So, many a year ago, I was interested in translating all the names of the Kingdoms in the Known World. The project fizzled however and other projects took its place. Then this past year, as part of his elevation to the Order of the Laurel, Maestro Christoforo Alfonso Pallavincino da Firenze presented his translation of all the names of the active groups of Northshield into (modern) Japanese. He also did a translation of the award names.
First of all, this is incredibly cool geeky language goodness. Maestro Christoforo has, since his return to Northshield, been an amazing scribe in Japanese style scrolls. He translates each scroll into kanji, the Chinese characters, which was the writing system used at the Japanese court in period. Second, it has reinvigorated my desire to translate Northshield (& Known World…?) toponyms (place names) into Old Norse, and with his permission, I have utilized the Maestro’s translation groundwork. Completely due to this groundwork, I’m already mostly done with Northshield. There’s a few things I want to research more thoroughly before I present the whole of the work, but until then, I can share some of the smaller details.
The Kingdom of Northshield
The etymology of the kingdom’s name is very transparent in English. North (the direction) + shield (the piece of defensive armor held in the hand. Viking Age shields were typically round, wooden, and painted, though other shapes were seen in the iconography — the Viking Answer Lady goes over shields briefly in her article on heraldry).
For the origin of this name for the region I have consulted both Mistress Rosanore of Redthorn and Master Guttorm Arneson (but any errors are indeed my own). The name, chosen via vote in A.S. 13 according to the Northshield History Page, was ultimately inspired by the great Canadian or Precambrian Shield, which is a geological feature of a large area of Canada, and some of the Midwest around the Great Lakes. The image below is a public domain image found on Wikipedia — the red indicates the Precambrian Shield.For a comparison, here is Northshield’s map.
There is also a heraldic folk etymology for Northshield that I have heard about. In England, the town of South Shields, with a long history of name-changing, has an interesting and misleading etymology, I have been told, which actually lies in the word shieling, a hut constructed for the use of humans on a mountainous pasture while attending grazing animals. (It is quite typical of ancient towns, especially in contested areas, having such complex historic toponyms.) Having the historic precedent of shielings > shields — even with a directional element! — the folk etymology claims that Northshield is the “north shieling”. Of course, Northshield is not truly mountainous at all, though we certainly have a lot of fields (and forests and lakes).
Old Norse does not have such a similarity in its words for shield (skjǫldʀ) and shieling (sætr or setr, or perhaps more properly sætrbúð (also listed under setr)), so any Norse translation could not have such lovely ambiguity. I am also unaware of any Viking Age designation for a geographic shield, so I have translated the kingdom’s name as Norðskjǫldʀ “north-shield”. What is handy about this designation, is that one can (and I certainly have in the past) commandeer the period term skjǫldungaʀ “shielders, Danes” for a term for the folk of Northshield. The reason skjǫldungaʀ is applied to Danes, as I have already written in The Course post, is often cited to a mythological origin story for the Danish royal family. The mythical founder, Skjǫldʀ (known as Sceld Scelding in Beowulf), was found as a baby washed upon shore in a shield, whence he got his name.
Stay tuned for a post about Northshield’s motto, and my attempt at translating it: Ducere, Ministrare, Illuminare.