Placenames are disappearing
Translated from Faroese and brought with kindly permission by the author © Steingrím Abrahamsen and FRŘÐI
People are moving from the smaller islands to the greater towns. This tendency has the consequence, that a great part of the placenames on the smaller islands are disappearing, because there are nobody, who are using the names anymore. Placenames are the names of different places in the landscape or names for places where the people are living, but at the same time, they are telling about the Faroese language, the Faroese nature, the Faroese geography and in this way they are also telling something about social community and identity. On Mykines, the westernmost island of the Faroes, more than 1500 placenames are registered.
In our society, which is characterised by more and more centralisation, we hardly can imagine how important the placenames were for 50 and 70 years ago. Especially on isolated places, the placenames have had a decisive importance. At places, where there have been a lot of activities in the outfield, the infield, at the landingplace, there have been a lot of placenames.
What is a placename?Yes, the name almost is telling by itself. It is a name of a place. When the first people arrived to the Faroe Islands, they have made investigations of the landscape and have found the best places for landing a ship or a boat, where the best shelter for the wind were and where the best places were fore building houses. As time passed, they began to know the localities better, they probably have begun to name the different places in the landscape and the surroundings. It seemed as one of the first thing people do, when they establish settlements. In this way, the placenames are just as old as the language and function as a way of communication, when people are moving around in the landscape. In this way, they can tell about, where they have been and experienced this or that.
The Swedish placenames researcher Paul Strid from the University in Linköping, uses the term "topolingvistik". This term is a reference to the language, as we meet it in the landscape. In the same way as we talk about the history in the landscape, we can talk about the the dimension of the language in the landscape. the sentence to "read the Landscape", gets a deeper meaning, if it also include the memories of long since passed times, as it can be seen in the language. In this way the language and the landscape are joined together.
Communication is a prerequisite for the ability of man to work in community and build a society. In the interaction of man and landscape, the language has a definitive and final meaning. The language is a social phenomenon, which is closely related to the nature. As a rule of thumb one can say, that when two persons uses a specific name for a specific place, we can talk of a "name user community". Often the names are made in greater communities, for example on a farm, a village, a landscape or on an island. The language in this way a phenomenon of culture, which inform us about important changes in the landscape.
Placenames and identityThere is a great interest for the placenames on the Faroes. In some villages they have begun to collect and register placenames and upload them to the Internet, so others having a connection to the village or of pure interest, can see the names and eventual comment on them. The great interest for the smaller villages in our society of islands has also been a part in the general increase of interest. The strongest seed for the feeling of community in the villages is probably the local dialect, the language of the village. There is probably nothing more important in binding people together to form a society, than the common language. Placenames have a much greater meaning for this feeling of community, the the feeling of belonging to somewhere, than we probably normally are conscious about.
What can be the reason for this great interest in placenames? The Faroese and other Nordic people in general, have a very strong feeling of belonging to somewhere, especially when it is place of birth and native soil. One of the first things Faroese are asking one another about, when at work or at a party is: Where do You come from. Everybody is coming from somewhere and this place also has a name, which we connect to this person. Maybe one reason for the great interest in placenames in our society stems from the fact, that it is easy to see how quickly the society and the landscape is changing. People are moving from the periphery to the centers. This tendency has the consequence, that the names in the periphery are disappearing, because nobody are using the names anymore.
Investigations in placenamesPlacenames have different functions. In the first hand they are convenient means of communication. They are writings which, are references to places in the landscape or to the place, where one is living. But at the same time they tell something about the Faroese language, the Faroese nature, the topography of the landscape and in this way also something about social community and identity. The different functions the placename have is a practical function of an address, something superior to other functions. The address is a name to a place. where we either have permanent or temporary place of living. These names will probably be longest lasting, even when part of the industry is changing radically. It is the names of houses, farms and ruins. The urbanised Faroese society also have a need for placenames. As the traditional center of the village is growing and plans for new residential areas are emerging, the need for new addresses also emerges, meaning names for streets and roads, but also names for these residential areas as such and for names for different institutions.
