Name Days are a calendar of names. These calendars generally have two names associated to each day of the year. Name Day calendars first appeared in Medieval times, created by the Catholic Church to replace the pagan celebration of birthdays. Back then the days of the year were named after Catholic Saints and Martyrs known as ‘Saint feast days’. Today, Name Days are still recognised in many countries throughout the world that have had a strong Catholic influence in its history.
Above is a copy of a Swedish almanac (1712). On the top left you can see the word “Februarius” – February, and the calendar lists 30 days. In the next column is the name given to the day. On the 14th of Feburary you can see ‘Valentin’. However, on day 30 the word ‘added’ is written next to. The next column has depictions of animals from the Greek Zodiac Horoscope – each name has a different animal symbol. The fourth column has characters symbolising the different phases of the moon. The fifth column has either special Name Days or the weather forecast for that day – you can see on day 30 is has the word ‘Snöö’ which means snow. Forget the five day forecast, it was common for calendars to have the weather predicted for the entire year back in those days.
In Scandinavia Name Days were introduced by the Catholic Church during the conversion of the pagans in the north. However, at this time in Norway Name Days were not as significant as in Denmark, Sweden and Finland. Because of the Reformation in 1536, (when the Protestant faith became the new State Church), Saint Name Days were only kept in folk tradition. During the Danish rule, Norway adopted the Danish (Name Day) Almanac which was produced in the mid 1600s. When Norway was passed to Swedish rule in 1814 it had its own Name Day Almanac – just a copy of the Danish.
After Norway regained its independence most of the names were taken out of the Almanac as both the traditions and names were a thing of the past. Only a few important days were recognised – Saint Olav’s Day, Saint Lars Day and Saint Bartholomeus-fair’s Day in particular.
During the 1900s, the Danish Almanac also lost recognition amongst the Danes. However, in Sweden, the Name Day tradition became very popular. In the 1980s, because of media attention, and an all-seeing eye across the border into Sweden, the Name Day Almanac was growing in popularity in Norway again. By 1988 an Almanac publisher had formed and with ‘unofficial’ help from the University of Olso a new Norwegian Almanac was produced.
In the new Norwegian Almanac two names were chosen for each day of the year. Around 125 names were used from the old Norwegian Almanac (from the Danish), about 100 names were chosen from the Swedish Almanac, and certain names were chosen from historical and important people to Norway such as King Haakon and Queen Maud (from 1906). The rest of the names were chosen from the most popular Norwegian names used between 1900-1988.
In 1998, the Norwegian Almanac was updated with the addition of 49 new names that were most popular between 1988-1995.
Even though I don’t understand (yet) what all the fuss is about Name Days, I still find the whole concept fascinating. Norwegians find any excuse to celebrate and I’m sure this is just a ploy to have another excuse…lol. However, the main attraction of Name Days is the simple fact that they are fun. It’s fun to know what day has been ‘chosen’ as yours – and why not use the excuse to celebrate! For a Norwegian, I think modern Name Days are to preserve folk tradition and heritage.
Nearly everyone likes to know their heritage, specially of their name. (Parents take months choosing their child’s name – meaning is so important.) So, with this in mind, instead of just posting up the modern Norwegian Almanac (which you can find on wiki), we are going a couple of steps further for you. Through careful study of Old Norse and Norse Mythology we have been putting together a special table of Name Days that will tell you origins, meanings and sagas. This is a lot of work so we will be posting one table every month. (Sorry to those of you who have to wait until the month of your birth but the suspense will be worth it!) The first addition will be posted in the next day or so for the month of July.
Happy Name Day to all those who find their name in this month!