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An oeconym or oikonym (from Greek: οἶκος, oikos, 'house, dwelling' and ὄνομα, onoma, 'name') is a traditional proper name of a house or other building. In the broad sense, the term may refer to the name of any inhabited place.[1][2][3]

Other terminology[edit]

Sometimes the term ecodomonym is used to refer specifically to a building as an inhabited place.[4][5]:35 Compare also the term mansionym to designate a historical residence (e.g., the Daniel Boone Homestead).[5]:58 Lay terms referring to the proper name of a house or other building include house name (either traditional or modern),[6] farm name (referring to an entire farm), or property name (referring to a non-agricultural property).

Individuals may traditionally be referred to by their oeconyms rather than their surnames in Basque,[7] Finnish, Norwegian,[8] Slovene,[9] and other languages. In these cultures the name of the property is more or less fixed and may be used to refer to the people living there at any particular time, regardless of their actual surname or whether they recently purchased or moved to the property.[9]

Examples of oeconyms[edit]


German oeconyms (German: Hofname) were often adopted as surnames. Surnames with such origins are most common in Lower Saxony and North Rhine-Westphalia.[10]


A road sign with oeconyms (Lýsuhóll, Lýsudalur) in Iceland

Explicit reference is made to oeconyms (and their lack of correspondence with residents' names) in Njáls saga, a 13th-century Icelandic work describing events between 960 and 1020. For example:

Þar eru þrír bæir er í Mörk heita allir. Á miðbænum bjó sá maður er Björn hét og var kallaður Björn hvíti.[11]
'There are three farms in that district, all called Mörk. At the middle farm lived a man named Björn [Kaðalsson], known as Björn the White.' (chapter 148)

In comparison to oeconyms in Norwegian and Faroese, in which the share of such names based on persons' names may be as low as 4 to 5%, in Icelandic approximately 32% of oeconyms are based on a personal name.[12] Since 1953, oeconyms have been enshrined in law, and Icelandic farms are required to have registered names approved by a special committee.[13] As travel by ship became more common in Iceland, the number of farms that had to be distinguished grew in number, and more complex compound names were created.[14] In compound Icelandic oeconyms, the single most common second element is -staðir 'place', although topographical suffixes (-dalr 'valley', -nes 'headland', -fell 'hill', -eyrr 'bank') form the largest group of such elements.[15]


A Norwegian first name (Gjertrud) followed by a patronym (Olsdatter) and oeconym (Nergaard)

Norwegian oeconyms (Norwegian: gårdsnavn) are based on various factors associated with a property: local geography (hills, etc.), land use, vegetation, animals, characteristic activity, folk religion, and owners' nicknames. Such names in Norway were collected in the 19-volume collection Norske Gaardnavne, published between 1897 and 1924.[16] Typical suffixes on such names include -bø, -gaard/-gård, -heim/-um, -land, -rud/-rød, and -set. After the 1923 naming law (Norwegian: Lov om personnavn or Navneloven) was passed in Norway, many rural people adopted the names of the farms where they lived as surnames. These oeconyms were retained as surnames even after they moved away to towns or emigrated. It is estimated that 70% of surnames in Norway are based on oeconyms.[17]

The traditional oeconym system was not retained among Norwegian emigrants to the United States, even in communities where Norwegian continued to be spoken. It has been suggested that this was because of cultural differences, whereby American farms were perceived as income sources rather than traditional family seats.[18]


A non-farm oeconym in Valbruna (Slovene: Ovčja vas), Italy
A street address and oeconym (in dialect) in Zasip, Slovenia
Slovene oeconyms

Slovene oeconyms (Slovene: hišno ime) are generally based on microtoponyms (e.g., pri Vrtaču 'sinkhole'); on names of animals (pri Ovnu 'ram'), trees (pri Gabru 'hornbeam'), and other plants (pri Čemažarju 'ramsons') associated with a property; on activities traditionally associated with a property (pri Sadjarju 'planting'); or on the name or nickname of the original property owner (pri Ančki 'Annie'). They may also refer to roles (formerly) played in the community (e.g., pri Španu 'mayor'), the property's physical position (pri Zgornjih 'upper') or age (Stara šola 'old school'), professions (pri Žnidarju 'tailor'), personal qualities (pri Bogatu 'rich'), or other noteworthy characteristics (e.g., pri Amerikanu 'immigrant returned from the United States').[9][19] The properties are generally referred to with a locative phrase (e.g., pri Gabru 'at the Gaber farm'), and the residents are referred to with the base noun (e.g., Gaber 'the man from the Gaber farm'), a derived noun (Gabrovka 'the woman from the Gaber farm'), or a preceding denominal adjective (Gabrov Jože 'Jože from the Gaber farm', Gabrova Marija 'Marija from the Gaber farm'). A well-known Slovene example is the writer Lovro Kuhar, better known by the pen name Prežihov Voranc (literally, 'Voranc from the Prežih farm').[20][21] Slovene oeconyms often appear on gravestones as plural denominal adjectives (e.g., Gabrovi 'the ones from the Gaber farm'), sometimes without the surname being given at all.