Placenames on MykinesMykines is the westernmost island on the Faroes. It is about 10 km2 and is divided into 40 marks. The island was often isolated from the surrounding world, before the regular helicopter service was established. When the number of people was at its most, 180 people were living out there. Now there are only 12 people living there all the year round. On Mykines more then 1500 placenames are registered. The greatest number of names are at the places, where the catch of birds have been under taken and where the sheep have been held. This is especially at the southern part of the island, which is dominated by scree, grassing areas and gorges. All the outcome that the island has been able to deliver has been utilised. Many puffins have been fleyged, which the many places, "lundesesses", from where the catch has been performed, is proof of. Now a days only a minor part of all these places are used for fleyging and the names for the "lundesesses", are disappearing.
MykineshólmThe most westernly point of the Faroes is called Knikarsbođi. Mykineshólm is 45 ha big. It has a thick layer of soil. In 1909 the lighthouse was erected at Úti í Varpi. On the Holm the gannets breed. The catch of the grey gannets is an ancient way of catch. The gannets return to Mykines at Pálsmesse, the 25.th of January. In late August or the beginning of September, the men from Mykines go to catch the gannets. They descent in ropes to the shelfs on the northern part of the Holm. Among other places Loftrók, Urđin and Rókin í Hivni. They also used to climb the "boys", Píkarsdrang and Flatidrang west of the Hólm. The placename Í Trađki is a reference to the place, where the Mykines giant Óli Rami and the Gásadal giant Tórur Rami fought. As long as the beginning of the 1970'ies, 8 to 10 oxen grassed out there in the summer. Before the first bridge was build in 1909, the oxen were driven down at Skarvaklett, out at sea and taken inboard a "tíggjumannafar" (boat for ten men), one oxen in each end of the boat and rowed to Sřrvág. Jóhanna Maria Skylv Hansen have very lively written about such a journey, where the men from Mykines went to Tórshavn with oxen. After the bridge was build, the oxen were driven over the bridge to the village and down to landingplace, where a kind of harness was laid upon them. After that, they were driven into the sea and pulled by a boat to the ship Smiril, which used to come to Mykines late September, early October. Smiril came westward with fresh supplies for the winter and at the same occasion many sheep were also disembarked. The grocer's shop Smćran in Tórshavn, bought the oxen and sold them to the citizen's of Tórshavn. On the southern side of the Holm, there are many "gjogv" (gorges). One of these is named "Kranagjógv" ( the crane gorge). This is a very young placename, because it is named after the crane standing there, which was erected in 1909 and used to hoist the supplies for the lighthouse on the Holm.
The definition of location for a placenameWhen working with placenames, it is very important to know the location of the placename. The most common is to make a note on a map or on a photography. Then a short description is written of the place, the surrounings and eventually one or another incident or story, which has been connected to the place.
With modern technology, new opportunities are opened for the investigation of placenames. The software company Munin has made a program, which among other things, is well suited to work with placenames. The program is based on "GIS", a shortening for "Geografisk Informations System" (Geographical Information System). In the program, geographical information can be stored, computed and coordinated. It is possible to work and maps in small scale and on aerial views and in this way a precisely localisation of the placename can be performed. It is also possible to add photographs, which shows, how the location looks like and how the surroundings look like.
Placenames on the FaroesThe placename scholar Eivind Weyhe, who is senior lecturer at Fřroyamálsdeildini at Fróđskaparsetur (The department for the Faroese language at The Faroese University) estimates, that there are between 40.000 and 50.000 placenames on the Faroes.
At Fřroyamálsdeildin , there is a Faroese placename collection with information about old and newer collections of e g names, maps, slides, card indexes and tape recordings. A consecutive work is done, to order the collection and to register the information into an electronic database.
If somebody is interested in placenames, they are welcome to apply to the department, Fřroymálsdeildin:
Mail address: Mailbox 272 , FO 110 Tórshavn Address: V. U. Hammershaimbsgřta 16, F0 100 Tórshavn Homepage: Fróđskaparsetur Fřroya E-mail: Fřroyamálsdeildina Telephone: ++ 298 35 25 20 Fax: ++ 298 35 25 21
Homepage with placenames at Gjógv: Sigvardsen
Homepage for the software company Munin
Strid, Jan Paul 2003: Varför topolingvistik? Sydsvenska ordnamnssällskapets ĺrsskrift.
Weyhe, Eivind 1993: Fćrřske stednavnesamlinger – tilblivelse og tilgćngelighed, í: Útgáva og atgongd. Norna-förlaget. Uppsala.
Hansen, Johanna Maria Skylv 1968: Gamlar Gřtur I. Helgi Justinussen Bókhandil. Tórshavn.