Haarsager/Horsager and Fenstad Names
Haarsaker/Hårsaker og Fenstad navner
the meaning of one's name is not very important in the overall scheme of
things, but it has been, to me, a matter of interest most of my life. So I have
had quite a bit of fun researching the meanings of the family names Haarsager
(also spelled Horsager and Haarsaker in this country and Hårsaker and Haarsaker
Haarsager brothers and three Fenstad sisters from
This is certainly not a definitive study of the meanings of those two names. It is just my conjecture based on available research. Since there is evidence the farm names these personal names derive from could have been as much as one thousand years old when our relatives took over, we can never be sure what the first Stadsbygd settlers had in mind when they named the farms.
Hårsaker (also spelled Håssåker in dialect and, at least on one official
government map, Hårsåker) farm in
I am not, of course, either a linguist or scholar of Norse history, so the following is subject to my own errors of research or interpretation. I have included a list of the references I used, so anyone who wants more information will know where to look in any good library.
Norwegian/Danish alphabet has three additional vowels not found in English: [Æ/æ,
Ø/ø and Å/å (in Swedish, Æ is Ä and Ø
is Ö). The letter å has also been written aa in the recent
past and á in Old Norse. The aa form, known as "germinated
a," was in use during the latter part of the 19th century when our
relatives emigrated to
The letter a is pronounced as we pronounce it in father. The pronunciation of æ is like English a in mad or mat except that it is more open. Ø is pronounced like the French eu in coeur or the German ö as in Johann Göethe or Arnold Schönberg, but you can get close to it in English with the u in fur. There is almost a hint of an English r along with the vowel sound. Å is pronounced like English o in horn or horse. There are short and long versions of each, but that refers mostly to length rather than sound.
This makes the pronunciation of Hårsaker, according to the authority on Norwegian farm names, Oluf Rygh, "HÅSS-aker," with the å short (in English, it sounds something like "HOESS-ahker" with the final r "tapped").
As in English, some letters in Norwegian are "silent," written but not pronounced. In Norwegian, d is very often silent if it is at the end of a word. "Good morning," for example, is written "God morgen" but pronounced "goh MOR-gehn." One of these words is stad. Also, it sometimes happens that one vowel will take on the sound of another one. According to Rygh, this happens in Fenstad, which he shows as being pronounced "FÆNN-sta," ("FAN-stah" in English).
Norse (circa 1050-1370 A.D.), there were additional letters. The letter å
in modern Norwegian is represented by Á/á. The old runic letter Þ/þ
(called thorn) was used for th sounds. In the 12th century, the letter Ð/ð
(called eth or edh) was borrowed from Old English to differentiate the
"voiced" sound of th in then (ð) from the "unvoiced"
th in thing (þ). These two consonants were revived in
Another letter we will encounter from the Proto-Scandinavian (to 550 A.D.) and Common Scandinavian (550-1050 A.D.) periods that preceded Old Norse is termed "pre-literary R" and is used to represent the sound of ge in rouge or si in vision. Scholars write it R, even in lower case, though it was written only in the runic alphabet as Y (and called elgr or elk). Over time, the sound and spelling of this letter were merged into Norwegian r.
Finally, the letter ß (eszett) was borrowed from German and used in the 16th and 17th centuries to represent what Rygh designates as the ss or sz sound. In English, this sound would be like either the sound of our sh or that of "pre-literary R" as described above (i.e., the sound of si in vision).
Latin alphabet, with Old Norse adaptations, was used only since Christian times
(approximately 1000 A.D.). It came to
immediate family spells the names Haarsager and Fenstad, but, in
Although Norwegian spoken dialects have continued to exist, written Norwegian disappeared for 500 years beginning in the latter part of the 15th century, being replaced by Danish. Even the Reformation did not bring about a Norwegian translation of the Bible. With efforts beginning in the 19th century, it took well into this century before the current written forms of Norwegian , bokmål (book language) and nynorsk (new Norwegian), were finally adopted. One of the problems in researching this has been that much of the source material is written in a late 19th century Danish-Norwegian and it was hard to find a dictionary to translate it.
example, the Norwegian word for field is åker (also aker in bokmål).
