Menota Handbook 3.0
Guidelines for the electronic encoding of
Medieval Nordic primary sources

Ch. 12. Names

Version 3.1 (12 October 2022) – cf. version 3.0 (12 December 2019)

by Karl G. Johansson and Marco Bianchi

12.1 Introduction

Medieval manuscripts contain an abundance of names: personal names for historical, fictional and mythological beings, place names relating to historical as well as to mythological locations, animal names for domestic, wild and mythological creatures, and artefact names for weapons, ships, buildings, etc. In the following, the encoding of names is presented according to the recommendations in the TEI P5 Guidelines, ch. 13.

The basic element for encoding names of any type is <name>, supplied with the @type and @ref attributes.

Elements & attributes Obl/Opt Explanation
<name> Contains a name, i.e. a proper noun or a noun phrase.
@type Optional Indicates what type of name it is.
@ref Optional Identifier(s), i.e. xml:id(s) and/or external URI(s).

Note that the <name> element may contain a <w> element, which will be the case in most Menota texts. This <w> element will in a number of Menota texts contain a morphological annotation of the word, by way of the @lemma and @me:msa attributes. See ch. 11 above for details. For example, the name Egils (genitive of Egill) might be encoded like this:

  <w lemma="Egill" me:msa="xNP">

In this simplified example, the text is rendered on a single, diplomatic level, indicated by the <me:dipl> element, and the annotation only states the lemma and the word class.

In the rest of the present chapter, we will only give examples of the encoding of the <name> element, disregarding the inclusion of the <w> element.

<name>Egill Skalla-Grímsson</name>

A distinction may be drawn between e.g. personal names, place names, animal names and artefact names by using the @type attribute:

<name type="person">Egill Skalla-Grímsson</name>
<name type="place">Borg</name>
<name type="animal">Sleipnir</name>
<name type="artefact">Skiðblaðnir</name>

For many encoders, the <name> element is all that is needed for a simple identification of names in the text. The @type attribute may be added simultaneously or at a later stage.

For a more detailed encoding of personal names and place names, we recommend using the elements <persName> and <placeName> respectively. They should be treated as strictly equivalent with the <name> element and the @type attribute with the values ‘person’ and ‘place’.

Thus, ...

<name type="person">Egill Skalla-Grímsson</name>

... is equivalent to ...

<persName>Egill Skalla-Grímsson</persName>

... and ...

<name type="place">Borg</name>

... is equivalent to...


The element <persName> can contain several other elements and can thus be used for a more detailed name analysis, e.g. for making a distinction between forenames, patronymica and surnames. This level of detail is recommended in the header (cf. ch. 14), and will also be necessary for any encoding of a text which should make the basis for a name index. In a similar way, the element <placeName> can contain elements for various types of geographical locations. For both elements, TEI P5 Guidelines offers an additional tagset, which will be discussed and exemplified below.

Usually, XML elements for different types of names are used instead of <w> elements. Under certain circumstances, however, it is convenient to use both in combination. This is especially the case in linguistically annotated transcriptions (cf. ch. 11); for an example of a transcription of this type, see ch. 15.4.5).

12.2 Personal names

Personal names may be divided into several categories, depending on the source and the naming conventions of the time.

Elements & attributes Obl/Opt Explanation
<persName> The name of a person, consisting of one or more words.
@type Optional Indicates the type of name. Suggested values: ‘historical’, ‘mythological’.
@ref Optional Identifier(s), i.e. xml:id(s) and/or external URI(s).
<forename> The first name of a person.
<addName> An additional name of a person.
@type Optional Indicates the type of name. Suggested values: ‘epithet’, ‘metronym’, ‘mythological’, ‘nickname’, ‘patronym’.
<surname> The family name of a person, excluding patronyms and metronyms.
<roleName> The name for a role held by a person.
@type Optional Indicates the role of the person, e.g. in the form of a title. Suggested value: ‘political’.

12.2.1 Forenames and patronymica

Forenames are encoded with the element <forename> contained in the <persName> element:


We recommend that patronymica, i.e. a father’s name such as Haraldsson or Haraldsdóttir, should be encoded with the element <addName> and the @type attribute set to ‘patronym’:

  <addName type="patronym">Skalla-Grímsson</addName>

Note that the patronym Skalla-Grímsson is often spelt without a hyphen, Skallagrímsson.

It could probably be questioned whether Egill Skalla-Grímsson should be considered a historical or a fictional person when he appears in Egils saga Skalla-Grímssonar. The @type attribute might be used to specify this:

<persName type="historical">
  <addName type="patronym">Skalla-Grímsson</addName>

Mythological and legendary names could be seen as forming a group, once again using the @type attribute to establish the category. This example is found in the Poetic Edda:

<persName type="mythological">
  <addName type="metronym">Laufeyjarson</addName>

As Loki has the second name from his mother Laufey, the value of the attribute is ‘metronym’ (meaning that it is derived from the name of the person’s mother).

12.2.2 Surnames

In the Scandinavian and Old Icelandic material, surnames were introduced in the 14th and 15th centuries, in most cases for people belonging to the elite. These names could be encoded with the <surname> element:

  <addName type="patronym">Jönsson</addName>

12.2.3 Nicknames, Epithets and Titles

Medieval texts contain an abundancy of nicknames, epithets and titles. With the additional tagset these could be treated in the same manner as forenames and surnames, with the elements <addName> and <roleName>. In Egils saga Skalla-Grímssonar, a man named Þorgils gjallandi ‘the screaming’ appears. His nickname might be encoded as a type of <addName>:

  <addName type="nickname">gjallandi</addName>

Epithets indicating the providence of a person should also be encoded with the <addName> element, specified by the @type attribute. Thus, Eyvindr austmaðr Bjarnarson in Njáls saga has “austmaðr” as an epithet and “Bjarnarson” as his patronym:

  <addName type="epithet">austmaðr</addName>
  <addName type="patronym">Bjarnarson</addName>

Titles such as “konungr”, “jarl” and “hersir” could be encoded by using the <roleName> element in addition to the <addName> element:

  <roleName type="political">konungr</roleName>
  <addName type="patronym">Tryggvason</addName>

The @type attribute indicates that the title is considered to refer to the political system of the Old Norwegian society.

