A Guide to Writing in Norse Runes

If you want to write something in Norse runes, you have probably discovered that the task is rather challenging. This guide will help you through all the necessary steps. To begin, one has to look into how it works, and then figure out what kind of inscription is needed, since each type of converting into runes requires a separate approach.

How it Works

VikingAll European and many other languages use Roman letters. It may seem that taking an alphabet devised for one language (Latin in this example) and using it for another one or a whole set of different languages works all right. In fact it took about a millennium to adapt the alphabet we know today for various vernacular uses. The same applies to runes. Runic alphabets cannot and should not transcribe modern languages. We may use them to this end, but we have to invent some rules for this new and unnatural application. The nature of these rules may be illustrated by the following mental experiment: force Seneca who spoke Latin and knew no other language to write the modern German word schwarz (‘black’). To be sure, he would be stuck with both ‘sch’ and ‘z’, since no such sounds (phonemes) existed in his mother tongue. For ‘w’ and ‘r’ he would have only similar counterparts. Perhaps ‘a’ would create no problem. This example might seem forced, but ancient Greek historians had exactly the same difficulties with ancient Persian names. Europeans needed centuries to invent rules that everybody accepted for Roman letters to represent the sounds of their languages. We know these rules as orthography. However, there are no accepted rules for using runes to stand for modern English phonemes. No rules means no way to do it ‘right’.
What’s worse, ancient Germanic tribes did not have any orthography, either. Like both ‘through hardships to the stars’ and ‘thru hardships 2 the stars’ having equal rights to be ‘right’ variants. Runes were used phonetically, that is literally as people heard what they pronounced. So even if you don’t write in modern English, it doesn’t solve all of the riddle. Besides, some words, such as personal names, simply cannot be translated into the ancient Germanic languages for which the original runic systems were invented.

Types of Tasks

  1. Elder Futhark used to write in Migration period Germanic dialects
  2. Younger Futhark used to write in Old Norse
  3. Any of the above runic alphabets used to write in modern English or represent a personal name

On Right and Wrong

Even though there were no orthographic rules at the age when the runes were in usage, some ways to write them are more or less in line with the historical evidence, while others are not. Thus instead of ‘right’ ways to spell something in runes, I suggest to speak about more or less ‘authentic’ or ‘historical’ variants. Below are some recommendation based on my personal understanding of what ‘authentic’ or ‘historical’ is. By no means do I think that other approaches are ‘wrong’.

1. Elder Futhark

The Elder Futhark runes were used for the Proto-Norse language between about 3rd and 7th centuries. We know very little about that language, that is we don’t have a grammar and a dictionary for it. We have numerous Elder Futhark inscriptions but their meaning is largely obscure and the attempts to reconstruct the language that stood behind them are not very fruitful. Viking Age runestone inscriptions were not carved in Elder Futhark runes. Vikings spoke the Old Norse language, not Proto-Norse.

  • Recommended: Finding an existing inscription with clear meaning and copying it — you may be interested in so called formulaic words that often occur in the inscriptions.
  • Not recommended: Using Elder Futhark for Old Norse. Even worse is using it for Old Norse words in their Anglicized form, like words Odin or Mjolnir spelt in Elder Futhark (I see them time and again in tattoo designs). When the Elder Futhark was in use, these words were perhaps pronounced *wōðanaz and *melðunii̯az but no one is sure, it’s a reconstruction.

2. Younger Futhark

The Younger Futhark runes were used for the early form of the Old Norse language during the Viking Age. We do have a grammar and a dictionary for that language but it doesn’t mean that any Old Norse phrase or quote can be easily represented in Younger Futhark runes. The distinguishing trait of this runic alphabet is its use of the same runic sign for voiceless and voiced consonants (p and b, t and d, etc.) and even less logical indiscriminate use of the same runes for various vowels (for instance, the rune úr could stand for u, o, y, au etc.).

