The Naming of Men is a Difficult Matter, and Certainly not just a Holiday Game

9 January, 2012

This week On the Reading Rest I have two articles discussing the runestone from Hogganvik in Mandal Vest Agder, Norway

Glørstad et al. 2011. Zanette Tsigaridas Glørstad, Jakob Johansson & Frans-Arne Stylegar. Minnelund og monument. Runesteinen på Hogganvik, Mandal, Vest-Agder. Viking 2011. Pp 9-24.

Knirk, James. 2011. Hogganvik-innskriften: en hard runologisk nøtt. Viking 2011. Pp 25-39.

In Berlin the Zeitgeist wants to commemorate the polar bear Knut, and Der Spiegel cannot resist ridicule (,1518,805529,00.html ). The article, Berlin Struggles to Memorialize Star Bear, is painstakingly witty struggling to make fun of as much as possible except itself. It brings together the untimely death of Knut (2011, five years old, encephalitis), his keeper Thomas Dörflein (2008, 44 years old, heart attack) and Kurt Cobain (1994, 27 years old, shot in the head) and manages, in conclusion, to call the bear Knut Cobain (on rumduncan said it 9 month ago. Not surprisingly, it didn’t catch on ). Itself a charming example of Zeitgeist and Schadenfreude blinking at dyslexia from its moral high ground, the most interesting aspect of the article is its way with names and the associations they bring about and express.

One of perhaps several memorial Knut Stones

Naming, commemoration and memorial are at the centre also of the new rune stone from Hogganvik and its text, but most of the innuendo or stupidity that may well have surrounded it has been lost. Nevertheless, given that an open mind is to be recommended when trying to understand 1600 year old texts, memorials and commemorations one might as well keep the Zeitgeist and any Der-Spiegel attitude in mind.

The two articles sum up an intensive 18 months of impressive research into the new rune stone from Hogganvik giving us a discussion of the archaeological context: pointing out the memorial and its place in the Iron Age landscape. And a summing up of the runology: presenting a solution to most of the linguistic problems together with a comprehensive overview of what cannot so easily be understood. Thanks to these and earlier articles we now know a lot about the Hogganvik stone, which seems to have been cut some time between 350 and 500 AD. My discussion of the stone and the inscription is heavily indebted to these two articles in Viking.

Today, we know so much that we can approach the stone as it would quite likely have been approached around 400 AD. It stood as a poster and if we were not locals we would probably have approached it from the South following a road going North through or along a small cemetery. We would have passed by the most prominent grave and then just before the road turned left and down in a slope or between two hills we would have stood in front of the stone.

Typical of a poster, standing face to face with it is enough to take in the whole message. Other stones may need a closer inspection.

The Hogganvik stone is so old that those who stood in front of it may either have recalled or actually been the first to formulate the well-known strophe from Hávamál: Sjaldan bautasteinar standa brautu nær, nema reisi niður að nið which means that seldom does a memorial store stand next to the road if it wasn’t erected for someone by his lineal descendant.

Reading the stone makes it apparent that we are not standing in front something as commonplace as that. On the contrary, we are standing in front of something we would seldom see next to a road that runs through a cemetery. Not surprisingly, excavations have revealed that the stone itself is not connected to any grave, but standing on an angular shelf at the very end of the cemetery. From this position we overlook the settlement below the cemetery and perhaps a road or path leading down to the Hogganvik farm.

Maps showing the situation of the Hogganvik stone

There is something most odd about the layout of the inscription.

The lines of the Hogganvik stone

All the four lines of runes are read from the right to the left. The crimson line and the purple one, nevertheless, should be read as one beginning with the crimson. This means that these two halves crash into each other in an acute angle, and that is odd. The green and the yellow lines are freestanding and not necessarily linked to any of the others. In practice, we nevertheless believe that they are. The stone has not yet been 3D-scanned, which means that an analysis of the carving technique cannot help us analysing the runes in detail. We would not know therefore whether one or more of the rows could have been added to the stone at a different point in time. Probably they were not, but still a 3D-scan would have been essential[1].

It meets the eye that the shape of the crimsonpurple line looks very much the same as the outline of kerbstones around the runestone, i.e. the angle in which the stone and thus also the yellow and green lines are standing.

The outline of the crimson-purple line of runes can be seen also in the kerbstones that frame the stone.

The long crimson-purple line has been read by James Knirk (and others) and there is quite an agreement about how to read it:


This line consists of four parts separated by vertical dots. The first part is kelbaþewas, which is a name in the genitive. Then comes the word stone, stainar, followed by a series of runes with no apparent and no subtly coded meaning. The line nevertheless ends quite reasonably with inananaboz, which is an adjective or an adverb, innananaboz, composed of the preposition innana, which governs the genitive, and the noun nabu (gen. naboz). Still today, not least in Danish, this kind of construction refers to a situation in which someone or something is present in a place which may be closed or partly open ( (B ( bet.5.)). The place in question is nabu, ‘the nave’, i.e. a central area from which the spokes radiate and thus also the place that locks them together. Parallel to a number of old-fashioned Danish words we could in fact construct an archaic neologism, the adverb or adjective ‘indennavs’ meaning ‘within the nave’. innananaboz means just that.

