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

168 comments… add one
  • Roger

    Just wanted to point out that the staveless runes are called “Hälsinge” runes, not “Hålsinge” runes.
    It should be an a with two dots above it, not an a with a circle above it.

    Sincerely
    Someone who grew up in Hälsingland ;)

    • Viking Rune

      Thank you, Roger!

      • Anders

        Actually, there are also runes from Dalecarlia (Dalarna) in Sweden, which is close to Hälsingland. They was used up to 1930:th-1940:th or something. In a village I live in, there are runes that was written in 1940:th, Dalecarlian runes (one version of it).

  • Blake

    Hey! I was just wondering what language was spoken with these runes? Were they modern day Norweigan or Danish? I’m curious about what language so that you can learn to speak and understand it instead of just reading the runes.

    • Niall Porritt

      I think it’s believed that Icelandic is the closest we get to speaking the Viking language! Hope this helps!

      • Thor

        I believe the experts now think the closest to Old Norse is Faroese.

    • Anders

      Actually, Danish and Swedish are of the same group of Norse. Icelandic and Norwegian are of another group. But as Sweden and Denmark was in lots of wars, the language changed. So no Norwegian and Swedes have easier to understand each other then Danish and Swedes.

      Look up Dr Jackson Crawford on YouTube, he have great videos of Old Norse, which actually is pre Viking age. It is the common ancestor language for all Scandinavian languages (and lot of English). He have some videos about the relations with the more modern languages too, like Swedish, Faeroe, Iclandic, Gotamål, Norwegian and more. And actually, there are lots of variations of all the national languages too, dialectal, which can have larger differences then between the languages.

      • Billy

        Old Norse was spoken during the Viking age and they used the Younger Futhark. Proto Norse was before the Viking age and evolved into Old Norse.

        Icelandic is “closest” to Old Norse. You can still read the old texts if you can read Icelandic. Tho there are a few variations, especially in speaking, but the languages are very close. Norwegian is somewhere between Danish and Swedish. They spell words similar to Danish, but say them similar to Swedish. For the most part all 3 can understand each other. Icelandic is quite different, closer to older Norwegian out of the 3. Norwegian is recommended if you’re trying to decide which to learn unless you have other motivations tied to Sweden or Denmark. Icelandic is more isolated, which is largely why it’s so close to Old Norse. Tho Denmark did rule Iceland for some time, as well as Norway if I’m not mistaken.

        I agree that Jackson Crawford is a great source.

  • Austin

    Please help me out here, were the Runes used as individual letters to spell out words or were the runes used more as words/meanings to make a sentence?

  • Chase

    Hey! I was hoping someone could help me or point me in the right direction. I’ve tried searching the internet & its so hard to find any info & what I do find is just confusing me.
    Basically I’d like to know how you would right out the following dates numerically using Danish Rune/Younger Futhark. (day/month/year)
    19/1/56 & 12/6/57
    Any help would be greatly appreciated, Thanks!

    • Viking Rune

      There were no runes for numerals, Chase.

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