Sometimes, a word or phrase will strike me as odd, and I start wondering about its possible origin. Especially when the explanation seems to be somewhat obscure or maybe non-existent.
For example the word Glaswegian as the word for a person or dialect from Glasgow. Why does it end in ‑wegian? The only other word with this ending that springs to mind is Norwegian, and it seems odd that a place name ending in ‑gow would abandon its final syllable and, in its place, take the same ending as a place name ending in ‑way.
So, how many words end in ‑wegian? Where does this ending come from? And why does it lend itself to other seemingly unrelated place names so easily?
I will try to answer these questions, but it became too long for one blog post, so I have split it into two. Let’s begin at the origin.
The Scandinavian sort
First of all, we might ask: Why is a person from Norway called a Norwegian? The g seems to appear out of nowhere.
The explanation can be found in the origin of the name. It was originally composed of two elements in Old Norse: Norðr meaning “north” and vegr meaning “way”1. In Old English the name of the Nordic country was borrowed (or directly translated to) Norþweg or Norðweg2, and this spelling with a g gave rise to the modern latinization of the name to Norvegia. This makes the Latin adjective Norvegius or Norvegicus, which then leads to the English Norwegian3.
As an aside, I’d like to mention that the Norwegians don’t call themselves Norwegians, but rather nordmenn (“north men”), and they speak norsk. This is in line with the other Scandinavian countries, which have relatively simple demonyms, because the countries are named after their respective peoples: Denmark is inhabited by Danes speaking Danish, and Sweden houses Swedish Swedes.
Scandinavia as a whole
Now back to the issue of the ending’s use in other words. For some reason, Norwegian has fostered a couple of portmanteau slang words for Scandinavians. For example, Scandiwegian5 is just a silly way of saying Scandinavian, which combines the first part of Scandi-navian with the second part of Nor-wegian.
These are all the ‑wegian words that refer to Scandinavians. But as we know, the ending is also applied to places outside of Scandinavia. So let’s go to Great Britain and Ireland.
The British and Hibernian sort
The British Isles have made the ending ‑wegian their own by attaching it to names of local places. Mostly these place names have an ending that looks similar to Norway’s, and the ending has been added in analogy to the word Norwegian.
It probably also helps that many of these places are in Scotland and Ireland, which have a history of Viking settlement. Not that the Scandinavians brought their demonym with them (as noted, they didn’t use it themselves), but rather that the English-speaking neighbours may have associated the places with Scandinavians and could have been enclined to use an ending they deemed suitably “Scandiwegian”.
Place names ending in ‑way
The obvious analogy to Norway are place names that end in ‑way. For example Galloway, Galway and Stornoway.
In fact, the name doesn’t seem to have ever ended in a g. Its Scottish Gaelic name is Gall-Ghaidhealaibh11. Similarly, it is called Gall-gaidhil in Irish, and Gallwyddel in Welsh9. This use of the ‑wegian ending is thus a repurposing that doesn’t make etymological sense, but sounds right to modern ears12.
So, what are people from Galway in Ireland called? It seems Galloway has taken all the variants for themselves.
People from Galway are also called Galwegians13 (or, alternatively, Galwaymen and Galwaywomen). This cannot be explained by the Irish name, which is Gaillimh14. The English name is derived from the Irish and was initially anglicized as Galliv, Gallive, or Galliva in an effort to match the Irish pronunciation. But as time went on, the i and the v changed places (a process known as metathesis), giving the name Galvia15. This is identical to its modern Latin name, so you could expect to see the word Galvians in reference to the inhabitants of Galway, but I haven’t been able to find that anywhere. It seems then, that the ‑way of Galway is actually a mistranslation of ‑via interpreted as the Latin word for “road”. From this point, it is not a far stretch to apply the ending ‑wegian in analogy to Norwegian, because Norway ends with the same element.
Update (24 October 2019):
The rugby team in Galway is also called Galwegians, and their name can be shortened to ’Wegians16. This gives new life to the ending as a stand-alone word.
Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland may be the most sensible place name to use a demonym ending in ‑wegian (apart from Norway, of course). The word Stornowegian, however, is not common enough to appear in any of the dictionaries, I could get my hands on.