Given the fact that one could easily have written the crimson-purple line as one or two lines, one above the other, the chosen layout suggests itself as a representation of the expression ‘within the nave’. Since the outline of the kerbstones match the layout of the crimson-purple line, it stands to reason that what has been excavated is indeed a nave, and within this nave there is a runstone, stainar. Given the fact that archaeologists have not known that there were naves to be excavated we must not a priori expect naves to be rare. On many Early Iron Age graves the kerbstone patterns allude to naves and the entrance room in the South Scandinavian house is in itself a nave.

The Hogganvik stone stands in a nave. If there is as grave at this site, then it may well be situated be outside the excavation area in the centre of the nave.

Similar to someone writing something in the form of a cross, someone has written something in the form of a nave and this brings us to the series of non-lexical runes.

If they are code they probably represent a verb such as stands, is, speaks, sings, invokes, beseeches or … whatever. If they represent the actual action: the singing, beseeching or ringing nonsense, then in addition to their phonetic value, that is the kind of verb they represent. This part of the crimson-purple line : stainar : aaasrpkfaarpaa : innananaboz therefore means something like: ‘The stone invokes … within the nave’. This sentence, text/context is constructed by means of place, installation, layout, text and possibly sound. The vertical dots are there to mark out the non-lexical part of the inscription and the part that begins with stainar. This means that kelbaþewas, if possible, should be understood together with some other word or words, i.e. the green and/or the yellow line(s).

If the rune stone stands within the nave then the green and yellow lines stand there too. These lines can be understood without great problems. The green says eknaudigastiz the yellow one ekerafaz the first means ‘I (am) The-guest-in-need’ the second ‘I (am) the Wolverine’. As it happens a man introduces himself to the reader with two different names.

Of these two names the one that can go together with kelbaþewas, is naudigastiz because being someone’s, i.e. Kelbaþewa’s, wolverine sounds odd when you can be Kelbaþewa’s guest-in-need

Reading the stones as a material and linguistic, lexical and non-lexical context, one may in other words suggest the following:

Ek Erafaz ek Naudigastiz Kelbaþewas : Stainar : aaasrpkfaarpaa : innana naboz—I Wolverine, I am Kelbaþewa’s Needguest (Guest-in/from/of-Need). The stone aaasrpkfaarpaa (invokes/singing …) within the nave.

And the names! Wolverine is not a bad one since a wolverine it is a predator. Today the name Needguest may seem odd, but 1600 years ago calling someone a guest was not uncommon. If moreover one needed someone’s protection (being a mercenary or plundering predator on the run) calling oneself Needguest is thus almost a compliment to your host. A needguest could also be someone the host needed to solve his problems, similar to the nōtstallon occurring in Ludwigslied [2]. In any case there is a positive ring to the name.

The host in case is the servant of the kelb, which means ‘ewe lamb’, at least in Old High German. Sixteen hundred years ago, judging from preserved names, not even þewaz—’servant’ was derogatory. If you are Ewe Lamb’s Servant then you are protecting sheep and that is obviously a very good thing to do, especially against wolverines, since by protecting and serving your ewes you will eventually add to your fortune. Your household in its turn will benefit from this and your actions therefore characterize you as a care-taking master, a frō in Old High German.

Now we can read the text as it stands

I Wolverine, I am Ewe Lamb Servant’s Needguest. The stone aaasrpkfaarpaa within the nave

The context, therefore, is the following: Wolverine has made a nave and put up a stone in it as a memorial. Had he been a lineal descendant, the memorial would have been a simple standing stone in the nave and there would have been no reason for writing anything on it — since only seldom does a memorial store stand next to the road if it wasn’t erected for someone by his lineal descendant. Doing the unconventional, Wolverine goes on to describe his relation to the deceased. He does so politely with appellatives. First he defines his own somewhat dependant, albeit positive guest status, then he points to the empathy and foresight of his host, whose proper name is well-known in Hogganvik and nothing to mention.

Apart from being a memorial, the stone in the nave has a clandestine function represented by a series of non-lexical runes. If their fonetic value is essential they may be compared to the sound series forming innananaboz, which, in that case, takes a series of sounds such as, aaas repek faar-paa, back to the fonetics of a language — aaas-repek-faar-paa in-nana-naboz.

Wolverine is a proper name, Naudigastiz an appellative, a descriptive name given to someone with reference to a certain context. They make up a pair similar to Knut and Cobain. The Iron Age appellative of course is very much better than the modern one, since in those days naming was not taken lightly and thus nothing one would hand over to the Iron Age Der Spiegel, or Daily Mirror for that matter.

Calling one’s cat Wolfy Naudigast Aasrepek may just be possible.


[1] In a series of studies Laila Kitzler Åhfeldt has studied rune carvings and worked with 3D scanning. A number of scanning examples can be seen and downloaded  in the database at

[2] In a book called Journey of Civilisation there is translation in to English and a discussion of Ludwigslied see the term nōtstallo and its relation to the term frō is discussed on page 110 ff.

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