Astonishing Names From History: Nordic-Germanic
Better to feed a single cat than an army of mice. - Norwegian Proverb
The ancient people of Northern Europe (often referred to as the Teutons) left very few written documents. Consequently, little is known of the origins of Scandinavian mythology. We do know that the German speaking tribes which flourished in central Europe began to spread northward around the time of Rome's fall. Some tribes settled in those areas now called Sweden, Norway, Denmark, making it as far as Russia and even the southeast of England. In time the Vikings of Norway spread Teutonic culture to distant Iceland. These fierce Norsemen influenced their part of the world through what amounted to a reign of terror, raiding and pillaging village after village with indefatigable might. Rather than write out their legends and sagas, the Vikings maintained an oral tradition entrusting storytelling poets known as skalds with the preservation of their myths. It wasn't until Christianity had been firmly instituted in the Scandinavia (11th century) that these tales were set down in writing. Most all we know of these unique myths comes from medieval scholars dedicated to preserving their Teutonic heritage in massive epics. Many of these epics feature an entity known as "The World Serpent". In keeping with the subject matter of this book it is interesting to note that the World Serpent often took on the appearance of a gray cat. Clearly cats were of major importance to the Nordic cultures. This fact is also apparent in tales of the love goddess Freya who took the cat as her symbol and was depicted as traveling in a chariot drawn by two enormous black cats. Here then is a list of Nordic-Germanic gods for your consideration. If you don't find a name here that you like for your cat but you still want a connection to Northern European culture, you can always fall back on the ever reliable appellation, "Sven".
ALFHEIM (AHLF-high'm; Male/Female): Alfheim was not a deity but a place located far beyond the realm of the gods (a world called Asgard as any Jack Kirby fan will tell you). Besides having a nice ring to it, Alfheim was believed to be the kingdom of the "fair-haired elves"-beings associated with the sun. Our flimsy cat connection comes from the method in which these solar gremlins were honored. All over Northern Europe, people would pour libations of fresh milk upon sacred stones and mounds that were said to be the haunts of these towheaded imps.
ANDVARI (ahnd-VAHR-ee; Male): Andvari was a dwarf from whom Loki (god of mischief) stole a golden ring that was to later ruin a great hero by the name of Sigurd (a.k.a. Siegfried according to traditions in medieval Germany). Got an unusually small cat? Then name him after the dwarf, Andvari.
BALDUR (BAHL-der; Male): The Vikings believed in a universal principle of fate which they called "Wyrd" (you're on your own with that one). All things were said to be subject to this principle, gods included. One god that seemed to be above the hand of fate was Baldur-son of Odin and Frigg, King and Queen of the gods. Baldur was known as "the handsome" and was as discerning as he was good-looking. His apparent invincibility was due to his mother's insistence that each and every "thing" in the universe should take an oath to never harm him. All "things" did just that...all except the plant, mistletoe (everyone thought mistletoe was too immature to be a threat). Baldur was a very popular god, so much so that he married the earth goddess, Nanna. Life was pleasant for this mighty god; he had it all-important family, good looks, intelligence, strength, a lovely wife-what more could he ask for? Enter Loki, god of mischief. Loki didn't like the idea of anyone or anything being exempt from the whims of fate, so he went to Baldur's old rival for Nanna's affections, the blind god of winter, Hoder. Loki convinced Hoder that it would be great sport to hurl a twig of mistletoe at Baldur. How anyone could be so easily entertained is a mystery, but Hoder went along with the game. Allowing devious Loki to guide his hand, the blind god threw the mistletoe at Baldur. The javelin-like twig scored a direct hit, impaling Baldur and, since mistletoe hadn't sworn to refrain from hurting Baldur, the wound killed him instantly. This horrible catastrophe, complements of Loki, taught the gods a harsh lesson: No one escapes the currents of fate. Nevertheless, Baldur was insuperable for a while anyway, making his name suitable for a gorgeous cat, wise in his ways, who seems to be unconquerable in all his feline battles.
