Onomastics

Research takes place within a wide field of subjects of place-names, personal names, especially Danish place names and personal names:

  • Place-names. One of the main fields of research is the phenomenon of names as such, the origin and meaning of names and furthermore into the use of names - both at the present time and in the past.
  • Personal names. This includes the origin, meaning, use and dissemination.
  • Publication of sources. Numerous older sources containing relevant onomastic material have been researched and published by the Section.

Place-name research

Name research is primarily linguistic in character, and emphasis is put on language history as well as semantics and grammar. Place-names can also be an invaluable source for historians as well as archaeologists, and some amount of place-name research is conducted in cooperation with these research fields.

Place-names include all types of names. A significant part of the research effort is oriented towards publication of place-names and personal names, first and foremost in the series Danmarks Stednavne (The Place-Names of Denmark). Herein the reader finds source material as well as analyses of individual names. The main focus is on older place names, which are mentioned before 1800, but some of the published volumes include all matter of place names while others only include settlement names and certain natural names, or settlement names alone.indicating places: town names, farm names, house names, mill names, street names, lake names, river names, field names etc.

Personal names

Research is conducted into the origin and meaning of names as well as their use – both past and present. Several studies of naming practices in Denmark have been conducted regarding, among other things, the relationship with faith and religion, the emergence of family names and the basis of the social and regional anchoring of first names and nicknames.

Personal names include all types of names identifying people: first names, middle names, surnames, pet names, nicknames, pseudonyms etc. 

In recent years, work with the etymology of personal names has resulted in a number of popular scientific reference books containing information about the origin and spread of the most common first names. This is the subject which attracts the most queries from the general public.

Publication of sources

Throughout the years the research conducted has involved studying and publishing numerous older sources which contain relevant onomastic material. These sources include Danish diplomas found in the medieval breviary known as the Æbelholt Book and a number of Scanian/Zealandic sources from the 16th century. One of the largest publication projects deals with title deeds to a Danish manor from 1513-50, and a register of personal and place-names in these documents is available online in Danish).

Digital Atlas of Denmark

In 2009 the Name Research Section became part of the interdisciplinary and cross-institutional project DigDag (Digital Atlas of Denmark Historical-Administrative Geography). The aim of the project is to create a common historical-administrative and map-based search tool to which the large cultural heritage institutions can link their administrative subordinate collections. The atlas can be used both internally at the archives and research institutions as well as online where regular users are able to find the administrative division of a given area in any year from the Middle Ages till today. The atlas will also be useful in classrooms and research, as the historical-statistical data can be mapped through the Atlas using special programs that can handle digital maps, called Geographic Information Systems (GIS).

Behind the project are the Royal Archives, Danish Geodata Agency, the University of Southern Denmark, the Royal Library, the Agency for Culture and Palaces, the National Museum and the University of Copenhagen. Participants from the Faculty of Humanities are the Department of Nordic Research and the Saxo Institute, and from the Faculty of Science is the Centre for Forest and Landscape.

International collaboration

Name scholars participate in the international onomastic work organised by ICOS (International Council of Onomastic Sciences).

The staff is also an active participant in the Nordic collaboration organised by NORNA (Nordic Cooperative Committee for Name Research). This entails organising regular conferences as well as being responsible for editing and publishing symposia and congress reports.

Name scholars have arranged NORNA symposiums about sacral names, Viking Age place and personal names, urban names, the place-name element -torp and name environments and community in the Iron Age and Viking Age as well as other subjects in 1990, 1993, 1996, 2002, 2009, 2012 and 2014.

The Place-Names Commission participates in UNGEGN (United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names), which works for a common, international standardization of geographical names with the purpose of promoting international communication and understanding.

Additionally the staff is involved in, among other things, the Nordic project on personal name terminology and the Nordic Place-Name Database Group.