The Proto-Germanic (PG) diphthong *ai generally becomes ei in Old Norse (ON), except regularly before an original *h and commonly before r (but only from PG *r, not from rhotacised PG *z).

Examples are easy to find:

  • PG stainaz > ON steinn ‘stone’
  • PG hlaiƀaz > ON hleifr ‘loaf’
  • PG taihwō > ON ‘toe’
  • PG maiza- > ON meir- ‘more’

But the name Óláfr < PG *Anu-laiƀaz ‘ancestral inheritor’ (or something like that) is an odd exception. The PG *ai comes before , so we’d expect ON ei as the outcome.

To be sure, the form Óleifr does exist as a variant, but Óláfr is by far the more common of the two. Oddly, the simplex form (without the prefix *anu-) is exclusively Leifr, both as a common noun and as a proper name.

So why does this particular word have this unexpected vowel?

  • 1
    @Janus Bahs Jacquet see p. 40 (section 117.8) in Heusler 1921 archive.org/details/altislndischesel00heus/page/40/mode/2up
    – Alex B.
    Jan 30 at 1:41
  • 1
    @AlexB. Well, that seems to work at least some of the time, though cases like Þórsteinn don’t fit (there’s no *Þórstánn as far as I know). You should add that as an answer. Jan 30 at 8:33
  • Wait a second, Olivia is not fromOlaf and instead it means olive? You have got to be kidding me. As far as I can tell, there is simply hypochrostic folk etymology at play, probably contaminated with 'love'. See Johann Lafer, wherever that name is from. Cp. Laffrenzen vel sim. from the Saint Laurentius, see also Franz, Frank.
    – vectory
    Feb 8 at 20:20


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