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This might be random, but I feel like I should talk about Vinland Saga some more since I’ve ignored it for three weeks. I hope this topic isn’t too boring. I’ve always enjoyed learning where words come from, so I wanted to talk about how surnames work in the series. If I was more of a history buff, I’d talk about Leif Erikson’s historical counterpart, so I’ll be talking about his name instead.
The concept of a surname didn’t really exist in older Norse societies. Instead, people were referred to with what are called patronyms, which is a name based on the name of a person’s father. Male children would add the suffix “-son” to the end of the name and female children would add the suffix “-dottir”. So, Leif Erikson was literally “Leif, Erik’s son”.
If you’ve watched the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s first Thor movie, you may have heard Thor referred to as “Thor Odinson”, which is the same idea. He’s literally Odin’s son. I like learning about these kinds of things, because they really make you think about modern names, like “Johnson” or “Thompson”. How many of these derive from old Norse patronyms?
Of course, it doesn’t seem fair to devote a post to a side character in the story, so let’s also talk about Thorfinn. He’s never referred to as anything other than “Thorfinn”, but his character is based on a historical figure named Thorfinn Karlsefni. Instead of a patronym, Thorfinn is known by what’s called a byname, which was essentially a descriptive nickname.
The meaning of Thorfinn’s byname varies, but it loosely translates to “real man”. However, you could theoretically refer to him as Thorfinn Thorsson. As a side note, the historical Thorfinn travelled with Leif Erikson to Vinland, the mystic land on the coast of North America. But yeah, that’s my lecture for the…week? Hopefully, it was bearable.