What’s Fjord?

Reshuffling Norwegian political geography raises ruckus


Photo: Fjording /Wikimedia Commons
Norddalsfjord at junction with Tafjord in background.

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

Across Europe, amalgamation has been on the political agenda for several decades. In many countries, it has led to reforms that shrink the numbers of local governments. Norway is one such country. Two Norwegian reforms finished on Jan. 1, 2020. The fylker (“counties”) went down from 18, reorganized into 11 regions, and the final number of kommune (“commune,” or “municipality” for the urbanized ones) went down from 428 to 356.

Opinion on the new county and commune names was divided and triggered much public debate. The most vociferous debate was on Fjord, the new name of the merged Norddal kommune, south of the Norddal Fjord, and Stordal kommune, north of it, formerly in Møre og Romsdal County, a name retained in the renaming of the new region on the west coast. It became a question of cultural point of view.

Traditionalists held that the word fjord should be reserved for its historical meaning, from the Old Norse fjǫrðr, meaning a long arm of the sea that runs between high banks. Språkrådet (“The Norwegian Language Council”) agreed; fjord meant a body of water, not land. Morgenbladet, the weekly cultural newspaper, sided with the Language Council. A substantial part of its Dec. 21, 2018, edition was devoted to the question; the page 1 lead photo of Norddal Fjord, taken at water level and dominated by its high banks in Norddal kommune was overwritten with the headline Dette bør ikke hete fjord (“This should not be called fjord”).

Modernists favored the word Fjord, because they found it compatible within the family of many other commune names that include geographic words, and because it’s enduring, not a neologism that may be soon forgotten. The local newspaper Storfjordnytt agreed, as it covered newsworthy happenings of the merger and publicized that effort with the award of a free year at a kindergarten for the first child born in Fjord kommune after Jan. 1, 2020. Visit the Storfjordnytt website at www.storfjordnytt.no for news of that happening, announced in its Siste Nytt (“Latest News”) dateline.

This article originally appeared in the January 24, 2020, 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.