“Animals die, friends die, and I shall die. One thing never dies, and that is the reputation we leave behind at our death.”
So (apparently) said the Vikings, and, as it happens, they were bang on the money. Because, while it’s been over 900 years since the legendary Scandinavian warriors roamed our shores, we’re still every bit as fascinated with the (admittedly barbaric) raiders and their culture as ever – even if we can’t remember whether or not there’s a great-great-great-great-great-great uncle Olaf hidden somewhere in the branches of our family tree.
Which is why we were so excited to learn that there’s a very easy way to determine whether or not there’s any Viking blood coursing through our veins: take a closer look at our surnames.
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Oh yes, a rose by any other name may smell as sweet – but a Scandinavian warrior is all about their moniker.
Experts have said that any surname ending in ‘sen’ or ‘son’ is likely to be of Viking descent (big news for Emma Watson, Emma Thompson, Robert Pattinson and co) – and surnames such as Roger/s, Rogerson, and Rendall also hint that there’s a touch of the marauder to you.
And they aren’t the only surnames that wannabe Vikings should watch out for…
Surnames of Viking descendants
- Names ending in ‘sen’ or ‘son’
- Roger/s, Rogerson, Rendall
- Names which contain a nod to personal characteristics, such as ‘Love’, ‘Short’, ‘Tall’, ‘Wise’, ‘Long’, ‘Good’ (e.g. Goodman).
- Scottish surnames (e.g. McLeod, McIvor, McAvoy, McAulay)
- Irish surnames (e.g. Doyle, McDowell, MacAuliffe)
- Scandinavian surnames (e.g. Flett, Scarth, Linklater, Heddle, Halcro)
The intriguing data was uncovered when TV channel HISTORY teamed up with Alexandra Sanmark from the Centre of Nordic Studies, University of the Highlands and Islands.
Sanmark explained: “The people of the Viking Age did not have family names, but instead used the system of patronymics, where the children were named after their father, or occasionally their mother.
“So, for example the son of Ivar would be given their own first name and then in addition ‘Ivar’s son’. A daughter would be Ivar’s daughter.
“A famous example from a 13th-century Icelandic saga, describing the Viking Age, is Egil Skallagrimsson, who was the son of a man named Skalla-Grim.
“This naming pattern still remains in use in Iceland today but has been abandoned in Scandinavia in favour of family names.”
She added: “People of the Viking Age would often have a descriptive nickname, for example two of the Earls of Orkney who were known as Sigurd the Stout and Thorfill Skullsplitter.”
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A spokesman for HISTORY added that, after surveying 2,000 people, they discovered that a whopping 56% of those polled really, really wanted to discover that they had Viking heritage.
“The Viking age is a fascinating period, and a time of which there are many stereotypes and preconceptions,” they said. “It’s really interesting to see just how much awareness there is of the influence the Vikings have had on our world today.”
Referring to their own television show about the Vikings, they added: “Vikings is an incredible fictional drama in its own right, but is also heavily rooted in historical fact, which we think is one of the reasons why it’s proven so popular and continues to be going strong into its fourth season.”
Images: Vikings / Rex Features