Of course, the ending ‑vágr, meaning “voe” or “inlet”, is not the same as ‑vegr, meaning “way”. So, once again, the ending is added in analogy.
Stornoway doesn’t appear to have a Latin name, so we can’t compare it to that. But Stornowegian could lead to a back-formation to a neo-Latin name of Stornovegia.
To be continued...
Next time, I will take a look at some more place names, including some that end in ‑wick and ‑gow. I will also comment on the use of the ‑wegian ending in Australia.
Oxford English Dictionary, at Norway n.:
The name is attested in English from the early 11th cent.: in Old English as Norðweg.
Oxford English Dictionary, at Norwegian n. and adj.:
Etymology: < post-classical Latin Norwegius (adjective) Norwegian (1252 in a British source; < Norwegia Norway (see Norway n.)) + -an suffix.
Wiktionary.org, at Scandiwegian adj.:
1. (derogatory) Belonging or relating to a style of interior furnishings that is middlebrow, bland, and modern.
2. (informal, humorous) Vaguely Scandinavian or Nordic.
Oxford English Dictionary, at scow n.2:
1.a. A large flat-bottomed lighter or punt.
Oxford English Dictionary at Galwegian adj. and n.:
Forms: Also Gallowegian.[…] Etymology: < Galloway, on the analogy of Norroway, Norway, Norwegian. See Gallovidian adj. and n.
Oxford English Dictionary at Gallovidian adj. and n.:
Etymology: < medieval Latin Gallovidia + ‑an suffix. Gallovidia (also Galloweithia, Galweia, etc.) is a Latin form of Welsh Gallwyddel = Irish Gall-gaidhil, lit. ‘foreign Gaels’, now Galloway, a district in the SW. of Scotland (the shires of Wigton and Kirkcudbright).
Thebottleimp.org.uk in Gaelic Place-Names: ‘Gall’:
Indeed the modern Gaelic name for Galloway is Gall-Ghaidhealaibh ‘among the foreign Gaels’.
Edit, 9th May, 2020:
I have received a comment from Nìall Beag, which has made me rethink this etymology. You can read his detailed comment from 26th January, 2020 in the comment section of the second part of this post.
In short, it is very likely that natural sound changes caused ‑vidian to become ‑wegian. The difference between v and w hasn’t always been as clear in English as it is today, and Latin v was originally pronounced w, so those letters and their sounds are often used interchangeably. We already saw this with Norvegia → Norwegian.
Next, the vowel i in modern English is usually read as the short vowel of bit [bɪt], but in this context it was probably pronounced more like the long vowel of machine [məˈʃiːn]. So it is not odd that it would be respelled with an e to denote this sound.
And then we only have the d left. It is not uncommon for a d to become the [d͡ʒ] sound of ‑wegian in certain contexts. For example, before a y, as can be heard when the phrase ‘Would you?’ becomes ‘Woodja?’. And in fact, there are multiple examples of final unstressed ‑dian becoming ‑jun [d͡ʒən] in informal English. The word Cajun [ˈkeɪd͡ʒən] comes from Acadian (Wiktionary), injun from Indian (Wiktionary), and theres even the word Canajun as a form of Canadian (Lexico). ↩
Wiktionary.org at Galwegian n.:
2. Someone from Galway. Synonyms: Galwayman (male), Galwaywoman (female).
In process of time the word Gal-iva, was altered into Gal-via, the literal translation of which, Gal-way, first occurs about the year 1440, and from that time, it has remained uniform and unchanged, by any variation to the present day.
Place Names: Highlands & Islands of Scotland (1922) by Alexander MacBain, p. 116:
Stornoway—which is spelt in thirteen different ways—has been referred by Captain Thomas to Stjörnu-vágr, Star’s-voe; where Stjarna, Star, is a proper name. […] This derivation of the Captain’s is unsatisfactory. The root of the word clearly is Stjörn, steering, the ö of which is stable, and does not change to a. Stornoway, we take it, means ‘Steerage-bay’.
Stjörn here is another spelling of stjórn. ↩