What name do you use in reenacting? The modernization or Anglicization or the other transformation of Norse names or the original Norse name? The use of the former is rather endemic in many of the books that are otherwise full of vital information. There is an attempt, it seems, to make the modern spellings and pronunciations of the names, probably to make things more comfortable for the mainstream reader. However, looking at any good book, there is often an attempt to compromise between these two. Whereas the name of a person is given in the modern, more instantly recognizable form, the traditional form is given as well, generally in parentheses, a footnote or even an endnote.
A volume that does not go to this trouble should probably not be overly trusted!
Even in the Viking Age, it would seem that many of the Norse were known by different names in different lands. There are a variety of Gaelic names that were used to describe the person—such as Cammán for Sigytuggr—and at the end of the era, after conversion to Christianity, a use of Latinized names as in much of Christendom—for example, an attempt to Latinize Knútr as Cunetti on some coinage. And there is also a tendency to refer to a person by his baptismal name, such as Guthrum of East Anbglia being known as Æthelstan, As a side note, there was often a cycle of names which were used a family (sort of like “Junior” today but in this case usually not succeeding one so named but used every few generations. In this way, ironically, it is similar to the Anglo-Saxon standard of using names with the same beginning sound to indicate relationships within the same family, such as Æthelwulf, Ælfred (generally modernized as Alfred, so modernization not merely a Norse practice), Æthelweard and Ælfthryth
Using a modernized or an original name is up to you. Neither is wrong or right. If you use a modernized name, do you also use original names for friends? While some people might look a bit askance at this—it is after all like referring to gods in a classical pantheon as Zeus and as Mercury—but I am not inordinately disturbed by this. However, it is my feeling that no matter what you use and in what combination, you should know about what you are talking.
Many of the more common names—particularly those that are still used in some form today—have an Anglicized version as well as the original. Many of the more common names—particularly those that are still used in some form today—have an Anglicized version as well as the original. We list a few below, with the variant spelling on the left and the original on the right.
Many of the changes are in duplicate letters
the addition of letters (especially the use of the ending r)
accents and letters that are no longer used in English
Thorbjorn Þorbiorn (there are also modern letters which were not used in period)
Combinations of the above
And in some cases, totally new and totally different spellings were used
There are variations for female names as well, though there were not only fewer female names that were recorded but fewer names which have been Anglicized.
When you choose a name for your impression, make certain that you have researched the name and know where the name originally came from and how it was original spelled.
(Note: The Old Norse spellings may vary since they are the transliterations by a Latin-letter-literate culture of names from a rune-literate society where several spellings could be inferred from a single word)
You will find no real erotica during the Viking Age, at least in the way we perceive it in today’s sexual culture. It was not written during the time such as it was in later times. However, the poetry and riddles that were common during the time are not exactly polite, reserved and timid. “The Anglo Saxons seemed to love a riddle and, like the rest of us, couldn’t get enough of sex.” The results are winking double entendres bits of humor:
Exeter Riddle 44
A strange thing hangs by a man’s thigh,
hidden by a garment. It has a hole
in its head. It is still and strong
and its firm bearing reaps a reward.
When the man hitches his clothing high
above his knee, he wants the head
of that hanging thing to poke the old hole
(of fitting length) it has often filled before.
Exeter Riddle 54
A young man made for the corner where he knew
she was standing; this stripping youth
had whipped up her dress, and under her girdle
(as she stood there) thrust something stiff,
worked his will; they both shook.
This fellow quickened: one moment he was
forceful, a first-rate servant, so strenuous
that the next he was knocked up, quite
blown by his exertion. Beneath the girdle
a thing began to grow that upstanding men
often think of, tenderly, and acquire.
Exeter Riddle 61
A lovely woman, a lady, often locked me
in a chest; at times she took me out
with her fingers, and gave me to her lord
and loyal master, just as he asked.
Then he poked his head inside me,
pushed it up until it fitted tightly.
I, adorned, was bound to be filled
with something rough if the loyal lord
could keep it up. Guess what I mean.
Speaking of Anglo-Saxon poetry, not just erotic poetry, a fan notes:
The best Anglo Saxon poetry speaks with a directness and simplicity you won’t often find in the sophisticated and cosmopolitan utterances of the Roman poets. And though stark, the Anglo Saxon temper also comes with a rugged humor and gamefulness typical of poetry in simpler and less self-conscious cultures.”