In modern Danish and in late 19th century Danish-Norwegian, it was spelled ager.
Because the aa form of å was also in official use at the same
time, we can see how Hårsaker came to be spelled as Haarsager at the time of
emigration (and Horsager, based on pronunciation, by some immigrants to the
In the latter part of the 19th century, the scholar Oluf Rygh published an 18-volume study of Norwegian farm names. There is one volume for each Norwegian county, including one for what was then called Søndre Trondhjems amt (now called Sør-Trøndelag fylke) where Stadsbygd is located.
Rygh lists an astonishing number of spellings for Stadsbygd and for the farms now spelled Fenstad and Hårsåker (on the official topographic map) which he got from old official land registers:
1514-21: Statzbygdhen, Fenstad, Hassagher
1550: Stadzbiudenn, Findnestedt
1559: Fennestadt, Hoßacker
1626: Stadtzbye, Hosßager
1723: Fenstad, Haarsager
1898: Stadsbygd, Fenstad, Haarsaaker
There are four Norwegian censuses available on the World Wide Web and these too show a variation of spellings:
1666 census: Stadtzbøyden, Horsager
1801 census: Stadsbøygden, Fenstad, Horsager
1865 census: Stadsbygd, Finstad, Haarsager
1886 land tax records: Stadsbygden, Fenstad, Haarsaaker
1900 census: Stadsbygden, Fenstad, Haarsaker
1950 land tax records: Stadsbygd, Fenstad, Hårsaker
Rein's bygdebøker lists two more spellings, from the 17th
century, Hosager and Håtzager, and you can find it spelled Horsager and
Hårsager in various 19th century records.
You can see from the variety of spellings that constancy has not been
one of the hallmarks of the written language of
Fenstad has proven easier to translate than Hårsaker. The suffix -stad is a common one in Scandinavian farm names, which comes from staðr and staðir in Old Norse and staþiR in the older Common Scandinavian. It means place, spot or dwelling, the same as an obsolete meaning for the English word stead. Fen is identical to the English word, fen, meaning bog or marshy place. Fenstad would therefore mean "boggy place."
Rygh speculates that, because of the early Finnastadom spelling, one should not rule out the possibility that the old personal name of Finni (male) or Finna (female) or the old river names Þin or Þinaross might have been the source of the prefix instead of the obvious one.
My own hunch would be to reject this possibility, because the two Fenstad farms shown on the current official topographic map (one 4 miles north of Hårsåker, the other--that of our relatives--1.5 miles southwest of it) are near boggy terrain. The northerly one is adjacent to Fenstadslettet, which is represented on the map as a myr (marsh or swamp), and our relative's is located near Grønningsmyra, a similar area. Myhr, the family farm name of great-grandmother Fenstad, comes from the Myr farm which is next door.
Hårsaker proved more difficult because I was misled by our own mispronunciation of Haarsager. We divide it Haar-sager, while Rygh and the topographic map clearly show it should have been divided Haars-ager. Because both hår and saker have had many meanings over the centuries, narrowing these down to a satisfactory farm name proved frustrating.
Getting the name divided properly eliminated a lot of these possibilities. The suffix -aker now can only be the word for cultivated field -- the same as the original meaning of the English word acre. More specifically, in Viking times (800-1050 A.D.) and before, it generally meant grainfield. Rygh and Magnus Olsen show that -aker and related spellings were, like -stad, commonly used to form Scandinavian farm names.
