Elder Futhark Runic Alphabet

The elder Futhark is the most ancient Germanic runic alphabet. The word futhark is formed after the first six runes in it, the same way as the Greek word alphabet is formed after the first two Greek letters, Alpha and Beta. See below which signs represented which sounds:

Elder Futhark runic alphabet

The order of the runes has nothing to do with the ABC and clearly developed independently. As for the runes themselves, there is no agreement on their origin: some researchers are inclined to think that runes were greatly influenced by the Roman alphabet, others point to Etruscan writing from Northern Italy. As it seems, the oldest datable runic inscription is on the comb from Vimose (ca 160 AD). The elder Futhark remained in use until the ninth century, when it was superseded by other runic systems due to the phonological changes in Germanic languages, which made it less suited to render the current speech sounds.

The earliest known instance of sequential listing of all the runes is found on the so called Kylver Stone (after the name of a farm on Gotland, Stånga parish, Sweden), which was discovered in the surroundings of a 5th century grave. The second-oldest sequential listing is on a bracteate (thin single-sided gold coin) from Vadstena (Östergötland, Sweden) dated to the 6th century. In the latter listing the ï and p as well as o and d-runes go in inverted order as compared to the Kylver inscription. The Vadstena listing has an important feature: the sequence of runes is divided into three equal groups (ON ǽttir, ‘families’, orginally meaning ‘groups of eight’). The reason of this division is disputed, but it seems to have been meaningful and important for Germanic peoples who used the elder Futhark. The order above represents the Vadstena version.
Runic writing may go from left to right or from right to left. Some inscriptions combine the two methods. Sometimes even individual runes are written in a mirror image as compared to the main direction of an inscription.

The transliteration of runes is usually given in bold Roman lower-case letters (even personal names begin with small letters; the upper-case R is not a capital variant of r, but a separate rune designtaing a separate sound that corresponds to Common Germanic *z). Phonetic transcription is given in italics. The translation is given in ‘single’ quotation marks.

The runes had names. There are English, Gothic and Scandinavian manuscripts that list them, which makes possible the reconstruction of the Common Germanic forms. The reconstruction in comparative linguistics works more or less like that: ancient Germanic variants for the word ‘stone’ were Goth. stains, ON steinn, OE stān, OS sten, OHG stein. The runic form stainaR and comparison with early Germanic borrowings in Finnish (cf. Finnish kuningas ‘king’ and OS kuning) lead to a supposed Common Germanic form *stainaz, which is nowhere attested: Gothic and Finnish borrowings exclude -R, Gothic -s represents the ancient *-z. The reconstructed ending *-az corresponds to Greek -os and Archaic Latin -os, where IE *o is represented by the Common Germanic *a and IE *s is represented by Common Germanic *z. Reconstructed forms are usually marked with the *asterisk sign.

The names and meanings of the runes are as follows:

*fehu, ‘cattle’. Goth. faihu; OE feoh; ON fé; OHG feho, fihu.

*uruz, ‘aurochs’. Goth. uraz; OE ur; ON úrr. A long vowel: /u:/.

*þurisaz, ‘giant’. OE þyrs; ON þurs; OHG duris; OS thuris. The sound value is as modern English /th/ in thing.

*ansuz, ‘god’. Goth. anza (Dat. Sg.); OE ōs; ON áss; OHG ans-.

*raido, ‘riding’. OE ræd; ON reið.

*kauna, ‘sore’. OE cēn; ON kaun.

*gebo, ‘gift’. Goth. gifa; OE giefu; ON gjöf; OHG geba.

*wunjo, ‘joy’. Goth. winja; OE wynn.

*hagalaz, ‘hail’. Goth. hagl; OE hægl; ON hagall.

*naudiz, ‘need’. Goth. nauþs; ON nauð.

*isa, ‘ice’. Goth. iiz; OE, OHG īs; ON iss. Long vowel: /i:/.

*jera, ‘year’. ON ár; OHG jār. The sound value is as modern English /y/ in year.

*eihwaz, ‘yew’. Goth. uuaer; OE eoh. The sound value is between /e/ and /i/, as it developed out of IE /ei/.

