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Valentyn Stetsyuk (Lviv, Ukraine)

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Norse Place Names in Belorus, Baltic States, and Russia

Obviously, the Norse place name in Eastern Europe have not yet been sufficiently studied, if an opinion exists that they allegedly has not been preserved here:

A bright material culture of the northern appearance, reflecting all aspects of society (urban and rural settlements, funerary monuments, treasures), exists in an onomastic vacuum. Eastern Europe has not preserved a mass toponymy of Scandinavian origin (TOLOCHKO ALEKSEY, 2015: 170).

This viewpoint inevitably leads the researcher to the wrong path while restoring the character of the Scandinavian colonization of Eastern Europe, since the Norse toponymy is still preserved here in sufficient quantity, and this fact should lead to completely different conclusions.

The ancestral home (Urheimat) of the Norsemen defined by graphical-analytical method, was located in ethno-producing area limited by the Dnieper, Pripyat, Berezina, and Sluch (lt of the Pripyat) Rivers.

At right: The territory of the Germanic languages in II BC.

It is here and near, a small cluster of names that can have Norse origin has been found. Explanation of clearly not Slavic names was made mainly by means of the dictionary of Icelandic language, which is considered as "the Classical Language of Scandinavian race" (An Icelandic-English Dictionary. Preface. The etymological dictionaries of the English and German languages (Holthausen F., 1974, Kluge F. 1989) were used to clarify the meanings of words and of phonological patterns of the Germanic languages as also Online Ethymologic Dictionary. The search for place names of Germanic were carried on the possible migration routes of the Norsemen from their Urheimat to Scandinavia.

Preliminary remark on the phonology

The sound f was absent in the Slavic languages, Icelandic has this sound which in some cases has been evolved from the Germanic b through b. Thus the Icelandic f of this type corresponds to the Slavic b in loan-words from Icelandic. Aboriginal Germanic f, kept in Icelandic, was reflected in Slavic in the khv. Later, thanks to borrowings, the sound f appears in Slavic languages and pronunciation khv is now considered to be vulgar, so in some cases the return to the original f can be. Following are examples of Norse place names:

It is believed that any geographical names can be interpreted by means of several languages. It is possible for shorter names, but long ones have good phonetic correspondence in several languages quite rare. However when the ongoing research the decoding of names is not an end in itself, this only serves to confirm that in a certain place at a certain time stayed population speaking a language that allows us to decrypt a sufficiently large number of place names on the area. Thus only clusters of place names or their chains are probative arguments, while any isolated name cannot be considered. In addition, more credible cause have such explanations of names which correspond characteristics of the near locality or consist of two logically related parts.

To date, we found about a hundred of names of possible Norse origin. Full list is constantly updated with new data, made decryption are clarified, detected errors are removed, but in general such a large set could not be random. Following are some examples of decipherments of names made by means of the Old Norse language:

Berkav, a village in Homel Region – Old Norse björk "birch".

Bonda, a hamlet in Vishnev comunity of Smorgon' district Of Grodno Region – Old Norse bóndi "a tiller of the ground" bónda-fólk "tillers".

Bryniow, a village in Gomel Region, Belarus – Old Norse brynja "a coat of mail".

Daugava (Western Dvina), a river – Old Norse dvina "to dwindle, pine away". M. Vasmer considered this explanation of the name unlikely "as the mouth of the Western. The Daugava ends with numerous branches and swamps" (VASMER MAX, 1964: 488). However, the river "disappears" not at the mouth but at its source, which was established quite recently by geomorphologists.

Dowsk, a village in Gomel Region, Belarus – Old Norse döv, Nor. døve "deaf".

Drybin, a village in Mogilev Region, Belarus – Old Norse drīfa, "to drive".

Gawli, a village in Gomel Region, Belarus – Old Norse gafl "gable-end', Sw gavel, "end", Norw gavl "gable".

Gelin, a village in Gomel Region, Belarus – Old Norse gjalla, gella "to yell" (esp. of wild beasts).

Gomel (Homyel), a city in Belarus – OLd Norse humli, Sw humle, OE hymele ”hop plant”.

Nevel, (obviously initially difficult to pronounce Nebl), a lake on the border between Belarus and Russia – Old Norse nifl, Ger Nebel "mist, fog".

Norfino, a village in Tver Region, Russia – Ic. norf, Old Norse. norđ-r "north".

Onega, lake – Olds Norse ánægja "pleasure, satisfaction".

Ordovo, a lake near the lake Nevel– Sw ort "ide" (a kind of fish). Similar name of the fish is yet not found in Icelandic.

Randowka, a village in Gomel Region, Belarus – Old Norse rønd «rim, border», Sw rand «border, side».

Rekta, a village in Mogilev Region, Belarus – Old Norse rækta "to take care of, cultivate".

Samara, a village in Leningrad Region, Russia – Old Norse sámr "swarthy, blackish".

Segla, a village in Leningrad Region, Russia – Old Norse segl "sail".

Seleevo, a village in Novgorod Region, Russia – Old Norse selja "sallow, willow".

Seliger, lake system on the border of the Tver and Novgorod Кegionы, Russia – Old Norse séligr, sjáligr "sighty, handsome". The fact that the lake is really handsome, is confirmed by the name of the recreation center "Krasota" (Beauty), located on the shore of one of these lakes.
Left:Lake Seliger. An author of the photo unknown.

