The destination for history

Danish Folk Tales: Why Danmark is called Danmark?


A fascinating story from Danish Folk Tales by storyteller and author Svend-Erik answering the question: why Danmark is called Danmark? 

Once there was a young prince and he had nothing to do. He was the youngest of three brothers. The oldest, Øster, was going to be king of Uppsala when their father died. The second, Nor, was going to be king of the land we now call Norway. But the youngest had not been granted any land to rule. The prince wanted to make his mark in the world, to be someone, to be recognised. The land to the south was dangerous, it was a belt of forest not yet ruled by men of honour, but by wild beasts and robbers. So the young prince went to his father, King Ypper of Uppsala, and asked for men and ships, which he was granted.

One beautiful spring day with the cliffs shining in the sun they headed south across the Baltic Sea and past a rocky island we know today as Bornholm. Then they sailed towards the north and entered a narrow sea channel between two lands. Both sides of that channel were covered in lush green forests and fields, and all along both coastlines were small clusters of mud huts. The waters were crowded with fishing boats and men hauled nets full of herring ashore. Women filled baskets with fish and carried them to their homes. The prince’s men flung their nets out into the water and within moments the nets were full of silvery herring.
This green land was inviting for the young prince, he knew he could be king here. They followed the coastline until they came to a deep narrow fjord. They journeyed across the waters of the fjord until their ships arrived at the mouth of a river. On foot they followed the small river upstream until they came to a hill.

The prince climbed that hill and looked at the landscape. He saw fresh water bubbling from a spring, and the green hilly landscape ready to cultivate and create fields for the future gathering of huts. The small lakes were filled with fish and the fjord wasn’t far away with lots of herring. Green forests were filled with game.

The prince knew he could rule here. He had his men build a king’s hall, and so he became the first king of Lejre. One day two men dressed as soldiers asked for permission to speak to the King of Lejre. The men wore armour and had a spear in one hand and a shield in the other. Still, it was clear to the soldiers from the north that these two men were no soldiers, they were farmers dressed in warrior clothes. They were told to leave their weapons and armour outside the king’s hall and when they entered the great hall the new king said hello to the two peasants.

‘We are told that you are a mighty warrior king,’ said the tallest
of the two men. ‘We think you are the only one to help us. The
Saxons in the south are gathering a great army and if we should
fight them alone, it will be the end of an independent Jutland, it
will just be a province in the mighty Saxon empire.’
‘Is there anything you have done to prevent
the Saxons from coming into your land?’ said
the king.
‘We have built a wall,’ said the tall man.
‘We call it Kovirke. It stretches from the
west and nearly all the way over to the eastern coastline. Kovirke is on the border between
Jutland in the north and the Saxons in the south,
but we are not sure if it is strong enough to hold back the
Saxon army.’
‘What can you offer in return if I help you?’ said the king.
‘We can’t offer much,’ said the tall man. ‘We are mostly
farmers and fishermen and our little army is not going to be any
match for the Saxons and the Saxon emperor Augustus will then
rule over Jutland. If we lose he will come after you.’
‘Good,’ said the king. ‘We will sail out towards the south of
Jutland tomorrow. And you will join us and show us the way.’

Dan gathered his warriors who were happy to have something real to do instead of farming, and followed the two men to Kovirke in the southern part of Jutland. When Dan and his warriors joined the battle, the Jutes advanced against the emperor of the Saxons. The Saxons were crushed in the battle with many men lost, so many that Jutland did not have to fear another invasion from the south for many years. After the war, the men of Jutland held a ting. They invited the men of the Island Funen to attend and told them of the hero king who had defended their country. The decision was unanimous; they all wanted the King of Lejre to be crowned King of Jutland and Funen too. So the new King of Lejre had made his mark. He was now king over a kingdom that stretched from Skagen (Scaw) in the north to Kovirke in the south and from the long coastline of Vesterhavet (North Sea) in the west to the shore of the Baltic Sea in Skåne (Scania) to the east. When the new king was crowned, he stood on the magic stone.

The men all cheered and called out in celebration of the new king: ‘Hail, King Dan! Hail, King Dan!’ King Dan said to the men gathered from around his kingdom,
‘This land is fair and fertile, the waters are filled with fish and the people are strong men and women working hard. Yet, it has one flaw – it lacks a name.’
They answered him, ‘You are Dan, and therefore the land shall
be called Danmark.’

The Danish word ‘mark’ means ‘field’ – ‘Danmark’ is ‘Dan’s Field’

By Svend-Erik

You might also be interested:

Sign up for our newsletter

show more books