I have always been fascinated by historical nicknames. First, because it’s interesting to learn how people define themselves or others. Second, because language evolves and when we look back into history, we can’t always be sure those nicknames mean what we think they mean.
Which brings us to Harald Bluetooth. Because Harald lived and died more than a thousand years ago, we don’t know everything about him. Although it’s possible he was born in 910, we don’t know that for sure.
We do know that Harald’s father was the first King of Denmark in a new line and his name was Gorm. Ok, that’s not really important to this story, but the name kinda makes me giggle, so I wanted to share.
Back to Harald. The accepted history about Harald is that he unified Denmark, and then Norway (for a short time), under a single ruler. During his time as ruler, he also promoted conversion from the old Norse gods to Christianity among his people.
Harald died in 986 (or 985, or 987), fighting a rebellion led by his son Svein Forkbeard.
So why was he called Bluetooth? This seems to be an issue of language. Harald probably had a rotten tooth, in the front where it was highly visible, that had turned black. The word used originally may have just meant that it was dark rather than blue.
One more thing about Harald. More than one thousand years after his death, in the late 1990s, some businessmen were inspired by Harald’s ability to unite people and named their company Bluetooth in his honor. They even used the runes for his initials, HB, and combined them to use as their logo.
If you’re interested in more nicknames, check out this previous post, “A Rose By Any Other Name: 3 Intriguing Historical Nicknames”, about Ivar the Boneless, Edward, the Black Prince, and Henry the Impotent.
During the Viking Age, it seems to have been common for swords belonging to more famous person´s to have their own names. It happened that these names often ended with the word “tooth” because the sword could bite hard. Expensive swords often had a bluish blade. Harald’s nickname could therefore be related to the fact that he owned a precious sword. There were two swords in Haralds Bluetooth´s tomb, a grave that we now have found in Poland. Unfortunately, these swords are no longer preserved.
The tomb was discovered as early as 1841, but was then hidden under a new church building. It was rediscovered again in 1945 and in 2014 we could determine it to be Harald Blåtand’s grave. A gold plate with text along with other things in the grave tells us who is buried in the grave:
I have also written about this here:
We will soon publish a book about this unique find.
Every bit of this is fascinating, and much better than the rotten tooth/language theory. I checked out the Wikipedia page and have downloaded the paper. I can’t wait to read it tomorrow.
It’s always nice to hear from an expert, so thanks for taking the time to comment and share your knowledge. I’ll watch for the book!