There are four main categories of Viking place names in England:
- Place names ending in -by, such as Selby or Whitby. These -by endings are generally places where the Vikings settled first. In Yorkshire there are 210 -by place names. The -by has passed into English as ‘by-law’ meaning the local law of the town or village.
- Place names ending in -thorpe, such as Scunthorpe. The -thorpe names are connected with secondary settlement, where the settlements were on the margins or on poor lands. There are 155 place names ending in -thorpe in Yorkshire.
- Place names as a mixture of Anglo-Saxon and Viking words. These are known as ‘Grimston hybrids’, because -ton is an Anglo-Saxon word meaning town or village, and Grim is a Viking name. The idea is that a Viking took over an Anglo-Saxon place and called it after himself. (Women’s names are very rare in place names). There are 50 ‘Grimston hybrid’ names in Yorkshire.
- Changes in pronunciation. The Anglo-Saxon place name Shipton was difficult for the Vikings to say, so it became Skipton.
There are several arguments connected with these place names. Some historians have argued that the Viking invasions involved very large numbers of people because there are so many Viking place names. Other experts have argued that once the Viking language became the main language of the region, place names would naturally be named using Viking words. Another factor is that few large Viking settlements were on entirely new sites: many Viking settlements continued on the traditional Anglo-Saxon sites.
Language has also become part of the debate. Some Scandinavian words have become part of the English language, such as ‘husband’, ‘knife’ or ‘window’. There are a large number of Scandinavian words in English connected with farming or boats, such as the ‘keel’ of a boat, which indicate the importance of farming and sailing. However, most evidence suggests that the Vikings began to speak English quite quickly, and also stopped writing in runes.