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The Meanings of Oddgeir and Hrodgeir

Surname distribution and DNA evidence clearly suggest that the Hodgson surname is Norse. It is thus likely to derive from the Norse compound names Oddgeir-son or Hrodgeir-son.

 

Oddgeir is still found in modern Norway. The words ‘odd’ or ‘oddr’ mean literally ‘sharp point’, or ‘arrowhead’. The word ‘geir’ means ‘spear’. Hence Oddgeir means ‘point of spear’. Another Norse name is Hrodgeir, meaning ‘fame spear’

 

What is the origin and meaning of ‘point of spear’ or ‘fame spear’? In a Dictionary of Northern Mythology (Simek 1993, p. 242), under the entry for Odin – the father of the gods in Norse mythology – we find the following answer:

According to the Ynglinga saga 4, it was Odin who first brought war into the world, and battles are begun by a spear being thrown into the hostile army to dedicate it to Odin.

 One of Odin’s attributes is his spear, and he is often depicted riding a horse and holding aloft this weapon. In Viking times a member of a Norse army was charged with the privilege of starting the battle by lunging a spear over the enemy. This would be the ‘fame spear’ or ‘leader spear’. It would be the first thrust of battle, with a sharp projectile signalling the first drawing of blood – a sacred act according to Norse beliefs. The person given this responsibility would be named an Hrodgeir or Oddgeir. 

 

If modern Norwegian were a guide, then the pronunciation of Oddgeir would be something like ‘Odd-gire’, to rhyme with ‘fire’. The stress would be on the first syllable, the ‘g’ would be hard rather than soft and the ‘r’ would be almost silent. So Oddgeir would sound almost like ‘odd guy’, with the stress on the first word. Hence the pronunciation of Oddgeirson would be something like ‘odd-guy-son’, again with a stress on the first syllable. It would be frequently contracted to Oddson.

 

Similarly, the pronunciation of Hrodgeir would be something like ‘Hrod-gire’, to rhyme with ‘fire’. Hrodgeir would sound almost like ‘Hrod guy’, with the stress on the first word.

 

Before modern surnames, Scandinavians had a tradition of naming their sons after the personal names of their fathers. The son Erik of a father called Oddgeir could thus become Erik Oddgeirson. Oddgeirson would be descriptive of the father, rather a surname or family name. In large areas of England, Danish or Norse were spoken as the main language until the thirteenth century (Bugge 1921), and Scandinavian customs continued for a long time.

 


Bibliography

 

Bugge, Alexander (1921) ‘The Norse Settlements in the British Islands’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 4th Series, Vol. 4, pp. 173-210.

Simek, Rudolf (1993) Dictionary of Northern Mythology (D. S. Brewer, Cambridge).