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Middle Ages without borders: a conversation on medievalism

Tommaso di Carpegna Falconieri
Pierre Savy
Lila Yawn

e) Linguistics and toponymy

3) Medieval place-name renaissance(s). Re-introduction of medieval and new invention of “medieval-sounding” place-names in post-medieval Denmark

Johnny Grandjean Gøgsig Jakobsen

Texte intégral

1Based on a combination of different criteria, the bulk of Danish place-names can be approximately dated from the word elements that they have been coined from. Particularly the place-name generics (endings) have traditionally been used to identify the age and chronology of different place-name types. For instance, Danish place-names in the widespread generics ‑inge, ‑lev and ‑løse are predominantly dated to the period 0-850; while names in ‑torp (‑rup), ‑tved and ‑rød mainly appear to derive from the period 850-1350. Thus, a settlement by the name of Merløse can be expected to be older than settlements called Tåstrup or Langtved. All three names would suggest an existence in the Middle Ages. The mechanism of this method is, however, challenged by the fact that some otherwise “outdated” types of place-names occasionally have come into use again. In Denmark this phenomenon is particularly evident in a handful of place-name generics, which primarily belong to the period 850-1500 but can nevertheless be found to have been introduced to settlements long after their main periods of activity.

2This is, for instance, the case for the generic ‑torp, derived from the Old Danish word thorp, which meant “outlying settlement.” In high-medieval Danish laws thorp was used as a term for new settlements formed from older mother villages. The word is no longer active in modern Danish—except among archaeologists, historians and onomasts. In place-names, the original form ‑thorp usually changed, via -(t)rop in the Late Middle Ages, to -rup, -strup, or ‑drup since the sixteenth century (e.g. 1256 Aggæthorp > 1421 Aggrop > 1541 Aggerup > 2018 Aggerup). While the bulk of Danish settlement names in ‑torp (and its derived forms) seem to originate from the period 850-1350, the place-name type had a renaissance after 1450, when numerous new settlements were given names ending in ‑rup, ‑strup and ‑drup. This second wave of torp-names bypassed the original high-medieval form ‑thorp, and thereby also missed the original meaning of the word. In this ‘first torp-renaissance’, which lasted until around 1600, the generic was especially used in names of manor houses. Thus, the connotative meaning was obviously no longer “secondary settlement segregated from a mother village,” but rather “old, honourable settlement.” A second torp-renaissance came about in the late nineteenth century, basically with the same meaning as for the manors, but now mainly as name for ordinary farms.

3In the meantime, the first torp-renaissance had come to an end around 1600. For the following two centuries, hardly any manor-owning Danish nobleman would consider naming a new manor house something ending in ‑torp; on the contrary, numerous already existing manor-names in ‑torp were exchanged for something more fashionable. One particularly popular alternative generic was ‑holm. This was also an originally medieval place-name type. The word holm itself actually means “islet, small island,” but as a place-name element with the additional meaning “small, elevated ground surrounded by wetland.” As a settlement name, ‑holm was almost exclusively used for manor houses and at first (i.e. in the Late Middle Ages) usually on fortified noble strongholds that were indeed situated on small “inland islets” in wetland areas. However, from the late sixteenth century onwards, ‑holm became the new fashionable thing in Danish manor house-names, completely disregarding the local geography in which the manor was located. The actual meaning of the generic in this post-medieval renaissance for holm-names, which lasted to around 1750, simply appears to have been “manor house.”

4Around 1800, new types of Danish place-name renaissances began. Whereas names on villages in Denmark generally have remained overwhelmingly stable, what appears to be about half of all Danish manor houses have changed name on one or more occasions. But while this phenomenon in the period 1570-1800 always tended toward something new and more fashionable, including new names in ‑holm, this changed around 1800 onwards to almost exclusively involve the retaking of an old original, medieval name, as it had been prior to a post-medieval name change.

5In some cases, an apparently new yearning for medieval place-names led the re-naming to go a step further. Even though the manor Benzonslund had never been called anything but that since its foundation in 1730, the owners in 1867 decided to change it into the more medieval-sounding Dønnerup, which was the name of a village that had preceded the manor house. The medievalistic place-name renaissance in Denmark continued into the twentieth century. In 1918, the manor Benzonseje was “re-named” Risbyholm, a name that had never existed before but which was inspired by a long-gone village in the neighbourhood (Risbygårde), resulting in a completely new name that could have nicely fit a manor named in the fifteenth century. Likewise, a new residential area within the Copenhagen suburb Tåstrup (in 1199 named Thorstinstorp) was in the 1980s named Torstorp, a spelling form that otherwise went out of fashion in the Late Middle Ages.


University of Copenhagen

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