517 Viking Nicknames

Of all the peoples of the Middle Ages, it was the Norse who had the best nicknames. You can now explore a list of hundreds of interesting and strange nicknames from the Viking Age.

The sagas and histories of the Norse peoples are filled with names – the Family Sagas alone include over 7,000 named individuals. Most of those people also had nicknames. They needed to have them, for Norse society did not use proper surnames, but used patronyms like x’s son or x’s daughter. Without nicknames it would have been very difficult to differentiate people.


One of the best studies on nicknames during the Viking Age was done by Paul Peterson in 2015 as his Ph.D. dissertation. He examined how people got their nicknames and the great variety of types for these names. One could get their nickname from their age, appearance, clothing, where one came from, their occupation, or some interesting quality about the person. These nicknames could just as easily be an insult as they could be a compliment. We even have nicknames that were sexually explicit – for example, Kolbeinn Butter Penis – or as Peterson describes “potty humor nicknames,” such as Eystein Foul-Fart.

There are cases where people had multiple nicknames – a man named Hroi had five: ‘The Wealthy’, ‘The Foolish’, ‘The Elegant’, ‘The Wise’, and ‘Mishap’. They could also be changed during their lifetime. One famous case is that of Harald Fairhair, a 10th-century Norwegian king. His original nickname was lúfa, which means thick and matter hair (literally it means ‘shock head’) because he had it uncut and uncombed for seven years. However, on a visit to an earl, the king took a bath and had a haircut. Afterwards, the earl “gave him a nickname and called him Harald inn hárfagri (“the fair-haired”), and everyone said who saw him that it was the truest name of all, because he had hair both plentiful and fair.”


Nicknames could even change after death – this was certainly the case of Njal Thorgeirsson, who is well-known for his saga. His nickname –  ‘Burning’ (Brennu) – comes from the episode when he and his family were killed when Njal’s enemies surrounded his home and set it on fire.

Viking Nickmanes in the Landnámabók

One of the best sources for nicknames from the Viking Age is the Landnámabók (The Book of Settlements), which detailed the settlement of Iceland during the 9th and 10th centuries. Peterson was able to find 517 nicknames. Here are ten of our favourites for men:

Ávaldr the Astmaticǫngt í brjósti, which literally means ‘narrow in the chest’. It is one of the few nicknames that are made up of a phrase.

Eirik Ale-Loverǫlfúss, which literally means ‘eager for beer’

Hjǫrleifr the Amorouskvensami – Peterson adds ‘it must refer to his success with women, and it is tempting to translate it as ‘ladies‟ man’, to do justice to the sense in which the word should be understood.”


Ketil Flat-Noseflatnefr, which probably was a description of his nose, but could be for his whole body.

Kolbjorn the Slightersneypir, which literally translates to snipper, castrator; one who brings dishonour. This was certainly a nickname meant to dishonour and disparage Kolbjorn.

Odd Cold Mouthkaldmunnr – there are a few ways this nickname can be interpreted. Perhaps he gained it from eating snow, or was it for his way of talking, perhaps using evil speech?


Odd the Showyskrauti, which also means ‘fine garment’ or ‘ornament’. This could have been applied to him for showing off his fine clothes.

Olvir the Child-Sparerbarnakarl, which literally means ‘children’s man’ or ‘friend of children’.

Thorgeir the Clumsyklaufi, a word that means clumsy person or bumbler, or someone who had hands or feet like an animal’s cloven hoof and would be prone to tripping.

Thorstein Ill-Luckógæfa, which also means ‘bad luck’ or ‘misfortune’. Peterson notes that “circumstances behind the nickname are described in Landnámabók, where it says that Thorstein killed a Norwegian earl’s retainer, and the man who took him in, Vébjǫrn Sygnatrausti (‘Champion of the people of Sogn’), had to sell his possessions and flee to Iceland. It is interesting that the bad luck behind the man’s nickname affected others more than himself.”

Female Norse Nicknames

We know far less about nicknames given to women, as few of them are recorded – by one count, among the nicknames we know, only three percent are from women. Moreover, for those that we do know, there is usually no mention of how they got those names.


Many female nicknames are seemingly based on their appearance, usually to compliment their beauty. Some examples include: The Fair (væna), Island Flame (eykindill), Light of the Land (landaljómi), Fresh Snow (mjǫll), Star (stjarna) and Sunbeam (geisli). They could also be disparaging, such as Thorbjorg Coal Brow (kolbrún). According to the Fóstbroeðra saga, she was given this nickname for her black hair and eyebrows, and because she was “not very pretty.”

Paul Peterson was able to find several more examples of female nicknames in the Landnámabók. Here are ten of our favourites:

Astrid Wisdom-Slopemanvitsbrekka, which also can be translated as ‘slope of understanding’, ‘paragon of intelligence’ or ‘breaker of people’s wits’. The idea was that she was a woman of intelligence.

Gro the Second-Sighteden snarskyggna which also means ‘the keen-eyed’.

Hallgerd Twist-Breekssnúinbrók – this name may have been given because she wore her pants in some kind of unusual way.

Hlif the Horse-Gelderhestageldir, meaning ‘castrator of horses’. It is unknown whether this was a positive or negative nickname.

Thora Moss-Neckmosháls – there have been several interpretations of this nickname, including that Thora had hair on her neck, used moss to heal a neck wound, or just lived in a place with a lot of moss.

Thorbjorg Ship-Breastknarrarbringa – it can either mean she had a large build or large breasts.

Thorgerðr Moss Widowheiðarekkja, which literally means ‘widow of the heath’.

Thorunn Blue-Cheekblákinn – another nickname with several possibilities, including that she wore particular make-up or had once nearly drowned or choked.

Thurid Sound-Fillersundafyllir – according to the Landnámabók, Thurid got this nickname “from having filled all the sounds (inlets) with fish using sorcery during a famine.”

Yngvild All-Men’s-Sisterallrasystir – perhaps she got this nickname for being in a family with many brothers or that she liked to refer to all people as her sisters and brothers.

You can read all 517 nicknames found in the Landnámabók from Paul Peterson’s Ph.D. dissertation, Old Norse Nicknames. Peterson is a lecturer and Director of the Graduate School of Language and Literature at Signum University. You can learn more about his research on his page.