A primer on Danish names

Danish is said to be the trickiest of the main Scandinavian languages to learn. Like French, spelling doesn’t always match pronunciation. It’s mutually intelligible with Norwegian and Swedish, though Norwegians tend to understand the other languages much better than Danes or Swedes understand one another. Danes and Swedes also understand Norwegian better than one another’s languages.

My character Elżbieta (later Elizabeth) Robleńska is smuggled into the Jutland peninsula of Denmark in late 1943, at age thirteen, travelling on the passport of her unlikely rescuer’s dead daughter Ernestine. Her hero, Rudolf Schaller, saved her younger friend Malchen (Amalia) von Hinderburg at Majdanek because Malchen was with Elizabeth and her sister Jadwiga, and Elizabeth was a dead ringer for his daughter who’d recently died of scarlet fever.

In Denmark, her relationship with Hr. Schaller takes a very taboo turn, with extremely complicated consequences. After a few months, Hr. Schaller reports back to his superiors with a story about a mental breakdown, and Elizabeth goes to join her younger siblings in Sweden, again using the dead Ernestine’s passport.

Alphabet:

Danish uses the Roman alphabet, with additional letters Å, Ø, and Æ æ. An accent aigu may be used to stress the importance of a word, or differentiate stresses in a pair of homographs (words with the same spelling but different meanings).

Surnames:

Like other Scandinavian surnames, Danish names are by and large patronymical in origin, with the suffix -sen. Examples include Antonsen, Frederiksen, Davidsen, Kjeldsen, Jørgensen, Nielsen, Ottosen, Robertsen, Sørensen, and Thorsen. Other surnames are derived from professions (e.g., Schmidt, Møller, Fisker) or nature (e.g., Holt [woods], Hjort [deer], Dahl [valley], Lund [grove of trees], Stenberg [stone mountain]).

Sampling of common names and their diminutives:

Female:

Abelone (Lone) (Apollonia)
Agathe
Agnete, Agnethe (Agnes)
Aina
Alberte
Alexandra
Anna (Anika, Ane)
Annelise (Annelie)
Antonia (Nina)
Asløg
Astrid (Asta)

Barbara
Beata
Benedikte, Bente
Birgitta, Birgitte, Birgit, Berit (Birte, Birthe, Brita, Britta, Britt, Gitte)
Bodil (Battle remedy)

Cecilie, Cecilia (Cille, Silje, Sille)
Charlotte (Lotte)
Dagmar
Dagny
Diana
Dorothea, Dorete, Dorte, Dorthe (Ditte, Dorit, Tea, Thea)

Edith (Ditte)
Eleonora, Ellinor (Nora)
Elin (Eli, Ella)
Elisabet (Eli, Elise, Else, Ella, Lis, Lisa, Lise, Lissi, Lisbet)
Elva (Elf)
Embla (may mean “elm”)
Emilie
Emma
Erika
Erna (Ernestine; also a separate name meaning “hale, vigourous, brisk”)
Ester
Eva

Frederikke (Rikke)
Freja
Frida

Gerda, Gerd (Enclosure)
Gry (Dawn)
Gudrun (God’s secret lore)
Gunhild, Gunnhild (Gunda, Gunna) (War battle)
Gunvor (Gunna) (Cautious in war)
Gyda (Beautiful goddess)

Hanna, Hanne
Hedvig
Helena (Lene, Lena)
Helga, Hella, Helle, Laila (Hege)
Henrike
Hilda
Hildegard (Battle enclosure)
Hjørdis (Sword goddess)
Hulda (Secrecy, hiding)

Ida
Inga, Inge
Ingebjørg, Ingeborg (Inga, Inge)
Ingegerd, Inger
Ingrid, Inger
Irene
Iris
Isabella

Jacobine (Bine)
Johanne (Hanne, Janne, Jannicke, Jannike, Jonna)
Josefine
Judit
Julie, Julia
Jytte

Kamilla (Milla)
Karla
Karoline (Line)
Katarina, Kathrine, Katrine (Kaja, Karen, Karina, Trine)
Kirsten, Kirstine, Kristin, Kristina, Kristine (Stine, Stina, Tine)
Klara

Lærke (Lark)
Laura
Lea
Liselotte (Lotte)
Lovise (Louisa)
Lucia
Lykke (Happiness, good fortune)

Magdalena (Magda, Malene)
Maren (Marna) (Marina)
Margarethe, Margareta, Margrethe, Margit, Merete (Grete, Grethe, Meta, Mette, Rita)
Maria (Maiken, Majken, Maja, Mia)
Marianne
Martha
Mathilde (Tilde)
Mikaela, Mikkeline
Monika (Mona)

Nanna (Daring, brave)
Olivia
Paula, Pauline
Petronilla (Pernille)
Pia

Ragnhild (Ragna) (Battle advice)
Rakel (Rachel)
Randi (Beautiful advice)
Rebekka
Regina
Rosa
Runa (Secret lore)
Ruth

