Names of the Close Horizon


Looking at a map of Stockholm’s suburbs, you find a swarm of place names denoting housing areas. The housing is almost entirely 20th century. But many of the names go back a thousand years or more. Today they’re all just suburbs. But not so long ago, all of these names were part of a hierarchical nomenclature, a ladder of names. The names on the ladder’s top rung denoted parishes and were used throughout the county. On the second rung down were the names of farmsteads, used among the surrounding few parishes, and among wayfarers in cases where a farmstead happened to be located on a major road. But many of Stockholm’s suburbs are on the third rung down: their names denoted parts of a farmstead’s lands and were only used among the surrounding few farmsteads.

I’m reading Per Vikstrand’s new book about the place names of southern Öland. Today I learned a good word for the names on the third rung: närhorisontnamn, “names of the close horizon”. Two farmsteads in a parish can’t have the same name, because that would lead to confusion. But as long as their lands don’t abut, there’s no reason why they can’t both have plots of land named “Old Man’s Meadow”, “Rye Field” and “Baker’s Bog”. They’re names of the close horizon. Few people have reason to talk about each place, and so there’s no risk of confusion. Sweden has tens of thousands of places named “Lake Meadow”, “Horse Pasture” and “Sandy Field”.

Farmsteads must lie some ways apart, and their locations are largely determined by access to resources such as arable land and pasture. Exactly what resources a farmstead needs is in its turn determined by the agricultural technology of each era, and so the settlement sites of each millennium are found in different characteristic locations. Modern housing estates, however, follow completely different rules, largely having to do with communication with the nearest city but also with aesthetic concerns such as views from hilltops and proximity to lakes and woods.

The 20th century suburbs of Stockholm were rolled out like a carpet over an age-old agricultural landscape. Housing estates were built in locations that would have seemed absurd to the farming generations who came before. Why build housing on Pine Crag, in Baker’s Bog and at the disreputable Purse Torment roadside tavern? Still, thousands of people came to call these places home.

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  1. #1 dveej
    October 30, 2008

    The bright shiny thing that grabbed my attention the most in this post:

    “the disreputable Purse Torment roadside tavern.”

    Now you aren’t really going to dangle that name in front of us without some further explication, are you? That would be Blogreader Tantalization or something.

  2. #2 MartinL
    October 31, 2008

    I believe it refers to the Swedish name “Pungpinan” (lit. Purse Torment). Most people seeing the name “Pungpinan” for the first time would interpret it as “Scrotum Torment”, which undoubtedly sounds even more tantalizing (not to mention painful!). However, the etymology is clearly pointing to “Purse”. The tavern “Purse Torment” (first mentioned in 1670, building torn down 1876) was named so, since farmers returning from the market had to “torment” their purses to afford buying booze. The disreputable part would most likely be the famous murders of 1803, where former soldier Peter Almqvist in an attempted robbery slaughtered the tavern keeper, her maid and two children with an axe. He was caught in the act and later hanged.

  3. #3 Martin R
    October 31, 2008

    Haha, Martin, you just scooped the blog entry I’ve scheduled to come on-line this afternoon!

  4. #4 MartinL
    October 31, 2008

    Sorry about that. I’ll let you torment my scrotum, if that makes you feel better.

  5. #5 Martin R
    October 31, 2008

    That’s very sweet of you, but my wife monopolises any ball-busting going on around me. I might want to torment your wallet though. Is there anything in it?

  6. #6 MartinL
    October 31, 2008

    Well, it has recently been payday, but on the other hand I’m employed by the city, so no.

  7. #7 Martin R
    October 31, 2008

    Hrrm. So tormenting your wallet would be like waterboarding an Iraqi insurgent who doesn’t actually know the answer to any of your questions. Damn.

  8. #8 DianaGainer
    November 4, 2008

    That has to be the weirdest pun ever, but also the best name for a pub in history! If a murder had to committed someplace, that would be the place. Too bad there was no hanky-panky first. It would have fit the name, too. Are you sure there wasn’t any? Did anyone check? Could you invent some to throw in? Maybe a love triangle? Or something even kinkier? I mean, with a name like that it ought to have some peculiar sex, like with a cat or something….

  9. #9 Martin R
    November 5, 2008

    Alas, the Pungpinan murders were probably just gory and sordid. For loads of fun hanky panky in the Stockholm area only a few decades previously, read Gustav Hallenstierna’s erotic memoir, Mina kärleksäventyr.

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