The use of Scandinavia as a name is perhaps a
little poorly defined. Today it refers to the countries of Denmark,
Norway, and Sweden, but these are relatively recent formations,
created during the medieval period. Finland and possibly Estonia
too can be added to a broader definition of the region as the
Until the medieval period and the later years
of the Viking Age, only the very south of modern Finland was
called Finn-land, coastal districts mainly, while early Sweden
and Norway were also relatively small southern territories occupied
by Germanic tribes which were in the process of forming the nation
states we see today. Early Denmark lay even further south, although
with a strong foothold in the southernmost parts of modern Sweden -
a region known, appropriately, as Scania, demonstrating the use of
the same root as 'Scandinavia'.
Today, these nations dominate all of Scandinavia,
but if these countries haven't always governed the region then
where did the name 'Scandinavia' come from?
A tricky question
Unfortunately, there's no clear answer that that
question so for once, although the usual detailed breakdown of
the name and a pursuit of its deeper meaning will be provided,
the analysis won't be able to supply a cast-iron result.
In fact the name's origins are rather mysterious,
despite what may be claimed elsewhere online.
The Baltic Sea was known by ancient writers as
Codanus Sinus ('sinus' meaning 'waterway' in Latin), with a
possible origin of this name either in the Germanic god, Woden,
or the word's meaning, 'a magician' (see Tribal Warfare of the
Gods in Scandinavia, for more details via the link in the
sidebar). The name 'codanus' is sometimes held up as a Latin
transformation of a Germanic original form of Scandinavia, which
has a root of 'skan-' or 'skand-'. This is not the case, though.
None of the possible proto-Germanic root words look plausible
for this original form, so 'codanus' does not descend from an
early form of 'Scandinavia'.
However, the suffixes contain '-av' or '-au', a
very familiar Germanic language element which refers to a low
place next to water. So something of the name actually is Germanic
in origin, but only a later part of it. The root word still holds
Cutting down the number of contenders
The Sámi who inhabited (and still inhabit) northern
Scandinavia don't use the 'sk-' except in the form of loan words.
These people predate the arrival of Finno-Ugric groups towards the
end of the fourth millennium BC. They once had their own language
but this has long since been supplanted by Finno-Ugric, leading
some to reach the erroneous conclusion that they are a Finno-Ugric
Early Germanic peoples in Scandinavia were clustered for the
most part along the coasts of southern Scandinavia, and only
began to expand inland from the third century AD or so (click
on map to view full sized)