Sara
Selma
Signe, Signy (New victory)
Sigrid (Siri) (Beautiful victory)
Sigrun (Secret victory)
Silvie, Silvia
Siv, Sif (Bride)
Sofie
Solvej (Sun strength)
Stefanie
Susanne (Sanne, Susann)

Terese, Teresa
Thora, Tora
Thyra, Tyra (Holy Thor or Strong Thor)
Torborg (Thor’s protection)
Tordis (Thor’s goddess)
Turid (Tove) (Beautiful Thor)

Ulrikke (Ulla)
Ursula
Vera
Veronika
Vibeke
Viktoria (Vivi)
Vita (Vivi)

Male:

Adam
Adrian
Agner
Aksel (Axel)
Albert
Albin
Alexander (Sander)
Alf (Elf)
Alfred
Anders (Andrew)
Ansgar, Asger (God’s spear)
Anton
Arne
Aron
Arthur
Arvid (Eagle tree)
Asbjørn, Esben, Espen (Bear god)
Åsmund
August

Bendt, Bent (Benedict)
Benjamin
Bernhard, Bernt
Bertil (Bertolt)
Birger (Rescue, save, help)
Bjørn (Bjarke, Bjarne) (Bear)

Casper, Jesper, Kasper
Christian, Karsten, Carsten, Kresten, Kristen, Kristian (Christer)
Christoffer, Kristoffer
Clemens, Klemens

Dag (Day)
Dagfinn
Daniel (Dan)
David

Edvard
Edvin
Egil
Eilert (Brave edge of a sword)
Einar (One warrior or Warrior alone)
Ejvind (Victor’s island or Victor’s good fortune)
Elias
Eluf (Always a descendant)
Emanuel
Emil
Enok
Erik, Jerrik
Erland, Erlend (Foreigner)
Erling (Descendant of the chieftain)
Ernst

Felix
Filip, Philip
Finn
Flemming
Frans (Francis)
Frederik
Frej (Lord)
Fridtjof, Fritjof (Thief of peace)
Frode (Wise, learnèd)

Gabriel
Georg
Gerhard
Gregers
Gudbrand, Gulbrand (God’s sword)
Gudmund (God’s protection)
Gunnar (War warrior)
Gustav

Hagen (Haakon) (High descendant)
Harald
Heino
Helge
Hemming
Henrik (Henning)
Herman
Hjalmar (Helmeted warrior)
Holger (Spear island)
Hugo

Inge
Ingolf (Inge)
Ingvar (Inge)
Isak
Ivar (Warrior’s bow)

Jakob (Ib, Jeppe)
Jarl (Chieftain)
Joakim, Jokum (Kim)
Johannes, Jan, Jens, Johan, Jon (Hans, Hanne, Jannick, Jannik)
Jonas
Jonatan
Jørgen (Jørg, Jørn)
Josef

Kai
Kåre (Curly, curved)
Karl, Carl
Keld, Kjeld (Kettle, cauldron)
Knud (Knot)
Konrad

Lars, Lasse, Lauritz, Lorens (Lawrence)
Leif (Heir, descendant)
Lennart (Leonard)
Leo
Linus
Loke (Loki)
Ludvig (Louis)
Lukas

Markus, Mark
Mathias, Matthias (Mads)
Maximilian (Max)
Mikael, Mikkel
Mogens, Magnus
Morten, Martin

Nels, Niels, Nils, Klaus, Claus (Nicholas)
Njord (Vigourous, strong)
Olaf, Olav, Olf, Oluf (Ancestor’s descendant)
Oliver
Oskar
Osvald (God’s power)
Otto

Paul, Poul (Palle)
Peder, Per, Peer, Peter
Preben (First battle)
Ragnar (Army advice)
Ragnvald (Ruler’s advice)
Ralf
Rasmus (Erasmus) (Belovèd)
Rikard
Robert
Roger
Rolf
Ruben
Rudolf
Rune (Secret lore)

Salomon
Samuel
Sebastian
Sigmund (Victory protector)
Sigurd (Victory guardian)
Simon
Søren (Severin)
Stefan, Steffen
Sten, Steen (Stone)
Stig (Path)
Svend (Boy)

Tarben, Thorben, Torben, Torbjørn (Thor’s bear)
Theodor, Teodor
Thomas
Thor, Tor, Thore, Tore (Thunder)
Thorsten, Torsten (Thor’s stone)
Thorvald, Torvald (Thor’s ruler)
Tobias
Troels (Thor’s shaft)
Trygve (Trustworthy)
Tyge (Tycho) (Hitting the mark)

Ulf, Uffe (Wolf)
Ulrik
Urban

Valdemar (“Famous rule” or a Scandinavian form of Vladimir)
Valentin
Valter (Walter)
Verner (Werner)
Vidar (Wide warrior)
Viktor
Vilfred
Vilhelm
Vilmar (Famous desire)
Vincent
Yngve

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