12.2.4 Sorting names

If an index is generated from the XML transcription, it might be useful to add information on how to alphabetise names consisting of several elements. This is achieved with the @sort-attribute and numeric values.

  <forename sort="2">Bengt</forename>
  <addName sort="3" type="patronym">Jönsson</addName>
  <surname sort="1">Oxenstierna</surname>

12.2.5 Identifying historical individuals

The @xml:id attribute could be used to link the occurrence of a name to the individual it denotes, either internally or externally. Internal referencing

Biographical data can be stored in the header of the XML file. The unique @xml:id defined for each biographical entry could then be used to link occurrences of a name to it.

    <listPerson type="historical">
      <person xml:id="Njall">
          <addName type=”patronym”>Þorgeirsson</addName>
      <person xml:id="...">
        . . .

The corresponding markup in the body of the XML file would then be:

<persName xml:id="#Njall">

See the TEI P5 Guidelines, ch. 13.3, for an extensive description of biographical data. External referencing

References to external biographical resources can be put either into the header or directly into the transcription. The following two solutions both link the Njáll’s name to his Wikidata entry:

<!-- HEADER -->
  <person xml:id="Njall">
<!-- BODY -->
  <persName xml:id="#Njall">

Or, without internal reference to the header:

<persName xml:id="">

See ch. 15.4.5 for suggested external resources and more examples, and also ch. 14.3.6.

12.3 Place names

The encoding of place names should be rather straight-forward, but there are a few things that need to be mentioned and exemplified. The starting point is the above-mentioned encoding of all place names with the element <name> and an attribute @type with the value ‘place’:

<name type="place">Borg</name>

A more detailed encoding is achieved by the additional tagset. We recommend that this tagset is used in cases when place names are to be more thoroughly encoded:

Elements Explanation
<placeName> A name of a specific location.
<settlement> The name of the smallest component of a place name expressed as a hierarchy of geo-political or administrative units.
<region> Larger or administratively superior to the settlement and smaller or administratively less important than the country.
<country> Larger or administratively superior to the region.

All of the above mentioned elements can be linked to the place they denote by means of a @ref-attribute with identifiers, i.e. xml:ids or external URIs.

The additional element <settlement> adds information about administrative units, i.e. farms, villages or cities. In this example, we have chosen Skara, one of the oldest cities of modern-day Sweden:


A region is a larger administrative unit than the district or settlement, as e.g. the province of Västergötland, in the medieval material referred to as “Vestra Gautland”:

  <region>Vestra Gautland</region>

The region of Västergötland forms a part of the country referred to as Svíþjóð in medieval texts:


12.3.1 Identifying places

Similar to personal names, attestations of place names can be linked to authority records describing the place itself with a @ref attribute. See ch. 15.4.6 below and the TEI P5 Guidelines, ch. 13.3.4.

12.4 Other names

There are other groups of names that might be singled out in the encoding. In the following, we present suggestions as to how animal names and names of artefacts could be treated. The @type attribute is used liberally to enhance searchability.

12.4.1 Animal names

Medieval texts contain names for horses, dogs and other domestic animals. These could be encoded with the <name> element and the @type attribute. On a basic level we would suggest that all animal names are marked with the attribute value ‘animal’:

<name type="animal">Freyfaxi</name>

It should also be possible to give more specific information in the @type attribute. The name “Freyfaxi” might be specified as the name of a horse:

<name type="horse">Freyfaxi</name>

There are also names of animals in relation to myths and legends. For example, Sigurðr Fáfnisbani had a horse named Grani. If we wish to encode a mythological or legendary name this could be done by specifying the value ‘horse’ of the @type attribute, and ‘legendary’ in a @subtype attribute:

<name type="horse" subtype="legendary">Grani</name>

There is no element <animalName> on par with <persName> and <placeName>. For all but the most detailed encodings, we suggest that the type value ‘animal’ is sufficient.

12.4.2 Artefact names

There are a number of names for artefacts in the medieval material, e.g. for weapons and ships. These names could be encoded in the same fashion as the ones described above. The ship belonging to the god Freyr in Snorra Edda could then be encoded as follows:

<name type="artefact">Skiðblaðnir</name>

This artefact could be specified as a ship:

<name type="ship">Skiðblaðnir</name>

And it could further be encoded as a mythological name:

<name type="ship" subtype="mythological">Skiðblaðnir</name>

In most cases, we believe that the attribute value ‘artefact’ is sufficient. However, if a text contains many object names it might be convenient to use the element <objectName> for a more clear-cut distinction between names of artefacts and other types of names.

Similar to personal names and place names, objects’ names can be linked to the objects they denote by means of a @ref attribute with identifiers pointing to an internal registry or an external resource, i.e. xml:ids or external URIs.

Updates to ch. 12

On 12 October 2022, an example of the relationship between the <name> and <w> elements was given in ch. 12.1, using the encoding of the name Egils (genitive of Egill) to illustrate the structure of the encoding.