Why did Kristiania get the works?

That’s nobody’s business but the Norwegians’ (but we’ll tell you anyway)

Oslo tiger

Photo: Thomas Johannessen / VisitOslo
A bronze tiger statue by sculptor Elena Engelsen stalks the square at Jernbanetorget, Oslo.

M. Michael Brady
Asker, Norway

The name Oslo originally was given to a settlement at the north tip of the Oslo Fjord, now called Gamlebyen (Old City). In the Middle Ages, the name was spelled in various ways in Old Norse, including Anslo, Ásló, and Ósló (first in 1225). In Low German it also was written Anslo, perhaps due to its nasal pronunciation. The word Oslo is a compound of two words, os meaning “river mouth,” and lo meaning “flatland.”

After storbrannen (The Great Fire) that destroyed Oslo in three days in August 1624, the city was rebuilt on the west side of the Bjørvika inlet and renamed Christiania, after King Christian IV of Denmark and Norway. In the late 19th century, the name was respelled with a capital K instead of a C, to make it more Norwegian, first by the national government 1877 and then informally by the city in 1897. The switch from C to K was never formalized, so the two spellings coexisted, along with contractions such as Chr. and Chra, as well as Xania, as the letter X was then much used as an abbreviation for Christ in personal names and in church registers.


Image: Public Domain
Map of Christiania, 1795, made by Patroclus von Hirsch.

In the 1860s, prominent city residents, including painter and women’s liberationist Aasta Hansteen began using the name Oslo. After the dissolution of the Union with Sweden in 1905, public opinion increasingly favored the name Oslo, culminating in July 1924 with a decision by the Storting (Parliament) that as of Jan. 1, 1925, the capital was to revert to the name Oslo.

So it has been since then. Oslo is Oslo. But the city has nicknames, most enduring perhaps Tigerstaden (Tiger Town), after a poem by Norwegian poet and 1903 Nobel literature laureate Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson describing a fight between a tiger and a horse, with the tiger representing the dangerous and unfriendly city, and the horse representing the safe rural village. In commemoration of its millennium in the year 2000, the City of Oslo commissioned the bronze statue of a tiger that now stands in the square in front of the Oslo S main rail station.

Further reading: Two publications (in Nynorsk) by Åse Wetås, both entitled “Namneskiftet Kristinia-Oslo” (Name change Kristiania-Oslo): paper in Språknytt (“Language news,” a professional journal published by the Language Council of Norway) issue 4, 1997: www.sprakradet.no/Vi-og-vart/Publikasjoner/Spraaknytt/Arkivet/Spraaknytt_1997/Spraaknytt_1997_4/Namneskiftet_Kristiania-Oslo_, and a book, Oslo, published by Novus Forlag in 2000.

This article originally appeared in the May 3, 2019, 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.