You will not find any erotic prose, though. One major reason appears to be that prose was almost never used for a creative purpose; for example, even though most translations of Beowulf are done in standard prose, the original is poetry. However, the major reason appears to be that this was not done; direct and step-by-step erotica just was an alien concept to the Anglo-Saxons!
You will not generally find erotic or even romantic poetry from Norse sources. This is not because the Nose did not have sexual or romantic desires, but because there was a “fear in pagan times of magical ensnarement of the woman so immortalized by the power of the verses.” In addition, some have observed that romantic poetry—courting a beloved—was unnecessary since”The majority of Viking marriages were prearranged.” There was no need for romantic poetry, and erotic poetry is as far as we know rather infrequent.
So-called erotic Icelandic poetry, often known as mansöngr, was a form of skaldic poetry that was written quite infrequently. The romantic or erotic poems of the Ljóðatal section of the Hávamál are less than erotic or even romantic but are the practical warning verses that might be expected from the Norse:
The love of women
who are deceitful in spirit
is like riding a smooth-shod horse
on slippery ice,
a spirited two-year-old
and one badly trained,
or on a rudderless boat
in a raging wind,
or like a lame man trying to catch
a reindeer on a thawing mountainside.
Not exactly what I would call erotic or even romantic!
In the same way that erotic poetry was well known in earlier cultures and only slyly seen during the Viking age, there is precious little erotic art during this time. Art was often zoological knotwork, and the earlier erotic depictions of Greek, Roman and neolithic art is not easily found. In fact, the earlier favorable view of the heathen and pagan toward nudity, sensuality and sexuality in art was usurped by the Christian clerical dislike of these things, and there is very little depiction in surviving art of this time of sheer nudity except in such cases as biblical appearances of Eve, of the damned in hell and of Christ (who is depicted as semi-nude but who Is certainly not at all erotic?).
This is not say that there was no erotic depictions at all, but much would not today be called or recognized as erotic. For example, the Bayeux Embroidery shows a few naked figures, but they feature rape and are more documentative than erotic; certainly, today rape is considered very non-erotic!
In Viking art, there is a statue of Freyr in which the god is stroking his beard. He was associated with virility, and he was wed to Freyja, the Norse goddess of beauty and sexuality. That beard has been associated by many critics with the penis and virility, so that stroking the beard becomes something else!
The fact that the beard is so considered indicates to me that perhaps what was considered suggestive or erotic during this time would not be so considered nowadays. One has to wonder what things considered erotic at the time might be overlooked today!
[Riddles translated by Benjamin Thorpe]
There are a great number of terminology that is unique to living history, but there s also terminology that is not unique to living history, that is commonly used elsewhere and which might be wrong elsewhere but it is extremely wrong in living history. Here are three examples.
Authentic is often used to describe something that is historically accurate, but it is also often used to describe something that dates from the time. Many years ago, I used the term as carelessly as anyone, but at a display, a young girl asked if the helmet before me was authentic. I said that it was, and her eyes grew wide. “You mean that this was actually worn by someone back then?”
Ever since then, I use the term “accurate” or “historically accurate,” which is what people often want to know. But of course, I still use “authentic” when describing a technology from the time or an artefact that dated from the time.
The term is used to refer to the English people after the migration but before the Norman invasion. It was used three times in period but in times since, especially in modern times, it is used as a racial epithet meaning white and especially white superiority.. I referred to the Regia scope as Anglo-Saxon years ago; then at a fair, two MoPs saw the sign as they walked through gave me the white power sign and said, “Yeah, keep them niggers in their place.”
Ever since, I have used the term “Englisc,” which is also period but which is not confusing and tells the MoP exactly what we are referring to. I still use Anglo-Scandinavian and Anglo-Norman.
In period, Viking was a verb that meant sailing out to do trading and/or raiding. It was first used as a noun in English around the start of the eighteenth century. It refers to avocation and not to a nationality and certainly not a race. It is often incorrectly used to refer to Scandinavian culture; I use “Norse” most often.
I still say the Viking Age and refer to pirates of the time as Vikings though.