Fun Etymology Tuesday – Sweden

Tjena! Hej! Hallå! It’s fun etymology time!
Since we’re on the subject of names for nations and people, we thought it was appropriate to include the motherland of 50% of the HLC: Sweden.

The road to this name takes some interesting turns. Essentially, the name was borrowed from Middle Dutch and Low German (‘Zweden/Sweden’), where it probably was a dative plural of ‘Swede’. It was, however, not borrowed into English; the form first appears in Scots in the 1500s, as ‘Swethin’/’Suethin’/’Swadne’ etc. (consistent spelling was not a thing back then, as our regular readers will know).

In Old English, the name for Sweden was ‘Sweoland’ or ‘Sweorice’ (‘rice’ basically meant ‘country’ so this makes sense (cf. German ‘reich’)). This was adapted from the Old Norse ‘Sviariki’ (app. “land of the Swedes”), which developed into the Modern Swedish form ‘Sverige’, pronounced /’sværjɛ/, through various phonological changes (the more archaic ‘Svea Rike’ also survives in Modern Swedish, used in certain contexts).
The ‘Sweo’-part comes from Old Norse ‘Sweon’ (pl.; Modern Swedish ‘Svear’) which is the name for one of the North-Germanic tribes who lived in Sweden at least from the viking ages, but probably earlier, and onwards.

In English, the Scots form ‘Sweden’ then started to be used as the name for the people, not the country, in the early 17th century:
“Another part [of their country is] the Swedens.”
(attested 1613, example from the OED)

Phew, did you follow that? Basically, the name ‘Sweden’ came to English through Scots, where it had been borrowed from Dutch and German – it is unclear when this form started to be used for the country in English, but forms of ‘Swed(e)land’ are used up until the 18th century (while ‘Sweden’-forms are used as a name for the country in Scots from the start).

With that, this Swede signs off!

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