Sverre is a Norwegian name descended from the times of the Old Norse. It was a nickname originally, then later became a given name. The modern Norwegian word svirre, which means to buzz, comes from the same root as does Sverre. The name became popular in modern times because of interest in the viking king Sverre.

Sverre Sigurdsson

Sverre was born about 1150 on the Faroe islands to a woman called Gunnhild. As a young man he went to Norway and demanded the right to be king on the basis that he was the illegitimate son of Sigurd Munn. He made certain a lot of sagas were written to defend this claim, which may or may not be true.

In 1177, the year after he arrived in Norway, Sverre became the leader of a group of people called Birbebeinere - the Birchlegs, or people who wore birch leggings. With their support he was elected king at the viking "parliament" called Øretinget, and later fought and won over king Magnus Erlingsson so as to really get the entire country to himself.

Sverre set out to strenghten the power of the king, and so became the enemy both of many nobles and of the Church. He had to quell many rebellions as well as survive an excommunication by Pope Celestine III. Instead of taking it to his heart, Sverre let the priests preach on his word, for which he was much admired in later times. There is even a mention of it in the Norwegian national anthem:

Fra dets høye Sverre talte,
talte Roma midt imot.

(From the hills of the country spoke Sverre,
he spoke out against Rome.)

To Norwegian nationalists in the 18th century, King Sverre became a symbol of little Norway standing up against the great powers of Europe. Since he was the only king of that name, he has been known as King Sverre to many, without the patronym of Sigurdsson.

King Sverre fell ill in 1202 and died soon after. His saga offers much insight into this time, and also lets us know how great and fair towards his enemies he was - of course, a lot of it was probably written under his supervision.

After Sverre's death, his only living son Håkon became king for a short period. He reigned only for two years before he died suddenly, probably poisoned. Later, his son again, Håkon Håkonsson, became king of Norway.

Most sources will tell you that the old Norse name Sverre comes from the verb sverra, turning, possibly related to the words swivel and swerve. The name should therefore mean someone running around, changing directions; someone uncontrollable, violent or unruly.

I tend to like another theory better. In his book "Fun with words", Sverre Kloumann argues that this meaning is not in line with other Norse names. A lot of superstition is attached to the Norse names, and they tend to describe very powerful and positive traits. The Norse had names like Steinar (originally meaning "stone warrior"), Arne (originally ørn, "eagle"), Rolf ("glory" or "fame") and others concerning power, riches and prowess in battle. In this light, Sverre Kloumann suggests another meaning of "turn".

The verb "å dreie" (to turn) was strangly used as "to throw" (and "throw" and "dreie" are related, appearently). So Sverre could mean "the turner", i.e. "the thrower". Maybe king Sverre was a good spear thrower?

Source of facts: "Moro med ord", Sverre Kloumann, ISBN 82-03-22530-6, p 298.

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