Common place name types
Many Danish place names belong to more or less wide-spread name types with common endings. Some name types are typical for the Iron Age; others are typical for the Viking Age, while others again were not formed until the Middle Ages or later.
Place names can be related to nature or culture, or they can be settlement names. This means that they can denote different things, e.g. woods, bodies of water, streets, cultivated land, houses, and towns. A big part of the settlement names that are known today are originally formed as nature names and later taken over by a settlement. But here, the main topic is original settlement names.
It is necessary to examine the oldest written forms to identify which words the place names are formed from originally. The words used to form the place name can, through language history, reveal the age of the name. Often, it is also possible to date Danish place names according to whether the same type of names appear in areas conquered by Danish Vikings in England, called the Danelaw, and in Normandy. When Danish place names are found in these areas, the name types in question must have been used in Denmark at the same time.
The oldest settlement names known in Denmark are the ones ending in -inge, -um, -løse, -lev and -sted. These name types have been used during various periods since the first century AD and until the beginning of the Viking Age.
In the Viking Age and in the Middle Ages, we see settlement names with endings like -by, -toft(e), -torp, -bøl(le), -rød and -tved. Some of these name types have only been in use for a few hundred years; others have been in use for much longer periods.
Among settlement names formed in recent times, it is especially names formed from imperatives and abstract nouns that leap out. But there are also a number of younger house and farm names that look like prehistoric settlement names even though they are only 100–200 years old.
This overview of the most important Danish settlement names, provides a tool to place names in time. For instance it is now possible to ascertain that Hvessinge must be hundreds of years older than Glostrup although Hvessinge actually is a part of Glostup today.
However, many place names have a form in present time that does not immediately reveal from which words the name was originally formed. Some of these corrupt names look like other name types, and some have passed through independent changes. By examining the oldest written sources, it is often possible to see from which endings those names were formed originally.
Examples of this are Grænge on Lolland, which is an inge-name, and Klinting in Vestern Jutland, which is an um-name. Further to that Maglemer on Lolland is a tved-name, Gislev on Funen is originally formed from one word, and Græsted in Northern Zealand originally ended in ‑holt. In other words, a place name is never sure to consist of the words immediately obvious from the present day spelling.