Younger Futhark: Rune Names and Rune Meanings

At the end of the 8th century an unknown rune-master reformed the Elder Futhark having reduced it to 16 runes. By the 10th century the new form of writing was accepted in the whole of Scandinavia. This variant of runic alphabet is known as the Younger Futhark. It is this set of runes that may be properly called Viking runes, since they were used by the Scandinavians during the Viking Age:

Younger Futhark runes

The spoken language of that period underwent serious changes. For instance, the number of vowels grew from 5 to 9. If the Agnlo-Saxon Futhorc multiplied the original Common Germanic runes to adapt them for the Old English, the Scandinavian solution was to reduce their number. The most of the runes could now designate a variety of sounds. The earliest Younger Futhark inscriptions were found in Denmark, that’s why they are sometimes called Danish runes (these are ‘normal’ Younger Futhark runes, see the first row above). However, very soon another variant of the Younger Futhark developed. These runes are sometimes called Norwegian-Swedish or Rök runes (see the second row above). Because of the obvious differences between the two, their more common respective names are long-branch and short-twig runes. The trend towards minimalism triumphed in another variant of the Younger Futhark, so called staveless or Hålsinge runes, which were used only in a restricted area (see the third row above).
Normal and short-twig runes were often mixed in inscriptions, which led to appearance of other regional variants. Later inscriptions were carved using so called Medieval runes. Basically, it is the same Younger Futhark with only a few changes, since propagation of the roman alphabet led to the addition of new runes that corresponded to letters, which had no counterparts in the 16-rune system (note that the nasalized /ã/ sound changed into /o/ and the corresponding rune now designated /o/, accordingly). Below, for the sake of convenience, the Medieval runes are arranged in ABC order:

Medieval runes

The rune-names of the Younger Futhark are given below, each with a verse from the Icelandic Rune Poem (15th century) that explains their meanings. The translation is by B. Dickins (published in 1915).

fé, ‘wealth’
source of discord among kinsmen
and fire of the sea
and path of the serpent.
úr, ‘shower’
lamentation of the clouds
and ruin of the hay-harvest
and abomination of the shepherd.
þurs, ‘giant’
torture of women
and cliff-dweller
and husband of a giantess.
ą́ss, ‘god’
aged Gautr
and prince of Ásgarðr
and lord of Vallhalla.
reið, ‘riding’
joy of the horsemen
and speedy journey
and toil of the steed.
kaun, ‘ulcer’
disease fatal to children
and painful spot
and abode of mortification.
hagall, ‘hail’
cold grain
and shower of sleet
and sickness of serpents.
nauð, ‘constraint’
grief of the bond-maid
and state of oppression
and toilsome work.
iss, ‘ice’
bark of rivers
and roof of the wave
and destruction of the doomed.
ár, ‘plenty’
boon to men
and good summer
and thriving crops.
sól, ‘sun’
shield of the clouds
and shining ray
and destroyer of ice.
týr, ‘Týr’
god with one hand
and leavings of the wolf
and prince of temples.
bjarkan, ‘birch’
leafy twig
and little tree
and fresh young shrub.
maðr, ‘man’
delight of man
and augmentation of the earth
and adorner of ships.
lögr, ‘water’
eddying stream
and broad geysir
and land of the fish.
ýr, ‘yew’
bent bow
and brittle iron
and giant of the arrow.

Images and charts above are copyright © The Viking Rune

181 comments… add one
  • Secret

    Thought – Staveless runes are proof that aliens and humans were in contact.

  • Collin

    How would a Viking of the 10th century refer to a younger sister or younger brother?

Leave a Comment