History from
the Bottom Up

Top Ten Viking Nicknames

Screen shot 2014 07 02 at 10.04.30 AM 450x269 Top Ten Viking NicknamesThe subject of today’s hilarity will be nicknames from the Viking Age. (I did a post awhile back about some of my favorite royal nicknames.) As with most people living in medieval times, the Norse had no last names (surnames), outside of patronyms (Ander’s son, Peter’s son). So, as happened frequently in other medieval communities, nicknames were used as a way of identifying individuals. We’ve all heard of Eric the Red, but there are lots of better ones. The list below comes from the people who settled in Iceland during the 9th and 10th centuries. Some are too randy to list on this PG-rated blog. Most are not very flattering. Here are my top ten favorites:

  1. Audun Thin-Hair
  2. Gunnstein Berserks’-Killer
  3. Herjolf Bent-Arse
  4. Audun Thorolfsson the Rotten
  5. Eystein Foul-Fart
  6. Asbjorn Muscle of Orrastead
  7. Thorir the Troll-Burster
  8. Thurid the Sound-Filler (I’m guessing she was a loquacious woman.)
  9. Thorbjorg Ship-Breast
  10. Ljot the Unwashed


Sources: http://www.medievalists.net/2014/06/01/viking-nicknames/

The Book of Settlements: Landnámabók by Hermann Pálsson http://books.google.com/books?id=jj6cIwMCZqIC&pg=PA155&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=3#v=onepage&q&f=false

Analyze This

Screen Shot 2014-08-16 at 11.22.22 AM

I’m working on a new book right now, and as part of my research, I have enrolled in an online course on forensics. My professor is one Roderick Bates, an organic chemist and associate professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. I find him delightful. Soft-spoken, with a pleasant British accent, he wears a white lab coat and safety glasses, and he delivers his lectures about heinous crimes involving wood chippers, analysis of body tissues found in chain saws, and body-dissolving sulphuric acid in bathtubs, with a charming exuberance and a hint of a smile playing on his lips.

 … Read more

My Geek Week

This week, Dear Reader, I won’t be posting, as I’m doing research for my next book. I’m staying in the empty apartment of a New York City friend and will be spending all my time here, at the New York Academy of Medicine:

And here, at the New York Public Library. Back next week!

Fashion Fail

Last month when I was in Paris my husband and I spotted a statue in a small park, and long before we were close enough to read the inscription I said, “That is so the 1830s.” Here’s the statue. In case you can’t see the inscription, the date is 1830.

Not that I should get mad props for ID-ing the fashion era. The period from 1830 to the early 1840s was marked by a very characteristic look in fashionable European and American circles. I loathe it.

 … Read more


Lucius Cornelius Sulla, Roman DictatorBibi Saint-Pol, own work

The first time I stumbled across a reference to the disease known as phthiriasis (pronounced “thuh-RY-uh-sis) I was reading Plutarch’s gleeful account of the death of the Roman tyrant Sulla.

Lucius Cornelius Sulla (138 – 78 BC), who had a nasty habit of putting his enemies’ heads on pikes, died a relatively old man, having murdered all the people who might try to assassinate him. And yet, according to Plutarch, Sulla met a ghastly … Read more

Renaissance Road Trips

Chenonceau CastleOn a recent trip to France, we passed by many châteaux in the Loire valley, each more magnificent than the next. The Loire valley is not very close to Paris—it’s about 110 miles from Paris to Chateau de Chambord, for instance—and I wondered how long it took sixteenth century travelers to make this journey—and why there were so many castles.

First, the distance. Under the best of conditions (good roads, decent weather, level ground), humans can walk four miles per hour over long … Read more

Book Signing Event

Friday night I attended the annual summer book signing fundraiser, given by the Hotchkiss Library of Sharon, CT. It was a delightful evening, with a mix of authors who write for kids and for adults. I had the good luck to get seated at a table next to Jeff Cohen.

Jeff is a reporter at NPR. You’ve probably heard him on the radio—he often covers national stories–but you may also know him because of an interview he did with his own little daughters a few years ago, after five-year-old Sadie … Read more

Guest Post!

Today on the blog, please welcome my special guest: kidlit writer-friend, Jane Sutcliffe. Jane and I met through the New England chapter of SCBWI, and she is the author of over two dozen nonfiction books for kids, including the fantastic, recent picture book Stone Giant: Michelangelo’s David and How He Came to Be (Charlesbridge). Her new book, The White House is Burning August 24, 1814, is slated for publication next week (August 5, 2014). Jane lives on a farm in Tolland, Connecticut, with her husband, … Read more

France, Part Trois

It’s Sunday and we’re at the airport, heading home. It’s been an amazing trip.

We left Lyon for Normandy on Wednesday. On the way, we stopped overnight in the Loire region and visited Chenonceaux, a Renaissance chateau that belonged to Catherine de Medici.Actually, it wasn’t hers originally. Catherine’s husband, Henri II, presented it to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, which rankled Catherine to no end. After he was killed in a freakish jousting accident, Catherine wasted little time bunging Diane out of Chenonceaux. Catherine told Diane she would swap it for a different chateau, named Chaumont, … Read more

France, Part Deux

Bonjour again, this time from Lyon, France. We’re staying in an incredible sixteenth century building on a very narrow cobbled street in the old part of the city. Here’s the street–just out of the frame, on the left, would be the heavy oak door to our “hotel,” although it’s really more of a residential apartment, on the sixth floor. It’s awesome. And it has wifi. (Ah “l’ironie!”)

Can you see that there are a few street signs overhanging the narrow street? Maybe you can’t, but trust me—there’s a long wooden baguette signaling … Read more

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