Happy May! With warm weather right around the corner, my thoughts turn to summer.
And with that, here’s a surprising seasonal pick for a son. Thanks to Sharmila for suggesting Somerled as Name of the Day.
Somerled comes from an Old Norse name. You’ll find it spelled Sumarlidhi, Somarlior and Somhairle, but Somereld is the accepted Anglicization. The name means summer traveler or summer sailor.
Summer, of course, has been a popular given name for girls born in the US since the 1970s. Other seasonal choices – Autumn and Winter – as well as nature names in general have fared well, especially for daughters. Many parents might embrace the idea of naming a summer-born son something fitting.
Unfortunately, Somerled might not be the one. Summer traveler, you see, is something of a euphemism. Somerled was big amongst Viking parents. Those dwellers of the far North did indeed venture out in warm weather – to sack, pillage and generally cause a ruckus.
All of a sudden the gentle nature name becomes a bit more aggressive.
Of course, in the age of Slade and Gunnar, that might actually be a selling point for Somerled.
The most famous bearer of the name was a twelfth-century military leader in the Scottish Isles. Depending on the account, Somerled is called King of the Hebrides, King of Kintyre and Lord of the Isles. He won that last title, and a great deal of land, in battle.
There’s a story behind how Somerled the Viking ended up ruling Scotland, but I’m not sure I’ve got it exactly right. The simplest explanation is this: generations of invasion, conquest and intermarriage created a Norse Scots culture.
Somerled was a successful campaigner and was still expanding his reach in 1164. That’s when he faced Scotland’s Malcolm IV at Renfrew. Somerled’s army came up short, and he lost his life.
The name seems to all but disappear from the historical record after the twelfth century, with one exception. Search the US Census records and you’ll find a smattering of Somerleds. Most share the surname MacDonald, with a few answering to MacDougall. The MacDonalds trace their roots back to the Norse Scots ruler’s son Ragnald; the MacDougall descend from his son Dughall.
So while Somerled might find his given name lost to obscurity, he has descendants aplenty. Some studies suggest that as many as 500,000 people living today can trace their family trees back to Somereld.
Historical novelist Nigel Tranter wrote about Somereld’s life in his 1983 Lord of the Isles. And you might find him referenced in various sites maintained by geneologists, like the Clan Donald site. But he’s a rarity, indeed.
So while Somerled might not be the perfect name for a son born in the next few weeks, he does present an intriguing possibility for parents seeking a name that marries Scottish and Scandinavian heritages – or simply honors MacDonalds or MacDougalls on the family tree.