The heyday of the Viking age occurred between the eighth and eleventh centuries. Yet, some Scandinavian noblemen continued to embark on Viking-like activities well into the twelfth century. Jarl Rognvald Kali of Orkney (r. 1137-1158) was one such nobleman and he ironically was said to have gone raiding in the Mediterranean while on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The Viking Age is a well-documented period, with sources from multiple sides and viewpoints. Viking Age kings wrote about their accomplishments on stone monuments, and historians such as the Icelandic Snorri Sturluson (c. 1179-1241) and the Danish Saxo Grammaticus (c. 12th-13th century) later narrated events from the perspective of Norway and Denmark. There are also substantial sources from the regions attacked by Vikings, such as chroniclers based in the British Isles and France. With such a wealth of information, much is known about the key figures from the Viking Age and their exploits during that chaotic time. Yet, Viking Age Scandinavians did not excel at only daring raids and bold seamanship—they also had some of the most creative names in all of Europe. We previously published an article listing ten fun and unique names from the Viking Age (check it out HERE), yet that was barely scratching the surface. Here are ten more fun names and a brief summary of their lives in the Viking Age.
1) Einar Buttered-Bread: This curious character reportedly lived in the 10th century and is mentioned in the Orkneyinga saga. Einar Buttered-Bread was said to have been a well-respected chieftain in Orkney, yet he had a remarkable fall from grace. He eventually assassinated a certain Jarl Havard of Orkney, causing a power-struggle to erupt. According to the saga, Einar Buttered-Bread was killed by another claimant to the jarldom. For a more in-depth look at Einar’s life and the power-struggle in Orkney, read our article HERE.
2) Killer-Hrapp: According to the Laxdæla saga, Hrapp was a 10th-century Hebridean immigrant to Iceland. He set up a farmstead called Hrappsstadir and, when he died, was buried upright under his kitchen. It is unclear when he was given his nickname, Killer-Hrapp, but he lived up to his reputation even after death. The ghost of Killer-Hrapp reportedly haunted Hrappsstadir and the locals were so afraid of his supernatural power that Hrapp’s body was exhumed and reburied in an uninhabited forest. His remains were later discovered under a cowshed belonging to the Hjardarholt farmstead, which was also plagued by hauntings. When the remains were located, Killer-Hrapp’s body was exhumed for a second time and burned. For a detailed account of Killer-Hrapp’s hauntings, check out our article, HERE.
3) Olaf Peacock: Olaf Hoskuldsson Peacock owned Hjardarholt and was the man who burned Killer-Hrapp’s body. In the Laxdæla saga, Olaf was described as a wealthy chieftain who sailed to Norway and Ireland. Wherever he went, Olaf seemed to obtain items of great wealth and value (read about his gilded belongings, HERE). Such lavish possessions, as well as his prideful preening, were reportedly the inspiration behind his nickname, Peacock. His life is dated to around 938-1006.
4) Sweyn the Sacrificer: Also known as Sacrifice-Sweyn or Blot-Sweyn, he was an 11th-century Swede who resisted King Inge the Elder’s attempts to enforce Christianity in Sweden. He was apparently given his nickname, “the sacrificer,” because of his outspoken support for the traditional pagan sacrifices of the Norse religion. Sweyn the Sacrificer made appearances in sources such as the Heimskringla of Snorri Sturluson and the Orkneyinga saga. He reportedly put up a good fight against King Inge of Sweden, but Sweyn was ultimately assassinated.
5) Hallbjorn Slickstone-eye: Hallbjorn was a Hebridean who immigrated to Iceland in the 10th century with his parents and brother. According to the Laxdæla saga, his family settled in Skalmarfjord but were unwelcome and faced discrimination by the locals. Accused of theft and sorcery, Hallbjorn’s family fled to Kambsnes, Iceland. Yet, when a young boy died unexpectedly in the region, Hallbjorn’s family was accused of killing the child with witchcraft. In the ensuing witch-hunt, Hallbjorn Slickstone-eye’s entire family was subsequently hunted down and murdered. For a more lengthy account of this tragic story, read our article, HERE.
6) Svein Breast-Rope: According to the Orkneyinga saga, Svein Breast-Rope was a follower of Jarl Paul the Silent of Orkney (d. 1137). Svein had a rude and argumentative reputation and was not a popular man. He apparently became more competitive, jealous and belligerent as he drank. As could be expected, Svein Breast-Rope was eventually killed in a drunken brawl. Sadly, no one mourned his death—not even the local bishop.
7) Harald Graycloak: Harald Graycloak, also known as King Harald II, became the ruler of Norway in 961, following the death of his uncle, King Hákon the Good. Harald’s memorable name reportedly originated from a lordly gray sheepskin cloak that he often wore (check out our article on this cloak, HERE). Both Harald and his late uncle, Hákon, were reportedly Christian, but whereas Hákon took a minimalist approach to religion, Harald put more effort into converting Norway. His attempts to convert the population (as well as assassinations of prominent pagan chieftains) led to massive revolts against his rule. Harald Graycloak was eventually killed around 970 while in Denmark. After Harald’s death, the pagan Jarl Hákon Sigurdsson dominated Norway until 995.
8) Thord Dragon-Jaw: Thord appeared in a section of the Orkneyinga saga that described postmortem miracles attributed to Saint Magnus (d. 1117). A hard-working but irreligious man, Thord Dragon-Jaw made the fateful decision to thresh barley late into the night on the eve of St. Magnus’ Mass. According to the story, the spirit of St. Magnus did not approve of Thord’s conduct and struck the man with a good dose of holy insanity. For over six days, Thord Dragon-Jaw was consumed with madness. His condition was said to have only improved after a vigil was held and money was donated to the shrine of St. Magnus on Thord’s behalf. For more information on St. Magnus and his supernatural exploits, read our article, HERE.
9) Harald Smooth-Tongue: Harald Smooth-Tongue was a 12th-century jarl of Orkney. He shared power with his brother, Jarl Paul the Silent. He died a mysterious death and many believed foul play was involved. The Orkneyinga saga claimed that Harald Smooth-Tongue put on a poisoned garment and died in agony from whatever had been applied to the cloth.
10) An Twig-belly: According to the Laxdæla saga, a man named An the Black lived in Iceland around the turn of the 11th century. He was a devoted companion of Olaf Peacock’s sons and apparently had a gift for foreseeing trouble. In 1003, during a tense Icelandic feud, An the Black reportedly had a nightmare in which someone had gutted him and replaced his entrails with twigs. When he told his friends about the dream, they laughed it off and jovially threatened to give him a nickname based on the nightmare. Yet, people looked on the nightmare differently when An the Black and his friend, Kjartan Olafsson, were soon after ambushed on the road. Kjartan was killed and An was virtually disemboweled during the fight. Although Kjartan died, An miraculously recovered from his wounds. From then on, he was said to have been called An Twig-belly. He reportedly was killed in 1007, while trying to avenge Kjartan’s death.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Picture Attribution: (Depiction of Norse explorers from a book by Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1836-1907), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- Heimskringla, by Snorri Sturluson and translated by Lee Hollander. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1964, 2018.
- Orkneyinga Saga, written anonymously approximately c. 1200, translated by Hermann Pálsson and Paul Edwards. New York: Penguin Classics, 1981.
- Laxdæla saga by an unknown 13th century Icelander, translated by Keneva Kunz. New York: Penguin Classics, 2008.