Friday, July 15, 2011

A good name is better than precious ointment *

Unn the deep-minded. Thorun the Horned. Men's Wit-Breaker. And those are just the women.  The Laxdale Saga proves that if Old Norse sagas have nothing on hard-boiled crime novels when it comes to male characters' nicknames, they take the prize when it comes to distaff monikers.

Not that their male character were slouches either. Those three women are the daughters of Ketill Flatnose and the granddaughters of Bjorn the Ungartered in the  great Icelandic saga, which also mentions in passing one Ulf the Squinter. Those are right up there with Itchy Maker and the Whosis Kid.

Here's a list of Viking names and nicknames (and here's one that concentrates on the sagas). You'd probably want to cross the street if you saw Horse gelder or Blood axe coming your way, but you have to feel sorry for the Scandinavian schlemiel nicknamed Awkward poet.
Translator's note: Bernard Scudder, who translated crime novels by Arnaldur Indriðason and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir from Icelandic into English before he died in 2007, also translated Egil's Saga from Old Norse for the selection available in Penguin's The Saga of Icelanders. Arnaldur has said that the sagas influences his terse prose style, so if you like his work, why not grab yourself some sagas?
* Ecclesiastes 7:1

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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Blogger Tales from the Birch Wood. said...

I find most sagas intolerable, to the point that I still remember three years spent studying Anglo Saxon the sort of ghastly penance that these stories invariably seem to impose on both hero and listener.

One exception, of course...

The Glorious Noggin the Nog cartoons.

July 19, 2011  
Blogger Tales from the Birch Wood. said...


"as the sort of"

July 19, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, I don't know old Anglo-Saxon stories, and I'm not sure how much German epic poetry would do for me. But I like laconic prose, dead-pan wit, and action, so I like Dashiell Hammett and Old Norse and Icelandic sagas.

Also, since I'm from Canada, I got a special kick out of the Vinland sagas, which brought back names I remember from elementary and high school history: Bjarni Herjolfson, Thorfinn Karlsefni, Leif Eriksson. They roll of my tongue just as they did when I was a lad in short pants cutting his intellectual teeth.

July 19, 2011  

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