Skepnia, a village in Gomel Region, Belarus – Old Norse skepna "a shape, form".

Svedskae, a village in Gomel Region, Belarus – Old Norse svæđi "an open place".

Svir', a river between Lakes Onega and Ladoga – Old Norse svíri "the neck". There ia in Western Uktaine the Svirz River, its name has not Norse but Anglo-Saxon orsgin from OE swiera "the neck, valley".

Svirka, a village in Tver Region, Russia – Old Norse svíri "the neck".

Valday, a town and lake in Novgorod Region, Valdai Hills, Russia – Old Norse vald "power, might, authority" and āi "great-grandfather" (in the sense of an ancestor).

Vitebsk, a city in Belarus – Old Norse hvit, Sw. vit "white" and Old Orse efja, Sw. äbb "mud, ooze".

Volkhov, a river – Old Norse ūlf-r "wolf". Previously Volkhv.

These examples confirm the location of the Urheimat of the Norsemen and also outline a possible way of their migration to Scandinavia. According to the toponymy, the Norsemen reached Scandinavia, not through Finland, but swam across the Baltic Sea from the mouth of the Daugava River. Place names along the banks of this river can mark their way. Herewith the Norsemen moved to the Daugava in two ways. One of them went through the modern-day city of Minsk and the other did along the Dnieper. These paths are clearly visible on the following GoogleMap.

There are on the map settlements of Scandinavian origin marked in red asterisks.
Yellow astrisks mark doubtful cases.
Hydronyms are indicated by blue circles and lines.
Trade route from the Varangians to the Greeks is marked by the vinous

The path through the city of Minsk is marked by the following place names:

Hresk, a town in Slutsk district of Minsk Rrgion – Old Norse hress "hale, bearly", hressa "to refresh, cheer".

Minsk (originelly Mensk), the capital of Belorus – Old Norse mennska "humanity", mennskr "human".

Molodechno, a city in Minsk Region – Old Norse mold "mould", ögn "chaff, husks".

Smargon', a city in Grodno Region – Old Norse smar "small", göng "lobby".

Gerviaty, a town in Astrovets district of Grodno Region – Old Norse görva, gerva "gear, apparel", "a path, walk".

Varniany (Vorniany?), a town in Astrovets district of Grodno Region – Old Norse varnan "warning, caution", vörn "a defence".

Svir', a village and a lake in Miadel district of Minsk Region – Old Norse svíri "the neck".

Shvakshty, a village and a lake in Miadel district of Minsk Region – Old Norse skvakka "o give a sound".

Svirkos, a village located on the road Švenčionys-Adutiškis in Lithuania near the border with Belarus – Old Norse svíri "the neck".

Opsa, a village and a lake in Brasla district of Vitebsk Region – Old Norse wōps "furious".

Rumische, a village in Myory district Of Vitebsk Region – Old Norse rúm "room, space".

Myory, a town in Vitebsk Region – Old Norse mjór "slim".

The density of place names in this direction is much larger than on the Dnieper. Obviously, most of the migrants moved this way. Having reached the Daugava River, they could move along it in both directions. On the river are such place names:

Berkava, a village in Vitebsk Region – Old Norse björk "birch".

Vitebsk, a city in Belorus – Old Norse hvit efja "white mud, mire".

Farinava, a village in Vetebsk Region, Belarus – Old Norse far "motion, travel", ana "ro rush on". Ending -va is Slavic suffix.

Shaytarava, a village in Vetebsk Region, Belarus – Old Norse skai "to relief" (about pain), tara "war, battle".

Kraslava, the district administrative center in Latvia – Old Norse krás "a dainty", Ic. krasla "delicacies".

Vandani, a town in Jēkabpils district, Latvia – Old Norse vanda "to make elaborately".

Urgas, a town in Koknese district, Latvia – Old Norse urga "a strap".

Ogre, a town in Ikškile district, Latvia – Old Norse uggr "fear, apprehension".

Riga, the capital of Latvia – Old Norse riga "roughnes of the surface".

Reaching the shores of the Baltic Sea, the Norsemen settled on this space, what could be indicated by place names. However, there are in the eastern Baltic area the place names of Germanic originto be a lot, as since the XIII century German colonists begin to arrive here at the invitation of founded here military orders. In this connection, highlighting the place names of Norse origin is very difficult. More or less positively we may say about the following:

Valmiera, the district administrative center in Latvia – Old Norse Valmær, one of the names of the Valkyries, the characters of Norse mythology.

Rauna, the district administrative center in Latvia – Old Norse raun "a trial, experience".

Sloka, a lake in the town of Jurmala and the town of the same name nearby, Latvia – Old Norse sloka "to slop".

These may be added by the town of Gravas in Vidzeme district, the town of the same name in Kurzeme district and Urga, a town in Aloja district of Latvia, the etymology of which has been considered above.

In conclusion, it should be said that some of the place names of the above may relate to a historical time when actув "route from the Vikings to the Greeks" on the Dnieper and the "route from the Vikings to the Arabs" on the Volga. Eventually, after a detailed analysis of the list, they can be separated.