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Old Norse Nicknames

By Paul Peterson

[Snip] Nicknames, which occur in all cultures and across all time periods, play a vital role in understanding and highlighting identity. They also provide a unique window into slang and popular culture less accessible through personal names alone. Their study encompasses wide-ranging interdisciplinary scholarship, including onomastics (name studies), historical linguistics, anthropology, history, and narratology. Old Norse nicknames themselves represent diverse forms of cultural expression from the lower levels of discourse, history, religion, and popular entertainment. They have left remnants across Northern Europe in place names, runic inscriptions, and the names of individuals in the saga corpus.

One simply cannot read a saga without encountering dozens of nicknames throughout the text, and recurring nicknames from saga to saga are common and thus provide a hitherto unexplored tool for studying saga transmission and intertextuality in Old Icelandic literature ‒ topics which have received only mild attention in saga scholarship of the last century. The largest word bank of medieval Scandinavian nicknames lies in the realm of medieval Icelandic literature, and the overall approach of my thesis will be to describe the use of nicknames across the Icelandic literary corpus in light of their Germanic origins, etymology, and role in the literature and its production. I will investigate the uses of nicknames in the family sagas within a cultural, anthropological, and narratological framework. I will seek to answer the questions: What role do nicknames play in expressing cultural sensitivities and ambiguities in medieval Icelandic and Scandinavian society? How did they develop and become so common especially during the medieval period? What role do they play in the literature and what do they tell about the culture?

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