The word “Norway”

From Old Norse via English

Norway has roots in Old Norse and Old English

Image: Public domain
Illustration from “The history of Lapland” by Johannes Schefferus.

Asker, Norway

In 1673, John Shefferius, a professor of law and language at the University of Uppsala, Sweden, published Lapponia, a comprehensive study of the culture and history of the peoples from the region of Scandinavia once called Lapland and now known as Sápmi.

As customary for scholarly works of the time, Lapponia was in Latin. In what must be one of the more remarkable feats in the history of linguistics, Lapponia was made more accessible to the public by translating and publishing it nearly simultaneously in English, under the title The History of Lapland, which appeared in 1674.

The word Norway is derived from the Middle English word Norwey, from the Old English word NorweÆ, which was adopted from the Old Norse word Norvegr, a compound of norðr meaning “north” and veg-r meaning “way.”

As a name of a Scandinavian country, the word Norway spread to designate varieties of plants, animals, or things, such as Norway birch, Norway fir, Norway pine, Norway maple, Norway spruce; Norway crow, Norway rat; Norway skiff, and Norway yawl.

The History of Lapland, the sourcebook for the widespread use of the word Norway, may be among the most durable nonfiction books in English. Online bookseller stocks it in leather bound, paperback, and Kindle editions.

This article originally appeared in the May 7, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.

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M. Michael Brady

M. Michael Brady was born, raised, and educated as a scientist in the United States. After relocating to the Oslo area, he turned to writing and translating. In Norway, he is now classified as a bilingual dual national.