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EXPLAINED: Why is Norway called Norway? 

Norway's name may come from it's fjords, pictured is one of the country's many fjords.
Norway's name may come from it's fjords, pictured is one of the country's many fjords.Photo by Gary McGillivray-Birnie on Unsplash
You might not think about how Norway, Norge, or Noreg got its name, but the explanations range from the relatively mundane and practical to the outright bizarre.

Norway goes by many different names depending on who you ask and where you might be. For example, in Norwegian, you might call it Norge or Noreg, depending on whether you’re more familiar with Bokmål (Norwegian) or Nynorsk (New Norwegian). 

The Sami also have several names for the country, such as Norga (South Sami), Vuonda (Lule Sami), and Nöörje (North Sami). 

Internationally too, the country goes by many different names. For example, Norwegen is the German name for Norway. In French, it’s Norvège, and in Italian, it’s Novegia. However, all its international monikers share a common root and pronunciation. 

So what does Norway mean? Is it named after its narrow meandering fjords or a mythical dwarf king? 

The way leading north

The origins of Norway in English come from the old English word “Norþweg“, first mentioned in 880. The word meant “northern way” or “way leading to the north”. 

This seems to add up as the origins of the English name as this is what the Anglo-Saxons typically referred to the coastline of Atlantic Norway as. 

In the 880s, Norway also went by a second name in old English, “Norðmanna Land”, or the “Northman’s Land”. 

The most common interpretation of Norway in other languages is also the land to the north or the northern route. 

This is the case in Norwegian too. 

The name Norge comes from the Norse “Norðrvegr” and means veien mot nord, the road to the north, or landet mot nord, country to the north. 

This possible explanation is backed up by the fact that countries like Italy and Germany were referred to as suðr-vegr, or lands to the south. 

Given Norwegian’s typically zero fuss, no-nonsense approach to things, this is perhaps the theory we’d put our money on. 

READ MORE: What foreigners in Norway need to know about Nynorsk?

The land of the narrow fjords

The origins of Norge and Noreg are the same, the only difference being that Nynorsk word Noreg is derived from all the various Norwegian dialects. 

But while there only appears to be one meaning of the name in English and other European languages, there are a couple of possible explanations for how Norge or Noreg came to be. Most of the theories and explanations point to the Old Norse word “nór”. 

In 1847, student Niels Halvorsen Trønnes theorised in a paper for the Norsk Tidsskrift for Videnskab og Litteratur (Norwegian Journal of Science and Literature) that the word could be contextualised as meaning narrow inlet or channel, which is a body of water similar to a fjord. 

This would then change the meaning of the name from veien mot nord (the road leading to the north) to veien langs de trange fjordene og sundene (the road along the narrow fjords and lakes). 

This theory was backed up by Swedish linguist Adolf Noreen at the turn of the 20th century and has gained more popularity in recent times with it being added to the Store Norske Leksikon (Norwegian Encyclopedia). 

King Nor’s land

King Nor is a mythological dwarf king who, according to the History of the Earls of Orkney, also called Jarl’s Saga, united Norway into a kingdom. 

King Nor was said to be exceptionally short. The History of the Earls of Orkney refers to him as childlike in size. 

Michael Schulte, a professor of linguists at the University of Adger, has suggested a link between the word nor (which means narrow, small or compressed), Norge, and King Nor. 

He points to several places in the History of the Earls of Orkney being named after Nor, such as Nórafjorðr, King Nor’s fjord. 

He said that the roots of the word Norge could take on the dual meaning of veien langs med de trange fjordene og vikene (the road alongside the narrow fjords and inlets) and Kong Nor’s veg (King Nor’s way). 

“Claiming that we are named after a mythological dwarf king might have been a little bold, but this is kind of like the chicken and the egg. What came first? The mythology can have roots far back in time, just like the etymology. The point is that the etymology of King Nor and Norge is the same,” he said in an article for the University of Adger explaining his theory. 

This theory isn’t one that’s commonly accepted, however, even though it’s our personal favourite. 


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