Kate Monk's Onomastikon

(Dictionary of Names)

Faeroes/Faroe Islands/Foroyar

Capital: Tórshavn (on Strómó/Streymoy)

Streymoy, Vágar, Sandoy, Suderoy

Size: 540 sq m Popn: 47 000


The narrative 'Navigatio Sancti Brendani' (purported to be written by St Brendan/Brénaind about his voyages in AD 560-7) mentions the 'Island of Sheep' which may be the Faroe Islands. Abbot Dicuil also mentions them in his 'De Mensura Orbis Terrae' of AD 825 and describes them as 'full of innumerable sheep and many different kinds of sea birds'. He also says that Irish monks had lived there for almost a century but had left because of the Norse pirates.

The first phase of cultivation ran from about AD 600 to 700 and was possibly Celtic but the Norse settlement gathered strength in the C8th and C9th due to the rising population in Western Norway. The Faroese language is closely related to the C15th Middle Norwegian dialects of the West coast of Norway and to Icelandic, although there are some Celtic borrowings, and Christianity introduced more foreign influences, especially English.

By the end of the C13th the population reached about 4000 and remained steady for some centuries. The Church gained influence during the medieval period and most of the land belonged to it, the combined Danish/Norwegian crown or important Norwegian families. Dutch and Hanseatic league merchants were rivals for trading rights and at one point the Danes offered to sell the islands to Henry VIII but he refused and the fiefdom was granted to the Hamburg merchants Thomas Koppen and Joachim Wullenwebber.

In 1536 the Norwegian state council was dissolved and the Faroes became a province of Denmark. Danish replaced Latin as the Church language during the Reformation and had to be used for court records even if everybody involved spoke Faroese. Political and economic power was now in the control of the King in Copenhagen and in 1619 Faroese trade was moved there from Bergen. In 1661 the islands were given 'in feu' to Christopher Gabel who had absolute power over them. He and his son, Frederik, who succeeded him, used the title of 'Governor' and treated the islanders cruelly. When Frederik Gabel died a royal commission was sent and King Frederik IV took over the trade monopoly. From 1701 to 1865 trade was organised to help the people not private interests and corruption ended but there was little trade between islands. Until branches of the Trade Monopoly opened on other islands in the 1830s distant islanders, especially those of Suðuroy, suffered starvation if the weather prevented them from getting to Tórshavn.

When the Union of Norway and Denmark was dissolved in 1814, the Faroes remained with Denmark but were under Norwegian laws until Danish ones were adopted by 1849. The Løgting, one of the world's oldest parliaments, was re-established in a mostly advisory capacity in 1852 and after the Trade Monopoly ended in 1856 changes began. After a meeting of the Løgting in 1888 the Føringafelag was founded to help save the language, although it later became political. The Sambansflokkur (Union Party) was founded in 1906 to stop Jóannes Paturson's move for home rule and he retaliated with the Sjálvstýrisflokkur (Self Rule Party). Føroya Javnaðurflokkur (moderate social democrats) came in 1927 and Paturson's breakaway movement, Fólkaflokkur, in 1939.

German occupation during WWII was prevented by Britain which did not interfere in government and virtual home rule was established. In the 1946 referendum, 5650 voted for independence against 5500 for the Union and the Lógting accepted this but Denmark called a new election which resulted in increased independence within the Union under the Faroese Home Rule Act of 1948. A new party wanting total independence, the Tjóðveldisflokkur, was formed, and a sixth, middle of the road, party in 1954. The Lógting sends two representatives to the Danish parliament and can reject Danish laws. It is responsible for most government matters although the police force is Danish-controlled and Danish must still be taught in schools.

In the C19th scholars worked to preserve their language with a written form based on Old Norse being worked out by Venceslaus Ulricus Hammershaimb and the Icelander Jón Sigurdsson in 1846. Some attempts were made to introduce spellings more representative of the dialects actually spoken but these were so numerous that the standard forms were retained. Compulsory education in Danish was introduced in 1846 but was so strongly opposed that it was withdrawn in 1854, leading to a century of dispute as to the most suitable medium. A law was passed to make it Danish in 1912 but Faroese was at last made the official school language in 1938. It was used in churches as early as 1902, the translation of the New Testament came in 1937, and the complete Bible and hymnbook in 1961. The Home Rule Act of 1948 made Faroese the principle language but stated that Danish should have equal importance in public affairs which caused some opposition. Danish remains the court language and the laws of the Løgting are in parallel texts.

This collection of names was compiled by Kate Monk and is ©1997, Kate Monk.

Copies may be made for personal use only.

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