What do the names reveal?
The compass is placed on the map of Padjelanta track with all its beautiful names that are oh so hard to pronounce, like Sjnjuvtjudis, Njierek and Gievgessuoloj. What do the Lule Sami names mean and is it at all possible to learn how to read nature just by using and understanding these names?
It may take a professor of Sami languages, or someone with similar skills to completely understand the names of these Sami places and to be able to keep track of all the meanings of the north-, Lule-, Ume- and syouth Sami words. However, it is possible to learn some of the most common words that may give a hint of what one may find around the next bend.
Let’s start in Váisáluokta in the north, where the Padjelanta track start or finish is, depending on how you look at it. There is a Sami village here, with the same name, although you may never hear of anyone living there call it anything else but Váisá. Perhaps that’s the explanation to the word luokta means ”bay” and since nobody has a reindeer husbandry hut in the bay, it is of course on dry land, the addition luokta is a natural explanation. The same goes for places like Staloluokta and Saltoluokta which of course then are called Stalo and Salto.
If your hiking were to start at Änonjalmme it may be interesting to know that njalmme mean river mouth, which is exactly what it is. From here the river Vuojatädno flow from Áhkajávvre which, in reality, is a 60 kilometer long backwater reservoir upstream of the Suorva dam and the hydro plant Vietas. Originally there were five large lakes here, one of them were Áhkajávvre who got its name from the huge alpine range of Áhkka. The word Áhkka mean old lady, married lady or wife and have a mythological link. However, to make things a little tricky there is an adjective with the same spelling that suddenly mean ”grass of plenty”, so one can never be really sure. You’ve probably already worked out that the word jávrre means lake.
There are several ways of describing a lake. Jaure/jávrre, ávrre or haure/hávrre. The last word is used to describe larger lakes, for instance Virihaure, being the largest one in the area, and according to many also the most beautiful. Lake Kutjaure/Guvtjávrre is a somewhat smaller lake and the name indicate that it may be the home of some char (fish). A luoppal on the other hand is a smaller pond or a type of some slow moving water in a brook.
Now, back to the river Vuojatädno discharging from Áhkkajávvre. Ädno mean river whilst Vuojat is a description of a swimming hole for reindeer.
On the Padjelanta track’s left side you’ll find the high mountains of Boainotjåhkkå and Gasskastjåhkkå. Tjåhkkå mean mountain top, which is easy to get mixed up with jåhkå, the word for brook. Jågåsj on the other hand is the word for a small brook. Gårttje is a waterfall and gårsså a deep brook-valley. The word gasskas is the place between something, for example two mountains or two lakes.
Mountains can also be described with different words. Apart from tjåhkkå, which indicates a mountain top of significance, the words vare/várre mountain or alps and the word oajve, which give away the fact that it is a main mountain and with a rounded shape, contour. A gájsse on the other hand is a peaked, acclivitous alpine top and várásj a small mountain. The name Sjnjuvtjudis – just about impossible to pronounce, better ask a local to say it, listen and then forget the spelling – is a very descriptive name for a long, narrow top with a sharp end to the east. Nulppe is a bare cliff whilst huornnasj is a side mountain in reference to one that is higher. And finally, snjunjes is a protruding mountain or alpine spur. Did you get all that?
A few other words that might me good to know are giedde, a natural meadow, and ára describing the upper layer of the ground. Should you find the word gieve as part of a name it may indicate that you are heading towards fen or quagmire areas and if you see the word måskásj you may be heading into a dead end valley.
As you probably gathered by now, the Sami names for places that describe nature and settlements are a verbal jungle, an exciting jungle. Let this example on trying to unravel or untangle the concepts of these names as a taste of what you yourself can discover if you go head first to find out more about the names of Sami places. This is where the book ”Sami names of places by roads and tracks in Lule Lapland” by Olavi Korhonen and Hans Anderson becomes a treasure of knowledge.
In the meantime, keep your eyes open during your journey and please compare what you see to the names on your map along your track on the Padjelanta track.
Text: Iréne Lundström