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*Fraujaz or *Frauwaz (Old High German frô for earlier frôjo, frouwo, Old Saxon frao, frōio, Gothic frauja, Old English frēa, Old Norse freyr), feminine *Frawjō (OHG frouwâ, later also frû, Old Saxon frūa, Old English frōwe, Goth. *fraujô, Old Norse freyja) is a Common Germanic honorific meaning "lord", "lady", especially of deities.
The epithet came to be taken as the proper name of two separate deities in Norse mythology, Freyr and Freyja. In both Old Norse and Old High German the female epithet became a female honorific "lady", in German Frau further weakened to the standard address "Mrs." and further to the normal word for "woman", replacing earlier wîp (English wife) and qinô (English queen) "woman". Just like Norse Freyja is usually interpreted as a hypostasis of *Frijjō (Frigg), Norse Freyr is associated with Ingwaz (Yngvi) based on the Ynglingasaga which names Yngvi-Freyr as the ancestor of the kings of Sweden, which as Common Germanic *Ingwia-fraujaz would have designated the "lord of the Ingvaeones. Both Freyr and Freyja are represented zoomorphically by the pig: Freyr has Gullinbursti ("golden bristles") while Freyjahas Hildisvíni has ("battle-pig"), and one of Freyja's many names is Syr, i.e. "sow".
The term's etymology is ultimately from a PIE *pro-w-(y)o-s, containing *pro- "in front" (c.f. first, Fürst and Sanskrit purohita "high priest", lit. "placed foremost or in front"). Variants indicate n-stems *fraujan-, *frōwōn-. The feminine *frawjō "lady, domina" in Old English is attested only in a single isolated occurrence as frēo "woman" in the translation of the fragmentary Old Saxon Genesis poem, in the alliterating phrase frēo fægroste "fairest of women". The stem was confused from early times with *frīj-, which has variants frēo-, frīo-, frēa- (a contraction of *īj- and a following back vowel) beside a less frequent frīg- (/fri:j-/), by development of a glide between ī and a following front vowel. The two forms would originally have figured in complementary distribution within the same paradigm (e.g. masculine nominative singular frēo, masculine genitive singular frīges), but in attested Old English analogical forms are already present and the distribution is no longer complementary
For Old Norse, Snorri says that freyja is a tignarnafn (name of honour) derived from the goddess, that grand ladies, rîkiskonur, are freyjur. The goddess should be in Swed. Fröa, Dan. Fröe; the Swed. folk-song of Thor's hammer calls Freyja Froijenborg (the Dan. Fridlefsborg), a Danish one has already the foreign Fru. Saxo is silent about this goddess and her father altogether; he would no doubt have named her Fröa. The Merseburg charm has Frûâ = Frôwâ as the proper name of the goddess.
Old Norse Freyr would correspond to a Gothic *fráus or *fravis, instead of which Ulfila has fráuja (gen. fráujins) to translate κύριος, pointing to a proto-form *frawjaz in North Germanic, but a *frauwaz in West Germanic and Gothic. In Old High German, the full form *frouwo was already lost, the writers preferring truhtîn and hêrro "lord". In the Old Low German, it survives in the vocative, as frô mîn! "my lord!" The Heliand has frô mîn the gôdo, waldand frô mîn, drohtîn frô mîn, besides frôho (gen. frôhon) and frâho (gen. frâhon).
Old English freá (gen. freán, for freâan, freâwan) is more common in poetry, as in freá ælmihtig (Cædmon 1.9; 10.1), and it also forms compounds: âgendfreá, aldorfreá, folcfreá and even combines with dryhten (freádryhten, Cædm. 54.29, gen. freahdrihtnes', Beowulf 1585, dat. freodryhtne 5150).
By the side of OHG frô, there is found the indeclinable adjective frôno, which, placed before or after substantives, imparts the notion of lordly, high and holy, as in der frône bote "the angel of the Lord", conspicuously avoiding the genitive singular (*frôin bote). It survives in Modern German as Fron- in compounds such as Frondienst "socage", whence also a verb frönen.
Grimm attaches significance to the avoidance and the grammatical peculiarities of the lexeme in OHG:
- "the reference to a higher being is unmistakable, and in the Middle ages there still seems to hang about the compounds with vrôn something weird, unearthly, a sense of old sacredness; this may account for the rare occurrence and the early disappearance of the OHG. frô, and even for the grammatical immobility of frôno; it is as though an echo of heathenism could still be detected in them."
The word occurs in given names, such as Gothic Fráuja or Fráujila, OHG Frewilo, AS Wûscfreá Old English freáwine in Beowulf is an epithet of divine or god-loved heroes and kings, but Freáwine (Saxo's Frowinus) is also attested as a personal name, reflected also as OHG Frôwin, while the Edda has usesFreys vinr of Sigurðr and Saxo says of the Swedish heroes in the Bråvalla fight that they were Frö dei necessarii. Skaldic 'fiörnis freyr, myrðifreyr (Kormakssaga) means "hero" or "man". In the same way the Kormakssaga uses fem. freyja in the sense "woman, lady".
- Pokorny (1959): *prō̆-u̯o- in Sanskrit pravaṇā- "forward, slope", Greek πρᾱνής "sloping forward"; perhaps Latin prōvincia from an unattested *prōu̯iōn "lord, lordship"; OCS pravъ "right, just" ("*straight"); c.f. Garrett S. Olmsted, The Gods of the Celts and the Indo-Europeans (1994), p. 80; Gerhard Köbler, Gotisches Wörterbuch (1989) ISBN 978-90-04-09128-3, p. 165.
- OE Genesis B 457 Oððæt he Adam on eorðrice, godes handgesceaft, gearone funde, wislice geworht, and his wif somed, freo fægroste.
- OED s.v. "free"; A. Campbell Old Eng. Gram. (1959) §410.
- Grimm in Teutonic Mythology: "While the names of other heathen gods became an abomination to the christians, and a Gothic Vôdans or Thunrs would have grated harshly on the ear; this one expression, like the primitive guþ itself, could remain yet a long time without offence, and signify by turns the heavenly lord and an earthly one."
- possibly an old epithet of Woden; Grimm. "seems suitable to Wôden the god or lord of wishing"