Since the dawn of time, we humans have created new, easy-to-understand place names to be able to orient each other. But nowadays it is probably most modern to make them in English.
Names are living cultural monuments.
Even if the justification for the name disappears, the proper name remains as an annual ring and tells both when and why it came into being. If we listen to the true meaning of the name, then.
Is that why English names have started to appear in Oslo?
The piped Bislettbekken had created a large and moist marsh area right next to the University and the Storting. And the plans were ready to turn it into something nice. But the money was lacking until Spikerverket paid for the preparation as a generous gift to Oslo when they celebrated their 100th anniversary in 1956.
This gave rise to the popular nickname “Spikersuppa”.
While “Spikersuppa” sneaks into some city maps, the nickname “Dasslokket” will probably never be official. Although the outdoor seating is the roof of an underground toilet facility.
In an attempt to get a more decent name, the place was admittedly in 2005 officially given a more formed name. But if you ask friends of a summery outdoor beer to meet you at “Stortingets plass” or “Kjellerlemmen”, I still think that very few understand where you should meet.
Oslo before: “The railway demands its place and finds its own solutions”
At all times, names have been set based on prevailing politics. So also in our own time. The name “Arbeidersamfunnets plass” in front of Sentrum Scene undeniably has a hint of the social democracy that ruled the country in the decades after the war.
And that’s right. The square, which was named “Olaf Bulls plass” in 1934, was renamed in 1962 because Oslo Arbeidersamfunns Samfunnshuset had been located there since the 1940s.
Another name that was probably given a political side glance may be the space between Jernbane-apoteket and Oslo City. It was given the slightly clumsy name “Council of Europe Square”, when the area was renovated in 2005 in connection with the 100th anniversary of the dissolution of the union in 1905.
Was the backdrop perhaps a hint of a desire for a rematch after the EU votes in 1972 and 1994?
Name with historical sound
Almost a hundred years ago, an ideological name war raged in Norway: Should the country’s capital Kristiania get back the medieval city’s name “Oslo”? Until the Storting decided on the return to the historically oldest city name, the city’s residents were furiously opposed.
Morgenbladet collected 200,000 signatures against the change. Painter Anders Svarstad slammed with a statement on a par with those we can find in today’s comment columns on social media: “This is a conspiracy of the left-wing women’s cause and cause and international ghetto communism!”
When former industrial areas nowadays get new life, naming goes much more smoothly. Like when a few years ago they launched “Vulkan food hall” named after “Vulkan Iron Foundry and Mechanical Workshop”. It was located on most of the site from the time it was built there in 1873.
It may seem that old place names are beginning to give way to English new names. For example, the university area at Blindern now risks being named «Oslo Science City», with an attached proposal that the new Majorstuen metro station should be called «Gateway Oslo Science City».
“Construction City” is another relevant example. It recently appeared on The Wolf. There, Obos and other housing giants are in the process of creating what they call “a co-location of the entire Norwegian construction and real estate industry”.
But the knee-jerk reaction to English names has already been going on for a few years. Like when Oslo and Akershus University College in the rebuilt Frydenlund brewery changed its name in 2018. Not to “University Frydenlund”, no, “Oslo Metropolitan University” it should be, abbreviated down to the slightly more incomprehensible “Oslo Met”.
Tough working names
Already in 2003, English came to the table when the city council adopted the term «Barcode» in Bjørvika. The word means “barcode”. And that’s right, because the row with the total of 10 tall buildings is like the lines in a bar code.
Although “Barcode” was originally just the architects’ designation of how the buildings were designed, the term survived and became a household name.
When the large zoning plan for Bjørvika was presented in 2003, the rig area at the bottom of Bispegata had only “C6” as a subdivision designation. But the Bjørvika plan’s original working name is still alive.
This lower area is still only referred to as “C6” when it is now to be presented to the City Council. They will decide whether to use it for an extended water level or an extension of Barcode.
Archaeologists have recently discovered that the area was the bishop’s private harbor. So a suitable name could, for example, be «Oslobispens havn»?
Bay or Bay?
One of the newest areas that has been developed is Fjordbyen’s new premises on the ground floor in the heart of Bjørvika. It was for a while called “Oslo Bay”.
But fortunately a warning bell rang among the business people: “Shouldn’t we also have a Norwegian name?”
Searching history books and old maps provided two good Norwegian alternatives. The Bjørvika area closest to the medieval city had been called both “Oslo Harbor” and “Opsloe Bay”.
And while the first today is almost the Port Authority’s property, the ancient “Opsloe Bay” lay unused and dormant in urban history dark.
In the autumn of 2019, “Oslobukta” was therefore used as a name. And it was a conscious and joyful choice of name that undeniably sounds better in our Norwegian ears.