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
  • Michael Bush

    Hi,

    I’m planning on getting a tattoo to honor and show solidarity for Andy Whitfield and the “Be Here Now” film (http://www.beherenowfilm.com) as I am also a stage-IV non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor, and a heavy armored fighter in the SCA. Oh, and I’m still alive. Unfortunately he is not.

    His tattoo was in a fancy script; mine will be in Long Branch as I play an early Norman when I fight. The rune converter produces a phonetic result, which is OK.

    However, “be”, “here”, and “now” are surely common words within the Viking language. I would much rather have the correct Viking words for my tat. Can anyone help me with this? Thanks!

    Mike / Godryck of Mooneschadowe

    • Viking Rune

      Hello Michael. I would translate ‘be here now’ into Old Norse as vertu hér nú. In the Younger Futhark long branch runes:

  • JW

    So much slight conflicts out on the web and in books.
    I’m getting my daughters names tattoo on my arms. The heritage is Norwegian so I’m as far as Younger Futhark and what I thought would be Short Twig. Research has revealed that Norway specifically is some Short Twig and some Long Twig and some (the S) I’m not sure.
    The names are:
    Runa
    Shaina

    Any help?

    Thanks!

    • Viking Rune

      Hello JW. Are you trying to say that your research led you to think that runes that were used in Norway were in fact a mix of varous types of runic scripts? How can I help you?

  • Jarod Scott

    So for a tattoo Long branch Father would be fadir? or fathir into the converter?

    Also the only word I can find for husband is madr. Is that right? as I mentioned, this will be tattooed on my skin, and I REALLY don’t want to get it wrong. Would you please help?

  • henry clement

    hiya i would like to know what the phrase ‘knowledge is power’ in old norse also what it would be for younger futhark

    • Viking Rune

      Icelanders say: Blindur er bóklaus maður (Blind is a man without a book).

  • ian

    Hi getting nice viking tattoo shortly, need the runes, younger futhark, I think for the correct period?? correct me if I am mistaken!!
    Want it to read ” To Valhalla we ride”, not sure if there was just a symbol for valhalla???Thanks for your help.

    • Viking Rune

      Hello Ian. Yes, Younger Futhark was the runic alphabet used in the Viking Age. No, there is no single symbol that would stand for ‘Valhalla’.

      • ian

        thanks alot, seems there are two to choose from short twig and long branch, any guidance as to the best to use?? many thanks for your help, great site for interest!!!!

        • Viking Rune

          Hello Ian. Strange question. Which is best to use, pencil or pen? Depends entirely on what your project is about.

          • ian

            Hi thanks for response, i just want my tattoo to be as authentic as possible so was thinking of going with short twig as this covered sweden and norway, long branch was predominantly danish according to your website. I was thinking the raiders coming to the UK for example may have come from sweden/norway? I look to you as the officianado to confirm or otherwise, once again great site and thanks for taking the time to answer what to you must be the same old questions!!! Keep it up.

            • Viking Rune

              Ian, Vikings who invaded Britain were from Norway and Denmark. Sweyn Forkbeard was king of Denmark, England, and parts of Norway. People from Sweden also lived in the Danelaw.

          • ian

            Both seem to be earlier period short twig mainly used sweden and norway with long branch denmark? so for my tattoo, dragon boat head and runes, just wondered if I should pick one or the other. Thanks for your time to answer what to you will probably seem like stupid question!.. Good work thanks and keep it up!
            Ian.

            • Viking Rune

              Ian, both will be okay. They were used at the same time. Long branch variant is sometimes considered as the ‘standard’ Younger Futhark runes.

              • ian

                Thanks for the help, will post a pic of the tat next couple of weeks hope it turns out good!!,

  • David

    My mother was born in Norway and I am looking to get a Viking style tattoo that says “mother” in runes but not sure which to use. Could you please help me with the proper one? Thank you, Dave

    • Viking Rune

      Hello David. Viking Age runic inscriptions were written (or rather carved) with the Younger Futhark runes (either long branch or short twig). Old Norse for mother is móðir:

  • Jarod

    So I find “husband” in Icelandic to be eiginmador so to prevent double runes should I enter iginmador? also, should I change the g to a “ye” sound? I’m using younger futhark for danish.

  • Albert Kuzowsky

    I had a tattoo done on my left shoulder of a wheel with all of the runic symbols/ characters. Inside the wheel are 3 intertwined triangles and 3 ravens flying around the triangles. I suppose it was foolish to have something tattooed on my body just because I liked how it looked, but would like to know if you know the meaning of this design?

  • Dovahkiin

    Do you know the game skyrim well if you do what type of norse are the using in it

    • Viking Rune

      As far as I know, Skyrim features runes that were invented for that game.

  • Angel

    And I was told to write in Elder Futhark all the time. Thanks for the knowledge. Now to study the short twitg Younger Futhark

    • Viking Rune

      Hello Angel. Thanks for the feedback. Good luck with your studies!

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