A question in two parts:

One, is there a way, other than original context, to determine whether a name in Old Norse is generally masculine or generally feminine?

Two, how would one go about feminizing a masculine name (or vice versa) in Old Norse? My particular interest in this case is the god name Mundilfäri, used for a male god; what would the feminine form of it be?

2 Answers 2

  1. Sadly, Old Norse gender can't readily be seen just by the suffix.

    Male nouns generally end:

    • in -r, -ll or -nn if strong (e.g. Baldr, Heimdall and Óðinn)
    • and in -i when weak (e.g. Loki).

    Female nouns

    • take no suffix (but umlaut) when strong (e.g. Sjöfn)
    • and end in -a when weak (e.g. Freyja).

    However, there are a few female nouns (and names) that end with -r or -i, e.g. Urðr. Also, there are male names that look (and are declined) like female nouns, e.g. Sturla. As a rule of thumb, a male noun will always have a suffix, whereas a female one needn't, but as the Sturla example shows, that doesn't straightforwardly carry over to names.

  2. I can't find any good etymology for the -föri or -fari or -färi in Mundilföri, which makes it hard to correctly predict all the sound changes you might have to do or undo to get a corresponding female form; also, a female form might just not exist since -färi might well be a male noun without a corresponding female one. People seem to think that it comes from fara, to go or travel, but I am not aware of a way of forming a nomen agentis in Old Norse with -i. Also, I don't know whether or not the Umlaut was derived via i-umlaut. With all these caveats, anything you do is guessing anyways, so you can pick the one you like best:

    • Mundilfara (replace male weak -i by female weak -a and undo possible umlaut)
    • Mundilfära (or -föra) if you'd like to keep the umlaut
    • Mundilför (or -fär(?) (I can't remember the letter ä in standardized Old Icelandic) for a strong female ending.
  • Thank you so much for this! I'll need to hunt down an Old Norse grammar, I think, for a better understanding of the division between strong and weak nouns. Commented Mar 14, 2015 at 23:02
  • @plagueheart Strong and weak are just two "super"-paradigms for declining a noun, the strong ones having more distinct case endings. There is no semantic difference, it's just like some verbs have different ways of forming the past in English.
    – user9315
    Commented Mar 14, 2015 at 23:03
  • Oh, duh, right. Sorry, as is probably obvious from my relatively inept phrasing in my question, I'm only passing familiar with the actual terminology of linguistics. I'm sure I've encountered strong/weak nouns in discussion of declension patterns, it just didn't stick in my head. Commented Mar 14, 2015 at 23:05
  • It's no trouble at all. Strong/weak is, as far as I'm aware, a distinction generally (and only) made in Germanic languages. In English, strong verbs are irregular verbs like sing - sang - sung, while the boring ones (talk - talked - talked) are weak. It doesn't really bear on your question at all, I just used the strong/weak distinction to organise my answer.
    – user9315
    Commented Mar 14, 2015 at 23:17
  • it's worth noting that the two strong/weak distinctions don't have anything to do with each other. English umlaut plurals (e.g. foot/feet) are actually weak nouns from a specific neuter paradigm, despite involving vowel changes which might make you think they ought to be strong by comparison with the distinction in verbs
    – Tristan
    Commented Jan 27, 2021 at 10:18

Adding to the comprehensive answer above (I don't have enough reputation to comment), feminine names also often end in -un(n).

Some examples taken from the sagas and Norse mythology are Guðrún, Þorunn, and Iðunn.

Here is a list of names taken from early Icelandic written source: http://www.ellipsis.cx/~liana/names/norse/landnamabok.html. See the section "Feminine Names" for some more examples.

Note that the declension pattern for these nouns is different than for standard strong feminine nouns, with a vowel stem (u/i) manifesting in the oblique cases:

Nom Guðrún Þórunn Iðunn
Acc Guðrúnu Þórunni Iðunni
Dat Guðrúnu Þórunni Iðunni
Gen Guðrúnar Þórunnar Iðunnar
  • 1
    Could you add some more detail, like examples, or an explanation of where this comes from, or how these names decline? As it is this is a valid answer, but a rather short one.
    – Draconis
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 2:46
  • Done! Thanks for the suggestion. Commented Jan 25, 2021 at 23:31

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