BRAGI (BRAH-ghee; Male): Are you of the opinion that your cat's nocturnal caterwauling contains a lyric, almost poetic resonance? If you think you're living with the Lord Byron of the feline kingdom, the name Bragi (god of poetry) makes an excellent choice. Just promise you'll keep him away from coffeehouses...
DONAR (DAHN-er; Male): Precursor to the hammer wielding Thor, Donar was the original god of thunder. A clear-cut name for a tempestuous cat.
ELLI (EH-lee; Female): Here's a name that might fit a brave female cat, perhaps a bit advanced in years but strong all the same. According to the story, Elli challenged Thor to a wrestling match. Thor was quite amused that a woman should have the audacity to challenge his might, so he agreed to the contest, planning to teach her a lesson that she wouldn't soon forget. But it was Elli who did the teaching that day. After several grueling attempts at knocking her off her feet, Thor was forced to admit defeat. Not only was he unable to move her, but Elli actually brought the god down upon one of his knees. Thor was stunned out of his wits. Naturally he wished to know the secret of his opponent's name. And Elli told him. She was the personification of old age.
FREYJA (FRAY-yah; Female): Cats are horny little critters as any cat owner knows only too well. Unless your cat has been fixed you're going to have to put up with some pretty annoying behavior. Since cats are such hyper-sexual creatures it makes perfect sense to name them after the deities of the Vanir family; fine old Norse clan of fertility gods. Freyja was the daughter of Njord, god of the sea. Like her counterparts, Aphrodite, Isis, Venus, and Ishtar, she concerned herself with sex and all that goes with it. She was quite fond of cats, by the way. In fact, she was said to travel about in a magnificent chariot drawn by her two regal cats named Bygul and Trjegul. Even many of her personal traits seem cat-like. For instance, she always wore a brilliant jewel studded collar symbolizing her authority over the fiery aspect of sexuality. Freyja was also skilled in a form of magic called "seithr" (meaning "sayer" or "seer") which consisted of putting oneself into a deep meditative trance so that the secrets of the future might be revealed. But not everything under her jurisdiction was of a feline quality. For some reason she is also the goddess presiding over a horse cult that practiced a magic said to transform women into horses so they could indulge in wanton sexual escapades. Goddess of love, cats, the moon, magic, and of course sex, Frejya makes a fine name for any female cat.
FREYR (FRAY-er; Male): Freyja's twin brother. According to the stories they tell about him, Freyr (the #1 god of fertility), was one perverse fellow. On the surface he seemed okay, providing the life giving forces of sunlight and rainfall. He was also the bringer of peace and happiness. However, his cult engaged in wild rituals wherein the men would all dress in women's clothing for a night of crazed dancing. They would carry on with this revelry for the entire evening. The climax of the ceremony was none other than a good old fashioned human sacrifice performed by the frenzied men in drag. Like his sister, Freyr was also associated with horses. It was customary to dedicate horses to his various shrines where they were housed just in case the god should ever be in the area, in need of a ride. And pity the fool who would take one of these horses for his own use. One legend known as "Hrafnkell's Saga" tells of the death and misfortune that comes to men who choose to steal a horse dedicated to Freyr.
FRIGG (FRIGG; Female): You may recall that Frigg, wife of Odin (the King of the Aesir gods), was the mother of the unfortunate Baldur. Since she was Queen of the Aesir gods (the Aesir were the family of gods established by Odin and engaged in a bitter feud with the Vanir gods), she was naturally quite powerful. Indeed, she was a cunning shape-shifter and possessed magical powers that enabled her to see all things past, present, and future. Frigg, like Freyja, was also a fertility goddess, a fact made evident by her adulterous promiscuity that involved taking her husband's brothers, Vili and Ve, as lovers. No act of trickery was considered too extreme if it meant getting her own way. Unfortunately she wasn't as tricky as Loki. When Frigg demanded oaths from all living things to not bring harm upon her son, Baldur, she ignored mistletoe since she believed it was too young and insignificant to matter. Loki discovered this oversight by disguising himself as a woman and initiating a spirited conversation in which Frigg foolishly spilled the beans. Loki wasted no time in using this information to orchestrate Baldur's demise. The lesson here is that no one is easier to trick than a trickster.