*perþo, uncertain meaning.

*algiz, ‘protection’. Goth. ezec; OE eolh; ON yr.

*sowilo, ‘sun’. Goth. sunno; OE sunne; ON sól; OHG sunna.

*tiwaz, ‘Tiw, god of war’. ON Týr.

*berkana, ‘birch’. OE beorc; ON bjarkan; OHG bircha.

*ehwaz, ‘horse’. Goth. evz; OE eh. Short vowel: /e/.

*mannaz, ‘man’. Goth. manna; OE mann; ON maðr.

*laguz, ‘water’. OE lēac; ON lögr.

*inguz, ‘the god Ing’. Goth. enguz; OE Ing. The sound value is as modern English /ng/ in thing.

*oþila, ‘inherited possession’. Goth. utal; OE oþel, eþel. Short vowel: /o/.

*dagaz, ‘day’. Goth. dags; OE dæg; ON dagr; OHG tag.

35 comments… add one
  • Bryan Andrew Arwedsson Holmberg

    I was just looking at information about Runes today. My Family is from Gotland. I am curious as to what might be the best way to write/spell my name, especially my Family name “Arwedsson Holmberg”

    PS I added Arwedsson to my name after my Father’s death.

    • Viking Rune

      Hello. It depends on which runic alphabet you would like to use.

  • Teiwaz088

    Hello , I shortly a tattoo representing Mjollnir , I write her name in the elder futhark runes , but I’m having problems with the translation . I would be very grateful for the help .

    • Viking Rune

      It is a bad idea to write the word Mjöllnir in the Elder Futhark runes. It is an Old Norse word, and the standard runic writing system for Old Norse was the Younger Futhark. You will find what you need here: Thor’s Hammer: A Norse Viking Symbol.

  • Marjo

    Hi there,

    I’m trying to make something for a friend and i wanted to translate something in old or younger futhark. The name is ”Bloody axes” and knowing so, i tryed to translate it in norse to than traduce my inscription in Futhark. I dont know if i am doing it right you can correct me if i am not. I got first ”OX” for ”axe” that wasnt hard to find but than i got ”Blodugr” for ”Bloody” and ”Dreyrugr” for ”Bloody Stained”.

    I dont know wich one to use and in wich order do i put them for the translation. than again… i have to find a good translator on the internet.

    Thank you for your time.

    • Viking Rune

      Hello Marjo. There is a single Old Norse word meaning ‘bloody axe’ (as in Eric Haraldsson’s nickname): blóðøx. The pluarl is blóðøxar. The Elder Futhark was not used for Old Norse. In the long branch Younger Futhark (used in the Viking Age) blóðøxar might have been spelt as follows:

  • Roger McGee

    A few years ago I had a friend ask his wife to write out my name in Runes, . She gave me 2 different sets of letterings. One was Galic and the other “Norse/Norska/Norskia”, her husband couldn’t remember. Most of the Galic corresponds with the Anglo-Saxon on this page except the “ee” of my last name. What she came up with is 2 x’s one on top of the other. I was wondering if this is incorrect.

  • Samaelle

    Hi,
    I was wondering what could be the original runic spelling of Yggdrasil… Do you hav any idea?
    Since the legend says Odin discovered the meaning of Runes after hiding on Yggdrasil, it has ti have a runic spelling, but I can’t find it anywhere…

    • Viking Rune

      Hello Samaelle. I am not aware of the actual Viking Age runic inscriptions having this word. However, based on what we know about the Younger Futhark, it might have been spelt in runes like that:

  • Deb Shaw

    In response to Kyle; one spells phonetically with the runes, so what we know as “soft c” would be made with Sowilo. Also, the silent e will be left out. Thus, “embrace” will be written as ehwaz-mannaz-berkano-raidho-ehwaz-sowilo, “embres”.

    • Viking Rune

      Hello Deb. While your version is not at all incorrect, I do not think we are bound to use runes phonetically (more on this in my article Should I Write in Runes Phonetically?). So why not simply keep the modern English spelling as it is.

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