking’ construction of masculinity – a ‘locker-room banter’ of the early medieval period? Does casual offense between friends lead to closer bonding, with permitted offense?

Below are seven of the best ‘Viking’ examples, ranging from mildly offensive and unkind through to shockingly explicit. Fair Warning: there are some naughty words.

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‘Viking’ Nicknames

Þórir Hvínantorði – ‘Whining Turd’ (Peterson 2015, p.69)

I can see no way that this nickname can be interpreted as anything other than negative, even as sarcasm. Presumably, it’s a reflection of an unpleasant and annoying individual.

Skagi skítráðr – ‘Shit Advisor/ Ruler of Shit’ (Peterson 2015, p. 69)

Presumably given as a name as the result of poor council, as a term of mockery. Interesting parallels might well be drawn with the English king Ethelred ‘the Unready’, whose name literally translates as ‘ill-counciled’.

Strað-Bjarni – ‘Butt-fuck’ (Peterson 2015, p.65)

The precise implications here are unclear – potentially it’s a reference to homosexuality, but this is purely hypothetical. For more information on queer studies in the ‘Viking’ period, a relatively new but incredible fruitful area of academia, the Kyngervi journal is a great starting point.

Ketill Raumr – ‘Big, Ugly, Clownish Person’ (Peterson, pp.205-6)

This one seems a bit unfair, piling the poor man with unattractive attributes.

Brunda-Bjálfi – ‘Semen’ (Peterson 2015, pp.136-7)

Peterson’s suggestion this is linked to an image of virility seems likely – indeed, this is probably the most fruitful interpretation of most interpretations of male genitalia in early medieval contexts.

Selseista – ‘Seal’s Testicles‘ (Peterson 2015, p.65)

Perhaps, as above, a reference to virility. Notably, there are three other individuals referred to by the nickname ‘seal’ – is this a reference to their general role in economic exploitation/ hunting, or perhaps highlighting a supposed characteristic/behavioral trait shared by these people?

Rǫgnvaldr Kunta – ‘Cunt’ (Peterson 2015, p. 66)

Nothing to add here…

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