What’s in a name?

Quite a lot, actually (or Odin wouldn’t have quite so many of them).  But after reading a little further into the bear book (The Bear: History of a Fallen King) I realized that the slight mistake I thought I had made in an earlier post, of substituting Bruni (“brown one”) for Bjorn (“bear”)–both of which are among Odin’s heiti–really wasn’t much of a mistake at all, because both names are euphemisms (meaning, roughly, “brown and shining or brilliant,” and more or less equally implying “bear”).

Here is a short quote from the book (hopefully nothing too heavy to detract from post-turkey digestion):

“These various words probably have a common etymology, to be found in the neighborhood of the root *ghwer or *bher, which in proto-Germanic means “the strong,” “the violent,” “one who strikes and kills.” …Whatever one makes of these etymological hypotheses, they do have the virtue of drawing the attention to an essential problem, the name of the bear…the special status of the bear in the cultures of northern Europe, where pronouncing its name could not be done lightly, negligently, or indifferently, as for any other species.  Rather, the name had to be used with the greatest caution, spoken with respect or even where possible, avoided and replaced with metaphors or periphrastic expressions.”

Sound like Anyone Else we know?


2 thoughts on “What’s in a name?”

  1. Very cool. The deeper you go into the etymology, the more information is available. The power of names, indeed….

    1. I am such an etymology geek; I need to remember to share the cool connections I find more often. When I was in college I had a mad crush on my linguistics teacher–though it didn’t hurt that he could speak Old English fluently and reminded me (in retrospect, quite a bit) of Odin. ;P

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