  1. ^ International Council of Onomastic Sciences
  2. ^ Gornostay, Tatiana, & Inguna Skadiņa. 2009. Pattern-Based English-Latvian Toponym Translation. Proceedings of the 17th Nordic Conference on Computational Linguistics NODALIDA, May 14–16, 2009, Odense, Denmark, NEALT Proceedings Series, 4: 41–47.
  3. ^ Zgusta, Ladislav. 1996. Names and Their Study. In: Ernst Eichler et al. (eds.) Namenforschung: ein internationales Handbuch zur Onomastik / Name Studies, vol. 2, pp. 1876–1890. Berlin: Mouton De Gruyter, p. 1887.
  4. ^ Zgusta, Ladislav. 1998. The Terminology of Name Studies. Names: A Journal of Onomastics, 46(3) (September):189–203.
  5. ^ a b Room, Adrian. 1996. An Alphabetical Guide to the Language of Name Studies. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press.
  6. ^ Cromley, Elizabeth C. 1990. Alone Together: A History of New York's Early Apartments. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, p. 143.
  7. ^ Ott, Sandra. 1981. The Circle of Mountains: A Basque Shepherding Community. Reno: University of Nevada Press, p. 43.
  8. ^ Helleland, Botolv, & Kjell Bondevik . 1975. Norske stedsnavn/stadnamn. Oslo: Grøndahl, p. 157.
  9. ^ a b c Baš, Angelos. 2004. Slovenski etnološki leksikon. Ljubljana: Mladinska knjiga. p. 168.
  10. ^ Beidler, James M. 2014. The Family Tree German Genealogy Guide: How to Trace Your Germanic Ancestry. Cincinnati, OH: Family Tree Books, p. 101.
  11. ^ Icelandic Saga Database: Brennu-Njáls saga.
  12. ^ Jesch, Judith. 2015. The Viking Diaspora. London: Routledge.
  13. ^ Kvarad, Guðrún. 2005. Social Stratification in the Present-Day Nordic Languages IV: Icelandic. In: Oscar Bandle (ed.), The Nordic Languages, pp. 1788–1793. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, p. 1793.
  14. ^ Adams, Jonathan, & Katherine Holman. 2004. Scandinavia and Europe 800–1350: Contact, Conflict, and Coexistence. Turnhout: Brepols, p. 104.
  15. ^ Sigmundsson, Svavar. 1998. Icelandic and Scottish Place-Names. In: W. F. H. Nicolaisen (ed.), Proceedings of the XIXth International Congress of Onomastic Sciences, Aberdeen, August 4–11, 1996: Scope, Perspectives and Methods of Onomastics, vol. 1. pp. 330–342. Aberdeen: University of Aberdeen, p. 330.
  16. ^ Store Norske Leksikon: Norske Gaardnavne.
  17. ^ Coleman, Nancy L., & Olav Veka. 2010. A Handbook of Scandinavian Names. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, p. 75.
  18. ^ Kruse, Arne. 1996. Scandinavian-American Place-Names as Viewed from the Old World. In: P. Sture Ureland et al. (eds.), Language Contact across the North Atlantic, pp. 255–268. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer, pp. 262–263.
  19. ^ Klinar, Klemen et al. 2012. Metode za zbiranje hišnih in ledinskih imen. Jesenice: Gornjesavski muzej Jesenice, pp. 52–53.
  20. ^ Druškovič, Drago. 1993. Karantanski rod. Srce in oko: obzornik Prešernove družbe 45: 27–35, p. 28.
  21. ^ Hamer, Simona. 2015. Lovro Kuhar – Prežihov Voranc. In: Samorastniki (program notes). Ljubljana: MGL, pp. 16–19.

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