Vinland

The name Vinland has been interpreted in two ways: traditionally as Vínland (“wine-land”) and more recently as Vinland (meadow- or pasture-land).

The earliest etymology of “Vinland” is found in Adam of Bremen’s 11th century Latin Descriptio insularum Aquilonis (“Description of the Northern Islands”): “Moreover, he has also reported one island discovered by many in that ocean, which is called Winland, for the reason that grapevines grow there by themselves, producing the best wine.” (Praeterea unam adhuc insulam recitavit a multis in eo repertam occeano, quae dicitur Winland, eo quod ibi vites sponte nascantur, vinum optimum ferentes). The implication is that the first element is Old Norse vín (Latin vinum), “wine”.

Vinland map

 

This explanation is essentially repeated in the 13th Century Grœnlendinga saga, which provides a circumstantial account of the discovery of Vinland and its being named from the grapes (vínber) found there. New findings from L’Anse Aux Meadows show that these vinber were seen by the Norse.
Another interpretation of the name Vinland, quite popular in the late 20th century, is that the first element is not vín (with a slightly lengthened vowel sound) but vin (with a short sound), an Old Norse word with the meaning “meadow, pasture”. (Proto-Norse winju.) Vin is a common name on old farms from Norse times in Norway, and present-day use of the word are Bjørgvin, the Norse (and Icelandic) name of Bergen, and Granvin, where -vin translates as “pasture” in both. A poetic Norse name of the Danish island of Sjælland (Zealand) was Viney ‘pasture island’. A cognate name also existed in Old English (Anglo-Saxon), in the name of the village Woolland in Dorset, England: this was written “Winlande” in the 1086 Domesday Book, and it is interpreted as “meadow land” or “pasture land”. Linguistics scholars demonstrated that, even as a suffix, this peculiar usage of vin had ceased long before the colonization of Iceland and Greenland.