Rygh lists the farm name, Haarsaaker, as one of the names which might derive from the old personal name, Hárekr. According to Cleasby and Vigfusson, Hárekr, in turn, is derived from a contraction of hár, meaning high, and rekr. In Old Norse, rekr can mean drives, as in "he drives cattle" or "he drives back the enemy." It can also mean jetsam, parts of a shipwreck (a related English word) washed ashore. Cleasby and Vigfusson do not give guidance on this, but my guess is that it is a contraction of rekkr, which means man or warrior (more specifically, a free man who ranks just below the gentry; in English law, a franklin).
Another possiblity seems more likely, however:
Hårs is the possessive form of the word hår. In modern Norwegian, hår means hair, but in Old Norse and Common Scandinavian it had additional meanings. These included dogfish or shark, oarlock or thole, and high, lofty or tall. As an adverb, the latter was also used to mean loud or loudly. But in possessive form, we have to look for a meaning that can be used as a proper name. "High" is such a meaning.
Hár, the Old Norse spelling for hår, is used as a proper name in two places in ancient Norse literature. In the Gylfaginning saga (Deceiving of Gylfi) and elsewhere, it was given as a name for the god Oðinn (the Anglo-Saxon name for Oðinn, Woden, was immortalized in our name for Wednesday). Hár as a name for Oðinn may have been used well into the Christian era (post-1000 A.D.). In Sigrid Undset's trilogy of 14th century Norway, Kristin Lavransdatter, one of the characters calls on Hátt (a variant spelling of Hár), in a moment of stress (incidentally, much of the trilogy is set at Husaby, 16 miles south of Stadsbygd across Trondheimsfjorden and it ends at Reinskloster, a convent an even shorter distance to the west in the next parish, Rissa).
Harðgreipi (High the hard of grip) is mentioned in the saga, Þormóð at the
Battle of Stiklastaðir (Stiklestad is east of Stadsbygd at the end of the
Trondheimsfjord). This Hár was of one of the champions of Danish king Hrólfr
Kraki (Ralph Pole-Stick, believe it or not). Hrólfr ruled in the 6th century
and is probably the Hrothulf in the famous Old English tale, Beowulf. He
was neither pagan nor Christian, and because he was at least not the former, he
was favored by the early Christian kings of
So, my conclusion is that Hårsåker means High's acre or, more specifically, High's grainfield. Now, whether the original Hár was Oðinn (it is quite common for farm names to have -aker combined with the name of a pagan god, and Hårsåker's location would have been a logical spot for a memorial to him), someone whose personal name was Hár, or, as the best scholar of Norwegian farm names offers, someone named Hárekr, we will never know for sure.
The age of the farm names Hårsåker and Fenstad can never be exactly determined, but they can be estimated. The best guidance comes from Olsen, who states that historians analyze farm names to determine the duration of settlement in a particular area.
Olsen states that names which are the oldest--sometimes predating both the Common Scandinavian (550-1050 A.D.) and Proto-Scandinavian (before 550 A.D.) periods--are uncompounded farm names. In Stadsbygd, Myr, Rein and Lein are examples of these. Names with -vin or -heimr components are also very old, being among the first settled areas. -Land and -setr names are next, followed by -staðir. The youngest are -ruð names, which date from the Old Norse period.
where Stadsbygd is located, is among the oldest settled areas in
the most meaningful thing I have gained from this research into the meanings of
my grandparents' names is not so much the actual meanings, but the sense of
history and context it and our trip to
I would encourage those of you who are interested in this to spend some time with Magnus Olsen's 1928 book, Farms and Fanes of Ancient Norway, E. O. G. Turville-Petre's Myth and Religion of the North, Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter, Einar Haugen's somewhat technical but interesting The Scandinavian Languages, or, lastly, with some of Snorri Sturluson's marvelous sagas, collectively called the Edda. If you know, or can learn, some Norwegian, Kristoffer Rein's four-volume history of Stadsbygd is a treasure.
done this research, I feel I know both the modern and ancient cultures of
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Updated May 1997, December 1997, January 2001, April 2001 and July 2003