HEIMDALL (HIGH'M-dahl; Male): Got a white cat? Got a white cat with an outstanding sense of hearing? Then Heimdall is the name for him. For starters he was known as "the white god." Since Heimdall was the guardian on watch at the "Bifrost Bridge" (the bridge that led to Asgard-land of the gods), his hearing was so keen that he could hear the grass and flowers growing up from the soil and the wool growing upon the sheep of the field. It is Heimdall who shall blow the horn "Gjallarhorn" signaling the beginning of "Ragnarok" - beginning of the end really since "Ragnarok" is the term given to the apocalypse of the Norse gods, the cataclysmic end of their reign; something the great composer of German opera, Richard Wagner called: "The Twilight of the Gods."
HODER (HOE-der; Male): Hoder was once a great archer, that is, before he became blind. From that point on he became rather passive even though he was still the god of winter. It was Hoder who became the unwiting dupe in Loki's scheme to kill Baldur; a deplorable shame since Hoder was Baldur's brother-both of them son's of Odin and Frigg.
LOGI (LOW-ghee; Male): Some cats are voracious eaters, scarfing down their food before they have time to taste it. Sound familiar? If so you might want to consider naming him after Logi, the god of fire. Why? One tale describes an eating contest between Logi and the trickster god, Loki. For the most part Loki held his own, devouring his grub swiftly enough, but he was no match for Logi. In mere seconds Logi consumed his food, the leftover bones, the plates, and at last the table itself. Of course all this made sense considering that Logi was fire! Needless to say, Loki wasn't too pleased since he was usually the trickster, not the trickee.
LOKI (LOW-kee; Male): By now you should have gathered that Loki the trickster god was vitally important among the Norse gods. He was the most colorful and interesting of them all. He seems to pop up in nearly every story. Frankly, his presence is what makes most of the Norse myths intriguing. But that is the job of the trickster-stirring up unforeseen obstacles and stumbling blocks just so no one takes too much for granted. Among Loki's many exploits were: assisting Odin in the creation of the world of human beings, as well the world of the gods called Asgard; shaving off the beautiful golden hair of the goddess Sif for no good reason; and hiding the sacred apples that provided the gods with immortality. Eventually the gods grew tired of his nonsense so they captured him and chained him to a rock above which a giant snake dripped poisonous venom into his eyes. A bit harsh perhaps, but you can't say he didn't ask for it. An easy name to pronounce and remember for your mischievous feline friend.
MIMIR (MY-mer; Male): In Norse mythology there is a fantastic tree called "Yggdrasil"-The World Tree. This cosmic tree binds together the nine worlds of the gods in a continuity that grows from the past, exists in the present, and continues to grow ever higher toward the future. It is the nourishing source for all life, both in spiritual matters as well as physical concerns. One of "Yggdrasil's" three prominent roots taps into the flowing spring of Mimir, the god of wisdom and guardian of the waters which were the very source of that wisdom. All who knew of this wonderful spring became obsessed with desire to drink from it. Even Odin himself sacrificed one of his eyes for the privilege of sipping from the waters of wisdom. Through a complicated series of events, Mimir somehow managed to enrage the Vanir gods who cut off his head, sending it back to their rivals the Aesir gods (Odin and the rest.) Odin realized the importance of Mimir, god of wisdom, so he cast a spell over the decapitated head which brought it to life. This enabled the head to speak in ghostly tones riddles containing cryptic words of hidden revelations. Obviously a name for a wise old cat.
NANNA (NAH-nah; Female): Nanna the Earth goddess was said to have been imported from the Middle East. Actually she was the cause of a nasty rivalry between the brothers Baldur and Hoder who both were smitten by her charms. In the end she decided to marry Badur. Turns out she was something of a docile goddess, faithful and committed to her husband-so much so that she joined him upon his funeral pyre. Not exactly the strong kind of character you'd expect from an earth goddess. But her selfless act of devotion to her husband illustrates a different kind of character strength. This name might well suit a sweet, quiet, and loving cat, devoted to the very end.