  • Recommended: Same as above — find an existing inscription and use it (you may be interested in Younger Futhark love quotes). However, writing in runes an Old Norse word or a quote that you have in Roman letters is also possible, since the conventions used by Younger Futhark rune carvers are more or less clear.
  • Not recommended: Permanent use if you converted an inscription into runes yourself. Your own later research or advice from an expert may reveal that you made a mistake.

3. Modern English to Runes

This task is usually much more complex than the previous ones. Transcribing words having sounds that never existed in the languages for which runic alphabets were created requires a lot of research. You may want to use my rune converter that works with modern English only. It is based on my own understanding of phonology and is provided ‘as is’ and free of charge.

See also:

How to Write a Name in Runes for a Tattoo
How to Translate into Runes Correctly
How to Write an Authentic Runic Inscription
Should I Write in Runes Phonetically?

Photo courtesy Olli Wilkman. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Licence.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }


Very helpful, thank you.

I can’t help but notice two things I actually disagree with, however mildly.

1: Translating the modern names of the Norse gods, like Odin, and Thor, into EF isn’t so much mangling the old names as it is transliterating modern English. The fact that the names have roots in older language that may once have been written in one or another Futhark is not much more significant than the fact that modern English is full of cognates to older Germanic languages anyway.

2: Granted that research may indeed turn up that previous attempts contain mistakes. If you base your work on existing historical inscriptions, that at most guarantees you that some historical person used them that way, but as spelling was not standardized, and humans were prone to mistakes back then too, there’s no guarantee even that will prevent mistakes – or that any mistakes you make now won’t be just the sort they’d have made back then anyway.



Viking Rune

Hello Ember.

1. The problem with Norse gods’ names in modern English orthography written with Elder Futhark runes is that Elder Futhark was used for Proto-Norse not Old Norse. So in Elder Futhark runes I would expect Wōđanaz not Odin.
2. Mistakes made by modern people have almost no chances to be like mistakes made by early medieval people. The reason is very different cultural background and education.


Härmän tyttö

I was wondering if you know anything about using commas and dots when writing with runes?
Its often seen that commas and dots are used just like theyre used in modern languages (e.g. english) or that theres none used. But I also remember a method wich uses single dot (.) between words and two dots (:) at the end of sentence, could this latter be more proper to use than the ‘modern’ one?
And thank you so much for this blog! Its really great and helpful :)


Viking Rune

Hello Härmän. Commas were not used in runic inscriptions on runestones. Instead of punctuation marks sungle dots, double dots and even crosses were used during the Viking Age. However, there was no consistent tradition for that.



Hi there, your website is very enlightening. Thank you for your work.
I was doing some reading on the Havamal, and I haven’t been able to find a runic version of it, but I’m pretty sure there must be one. Do you have a source or suggestion? I would very much appreciate the help.
Thanks in advance :)


Viking Rune

Hello Alyssa. I have never met Hávamál text written with runes.



Hail, I just wanted to say thank you for the hhelp and information on this site


Viking Rune

Thank you William :)



hello viking runes, first i wanted to thank you for your time. but unfortunately im still a bit confused as to the whole translating mistakes. simply put i want to get a tattoo with “fenrir” and “ragnarok” in runes. from what ive read here it sounds like the younger futhark would be the more appropriate conversion. but what i would like to know is how those names would have been represented in old norse and not just the runic counter part to the English letters. is there a way to find that out. i apologize if my question is worded incorrectly and confusing, basically if YOU were to get the tattoo how would YOU do it?



hey ,as i read above is there any chance that i could buy the old norse grammar and dictionary ?
Send me an mail will you?thanks



Hi there, I have recently been learning about Old Norse and the Futhark alphabets. I have found sources saying that Elder Futhark was used to write in Old Norse as well as Proto-Norse, can you provide a source confirming what you’ve said? Also, neither Younger nor Elder Futhark contain a character for the Latin letter ‘W,’ so how should one properly express the Old Norse ‘wodanaz’ and how do we know that the first character of that word is in fact ‘W?’ Thank you for building this guide, I eagerly await your response.


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