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EXPLAINED: Why is Oslo called Oslo?

Frazer Norwell
Frazer Norwell - [email protected]
EXPLAINED: Why is Oslo called Oslo?
This is how Oslo became to be known by Oslo. Pictured is a view of Oslo from Ekeberg. Photo by Barnabas Davoti on Unsplash

Oslo hasn’t always been called Oslo. It was formerly called Christiania and later Kristiania. Here’s how the capital got its current name and what it means.

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Norway’s capital, Oslo, is home to plenty of interesting history. During this time, it has seen several name changes. 

Originally, it was founded under the name Ánslo and Áslo - these names for the city date back to the Middle Ages - and later Óslo or Opslo. The ás element may refer to the Ekeberg ridge southeast of the medieval town. 

In modern Norwegian, ås is a common component of Norwegian place names, such as Åsnes. This means that the original name may have meant “the meadow beneath the ridge”. 

Another interpretation could also be “meadow of the gods”. However, the word ás referring to gods is rare in place names. 

It was wrongly put forward that the name may draw from a lost name of the Alna river. However, this has been debunked. 

By the time it became the official Norwegian capital in 1314, the spelling had evolved to Oslo. Around 3,000 people were living in the medieval town around this time, and King Håkon V became the first king to live in Oslo.

Becoming Christiania 

A fire in 1624 consumed much of the medieval city, with Akershus Fortress being the only notable building to survive the inferno. 

The king of Denmark and Norway at the time, Christian VI, decided that the city should be rebuilt, but this time to the west of Akerhus Fortress.

Due to the medieval town being located underneath the Ekeberg ridge, eastern parts of the city are referred to as Gamlebyen, meaning old Oslo and the old town.

As customary at the time, Christian bestowed his name upon the new town and it thus became Christiania. 

This name would remain for over 200 years until 1877. During that time, language reform had swept over Norway. There were numerous attempts to Norwegiansise the language. During this period, the two official written languages of Norway, Bokmål and Nynorsk, were adopted and eventually given official status. 

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Spelling reform meant ch was commonly changed with k. This meant that Christiania became Kristiania. Christiansund, in the south, also became Kristiansund, and Christiansand became Kristiansand.

Around this time, the city itself was still located firmly in the west. However, maps from the town refer to the area east of the river as Opslo. Meanwhile, the newspaper Aftenposten published a map in 1923 which labelled the eastern suburb of the city as “Oslo”. 

The village of Oslo was included as part of the Oslo region after expansions in 1859 and 1878. 

Name change back to Oslo 

The whole of the city would officially be called Oslo from July 11th 1924. This decision came into force in 1925. When the entirety of Oslo as it is known today was renamed, the eastern side was referred to as Gamlebyen

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The former square of Christian VI’s city was renamed after him, and the former area of Christian VI’s city, known for its straight streets and right angles, is now known as Kvadraturen

What about the Tiger City? 

Oslo has sometimes been referred to as the Tiger City, but this isn’t a super common moniker. The city was called Tigerstaden (the City of Tigers) by the author Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson due to his perception of the city as cold and dangerous. 

The now famous tiger statue outside Oslo Central Station stands to honour the nickname. 

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