By Peter Alexander Kerkhof
Etymologies live long lives, whether they turn out to be false or not. In Old Germanic studies it is common practice to cite earlier etymological suggestions going back as far as the nineteenth century. In most cases where Old Germanic etymology is involved, this is not a big problem because a lot of the earlier scholarship has been replaced by better more up-to-date suggestions. Not so much in the field of Dutch toponymy where scholarship has largely lain dormant for at least 20 years and almost every publication since World War II has been notoriously conservative in etymologizing place-name elements.
This article is about the Old Dutch word harag which is known from its occurrence in Early Medieval place-names, such as Haragon (1083 CE), the oldest form for the locality of Hargen in the province of North Holland. The Old Dutch word harg is related to the Old English word hearh (also found in Modern English place-names as harrow), Old High German harug and Old Norse hǫrgr. In Early Medieval English and German the vernacular word translates Latin terminology relating to the pre-Christian religion, namely a holy grove, a cultic building and even the idols themselves. In the Old Scandinavian languages however, the cognate word hǫrgr is found in both the meaning ‘heathen temple’ and the meaning ‘rocky ground, mountain or cliff side’. In the 1960s, Scandinavists such as Rostvik preferred to derive the meaning ‘heathen temple’ from an earlier meaning ‘mountain or cliff side’, assuming that Old Norse preserved the older semantic range that West Germanic must have lost. The Germanic ancestral form *hargu- could then be linked to words for rocks in the Celtic languages such as Old Irish carrag and Old Welsh creic. This reasoning was quickly accepted in the wider field of Old Germanic studies, since post-war scholarship had grown weary of the fascination of older generations of scholars with Germanic pre-Christian religion. Lees verder >>