Monday, June 10, 2013

Runes 101- Runes in History - Rune sounds

Over the past few months, I've had two questions posed to me on multiple occasions, so I decided to address them here and hope that this summary helps others who are wondering the same thing.  The questions are:

1.  I want to write my name in Runes; how do I know what sound each Rune makes?
2.  Why did the Runes not become a more prominent writing system, like the Latin alphabet?

To help answer the first question, I created a chart showing the sounds assigned to each Rune.  (It is similar to the chart I created for Rune meanings.)  There are a few interesting Rune sounds to take note of.  For example, Eihwaz, which I wrote about two weeks ago, produces an ei combination sound.  Ingwaz, joins the sound of two consonants - ng.  Although Wunjo looks like our Latin p, it makes the w sound.  And, Jera, although it is j, its sound leans more towards y.
These distinctions are important when writing names, especially for those of you seeking tattoos.  Let me give you a couple of examples.  Let's say you want to get a tattoo to honor the Norse Goddess, Freyja.  Writing that name in Runes would combine the y and j into a single letter, Jera.  So, it would be spelled like this:

One of the Runes I didn't mention above, but which has a duel sound is Thurisaz.  This letter actually evolved in Icelandic as the letter thorn and it makes the th sound as in thumb or Thor.  So, if your name is Theodore, the first two letters would be combine into one.  It would look like this:

Now for the second question.  There are multiple reasons why Runes never became an alphabet like the Latin one we use today and what I provide here is only a summarized overview.  For starters, Runes were made to be carved and their angular shape was easiest to carve into the resources available - wood, bone and antlers - with Runestone engravings coming later, but maintaining the angular aspect.  Because they were designed to be carved, the complicated process used to create such things as papyrus, parchment or vellum was not needed, nor was the requirement to make ink or quills.  Instead, Germanic people used their knives and carved messages onto available resources.  Beyond the requisite equipment, there were no grammar or writing rules;  Rune carvers spelled things phonetically, the way they sounded to them. Rune shapes varied regionally and things were not always written from left two right.  Words, phrases, even sentences could be written right to left and there are boustrophedonic examples as well, where one line reads from left to right and the next lines reads from right to left.  There are more reasons, but this gives you a sense of some of the basic issues around why the Runes never became an alphabet like the Latin one.  The Viking Answer Lady provides some good insight into this issue as well.

If you have more questions about the Runes, whether it's for writing or using them as an oracle, let me know.  I am happy to help.


  1. I would disagree with the example of the name Thomas. As you have shown it above the name would be 'th' omas rather than 't'omas. In Thomas the 'h' is at most aspirated, generally it is silent. As such the Rune to use would be Tiw/Tiwaz, rather than Thorn/Thurisaz. The adding of Haegl/Hagalaz would be up to the individual so named.

    1. Fair enough, especially given your name. I considered this as well. I'll update it.

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  2. the U and L appear the same to me. Im wanting to write the name 'Paul' What would you suggest?

  3. Thanks for catching that, Paul. I'm not sure what happened there, because the letters are correct on my original chart. Something must have happened on the import. I've reloaded the chart and made sure it is correct this time. U and L are not the same.