European Commission logo
English English
CORDIS - EU research results

Individuals, social identities and archetypes – the oldest Scandinavian personal names in an archaeological light

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ArcNames (Individuals, social identities and archetypes – the oldest Scandinavian personal names in an archaeological light)

Reporting period: 2019-03-01 to 2021-02-28

The Marie Skłodowska Curie Action “ArcNames. Individuals, social identities and archetypes – the oldest Scandinavian personal names in an archaeological light” investigates Scandinavian Iron Age personal names from an archaeological perspective. Through the lens of material culture, the project explores relations between naming behavior, social identities and status in Scandinavia ca. 300 - 800 AD. These issues have relevance to historical questions about landholding and ownership structures, that have influenced structures that exist today. The personal names from the Scandinavian pre-Christian period are fascinating because they are formed of words that allude to a world of animals, religious phenomena, honor and warfare. They have roots in ancient Germanic and Indo-European naming traditions – forming a large onomastic research field. Many of these names are still in use today and form a part of a living cultural heritage. Understanding their meaning and use in creating identities, their themes, ideals and gender issues is important for their continued use and their appropriation in modern identities. The study of ancient names is thereby directly relevant to present day people and their self-awareness and identity perception. The project has therefore given high priority to dissemination to the public via social media, an accessible research blog, public talks and in five upcoming videos.

The ArcNames project has two main scientific objectives: 1) first it aims to create a better understanding of naming and the construction of personal and social identities in the Scandinavian Iron Age and Viking Period, mainly by investigating the correspondence between names and the archaeological record. 2) The second objective is to understand the names in relation to status and landholding through their occurrence in place names and runic monuments.

The project has established how personal names from the late Scandinavian prehistory functioned as media through which social messages about status, kinship, ethnic affiliations and personal qualities were conveyed. There is close correspondence between motifs used in names and expressions in other media such as iconography and poetry. The importance of names as social communication is stressed by the prominent role they have in both runic inscriptions and toponyms, beginning from the Roman Iron Age.

Parallel to the research objectives, the ArcNames project has aimed to develop the research and teaching capacities of the individual researcher and to advance the cooperation and dialogue between onomastics and archaeology at the University of Bergen and in Norway.
The scientific part of the ArcNames project was conducted through the execution of four Work Packages (WP1-4). These involve assessment of the word elements combined in the preserved body of personal names (WP1), a search through archaeological records for correspondences (WP2), surveying and mapping personal names in place names in a sample area in Western Norway (WP3) and gathering the project results in a general synthetic analysis (WP4). Despite obstacles caused by the COVID 19 situation, the scientific goals have been fully met. The work and results of the Action were presented in 8 scientific papers total delivered at conferences and seminars and two public lectures.
In addition to the scientific work, the Action has comprised teaching activities and completion of the University of Bergen’s program in University Pedagogy. Training in project management and grant writing resulted in the fellow securing DKK 1.596.767 from the Carlsberg Foundation for continued research in archaeology and onomastics in relation to sacral landscapes. Through her teaching and participation in UoB research groups, the fellow worked to enforce dialogue between archaeology and onomastics in Norway. For this purpose, she arranged a full day research seminar and is editing a special focus article collection to be published in UBAS, publications from the department of archaeology at the University of Bergen.

Results of the MSC Action are presented in five scientific papers (one published, two submitted and two underway), treating 1) the semantic motifs in personal names in relation to Iron and Viking Age iconography, 2) gender aspects and battle related motifs in female personal names, 3) names as part of performative texts and their relation to ritual and performative stereotypic images of Late Iron Age and Viking Age iconography, 4) Emotions and bereavement expressed by inscribing names on runic monuments and in burying inscribed names as part of funerary rites, 5) the representation of words for objects in names in contrast to conceptions about charismatic objects and concepts of personhood 6) ownership, landholding and personal names in Iron Age toponymy seen in an archaeological landscape context. Further, the fellow has produced a homepage and research blog containing information about the project background and objectives and 12 individual posts about the work progress and project results. Blog entries and other project activities were disseminated through the project Facebook page.
The knowledge and truly interdisciplinary set of skills acquired by the fellow through the Action have significantly influenced the fellow’s approach to the time periods and source materials of her research and will have major impact on the content of her work in the future. The understanding of linguistic and identity-related issues has generated a deeper comprehension of the people of the past from their own perspective (the emic perspective), resulting in many research ideas on the drawing board and additional papers underway.
This MSCA grant allowed the Fellow to acquire a scholarly foundation in Germanic and Norse names and linguistics, runology and history of religions. The fellow has thus expanded her research spheres and gained abilities to go beyond the restraints of particular disciplines to look at the past in a multifaceted way using several research methodologies. This will in the future promote interdisciplinarity in the onomastic and archaeological communities.
This MSCA project has been innovative in its multidisciplinary approach to a very complicated material, combining studies of anthroponyms, toponyms and archaeology. The project is important because it uses this interdisciplinarity to rethink the evidence. While the archaeological material continuously increases, personal name material has rarely been evaluated systematically against archaeological evidence. By adding the lens of material reality to the onomastic discipline, the project has generated valuable new understandings related to the ways Iron and Viking Age people conceptualized and communicated their identities. The project has thus pushed the scope of what is possible to deduct from names as well as created a more holistic frame for understanding social communication in the Iron and Viking Ages.

An important anticipated impact from the ArcNames MSCA is an increased focus among Norwegian archaeologists on toponyms and their relation to archaeological settlement patterns. The Action has helped to revive the dialogue between archaeology and onomastics in Norway and push it in new directions. The research blog and social media presence and the forthcoming videos popularizing the material have generated enhanced public perception of the oldest personal names and their connotations.
The ArcNames project logo