NJORD (nee-YORD; Male): Njord belonged to the Vanir family of gods who were perpetually feuding with that other family of gods, the Aesir. Njord was the god of the sea and of shipping also. This meant that he controlled the winds that determined whether a ship's voyage would be successful or not. As such he came to be thought of as the benefactor of wealth. He was also the father to Freyja and Freyr. Since part of the wealth he would often bestow upon mortals came in the form of abundant hauls of fish (what else from a sea god?) why not give this name to a seafood loving cat?
ODIN (OH-dihn; Male): King of the gods and number one honcho of the Aesir family, Odin was all wise, all seeing, and almighty. He was the very personification of authority, skilled in battle, and swift in administering justice. Along with his wife Frigg, Odin ruled from his magnificent hall of "Valhalla" located within the realm of Asgard, home to the deities. Valhalla was also the afterlife destination of brave and valiant mortal heroes who had fallen in battle. These dead heroes were whisked away from the bloody battlefield by Odin's elite force of armor clad female warriors called the Valkyries. Charging through the sky upon flying horses, these fierce women were not to be messed with. By and large Odin was an effective King. Of course he was not without his faults. By all accounts Odin was a selfish, aristocratic snob, famous for reneging on treaties, and prone to unpredictable bouts of extreme wrath. If your cat is something of a snob, self-centered and subject to mood swings, you might well consider naming him Odin. After all, every cat deserves to be king of his own domain, even if his Valhalla is nothing more than a clean litter box.
SIF (SIHF; Female): If your cat has beautiful fur, this name might be appropriate. Sif was the wife of the god Thor, and she was most well known for her lovely gold hair. That is until Loki decided it would be funny to shave her bald. Instead of getting the big laughs he thought he would, all Loki's prank managed to do was infuriate Thor who nearly cracked open the trickster god's head with the mighty hammer "Mjollnir". Loki promised to replace the hair, which he did. By employing the skilled craftsmanship of a couple hard working elves an amazing wig with hair of real gold was created. What was even more astounding was the fact that this hair of pure gold would actually grow. That was just fine as far as everyone was concerned, so once again Loki weaseled out of some rather sticky consequences resulting from his actions.
THOR (THOR; Male): Originally called Donar, Thor was the powerful hammer wielding god of thunder. He was one of the most popular gods of the entire Norse pantheon, worshipped and honored even as Christianity began to spread. Thor was a giant of a god. His unkempt red hair and unruly beard only added to his ferocious countenance, but Thor was one of the good guys. He took it upon himself to act as a guardian and helper to the ordinary people. He was a true friend and honest companion, but when crossed he was capable of enacting terrible vengeance. It's well reported that Thor loved to eat. After all, a big and mighty god like that is bound to have a ravenous appetite. Should your cat possess an equally gluttonous personality, as well as a tough-guy demeanor, give him the name of this famous god. Just make sure he stays away from hammers.
TIWAZ (TEE-wahz; Male): If your cat is a "Courageous Cat", consider the name Tiwaz. This god of battle and warfare was one of those deities that demanded human sacrifice. Originally Tiwaz was worshipped as the almighty sky god, but in time he was replaced by the even mightier Odin. As the war god, Tiwaz gained the reputation of being the bravest of all the gods. Even after losing one of his hands while binding the wolf "Fenrir" (who shall remain bound in chains until the "Ragnarok" whereupon he shall break free and kill Odin) still, no other god could match the courage of Tiwaz. Today the English version of the name Tiwaz ("Tiu") is preserved in the word "Tuesday".
WELAND (VAY-lahnd; Male): Like the Greek god Hephaestus, Weland was the god of blacksmiths and metal working. He was supremely accomplished in many different crafts, a wizard of creativity, if you will. Oh yeah, he was also the Prince of the Fairies. Should you decided to name your cat Weland, make sure you don't embarrass him with the fairy stuff.
WOTON (VOH-tahn; Male): Actually this is just a more Germanic name for Odin. In fact, this was the form of the name used by the composer Wagner in his 4 opera epic known as "The Ring Cycle".