Complexities and complications of spelling in runes...


“How do you spell FRANCIS in runes?”

asked and answered(?) by Francis

a.k.a. ᚠᚱᚨᛜᚲᛁᛋᚺᚨᛉ

PART I: the primary issue at hand

Spelling one’s name in runes can be an intimidatingly complex issue. Granted, it does not have to be; and yet, once one opens Pandora’s Box of linguistic enlightenment, one may nonetheless WANT it to be - for, such is the way of Knowledge that it perceives need where hitherto there was none (or some sort of oracular mumbo-jumbo)...

The following writing is an illustration of this complexity. I use my own first name. If you want, I can use your name, too. Email me if you would like me to do so! (Just make sure you don’t sound spammy, lest your message get deleted or replied-to rudely - ok?)


How should I spell my first name FRANCIS in the runes of the Elder Futhark? It is clear that F becomes FEHU and R becomes RAIDHO, but what of A?

The A is pronounced in a way that, for instance, in German and Polish - which do not have this particular A-sound (as in "pat," not as in "father" or “fate”) - gets interpreted as a variation on what we in English would consider the E as in "pet." So, a native of Germany or Poland would psychologically/psycholinguistically HEAR the two English words “pat” and “pet” as though they were both the one word “pet.” [For a discussion on DISTINCTIVE FEATURES in languages click here.]

...The Elder Futhark has a rune to stand for the sound of A as in “father” (ANSUZ), but not a rune to stand for the A as in “pat.” And so, if the Elder Futhark is to be interpreted as in itself a reflexion of the phoneme system (“letter-sound” system) of Old Germanic (especially its instances as Proto-Norse, Proto-Germanic and Gothic), then the absence of a rune-stave to represent the A-sound as in “pat” alongside the presence of a rune-stave to represent the E-sound as in “pet” (EHWAZ) is parallel to those phoneme systems of German and Polish where “pat” and “pet” both psychologically sound like “pet” - where “pat “ and “pet” are both phonologically (i.e, in terms of those languages’ GRAMMARS) the one word “pet.” [NOTE: I tend to use the word “grammar” in a sense of an organism or even “spirit” - metaphorically speaking, of course.]

This whole issue raises the question: To represent the A in FRANCIS, should I use ANSUZ or EHWAZ?


The next letter, N, is clearly NAUDHIZ (or so it seems for the time being - more on this sound later). But an issue can be made of the next letter, C. This C is pronounced as in SOWILO, though historically - in Latin (and FRANCIS by its ending -IS is a Latin form of the Frankish root “frank” (meaning “free” as in “liberated” or “free-spirit” [not as in “gratis” or “for free”]) - this C was pronounced like the C in “come.” Later in Latin, this C - not just as a letter but as a phoneme - could take the form of the sound C as in “come” or C as in “ceiling.” C becomes S-like based on whether or not there is, directly following it, a FRONT vowel (E or I). This was a form of ALLOPHONIC VARIATION.

So here is the next question: should I preserve the historical phonemic nature of FRANCISC by using KENAZ (which represents the K-sound) or the phonetic nature and the PRESENT phonemic nature of  FRANCISC by using SOWILO (which represents the S-sound)?

I am not saying there is a “right” answer to this (maybe there’s a “left” one - in any case, there will always be ONE MORE left!) To want to preserve a historical flavor - or somehow to EXPRESS this flavor - through spelling, is to do something that is just plum commonplace with English orthography. We in English spell our words the way they were pronounced over a thousand years ago, for goodness’ sake! Is that bad? Is there not a particular aesthetic and/or cultural value to that? - yes or no? - or both yes and no? - How could there possibly be an objective answer? And why should there have to be! Sure, on PRACTICAL grounds you can argue to update English spelling to make the language easier to learn to read and write in (ostensibly); or, on PRACTICAL grounds, not to update English spelling so that the next generation of English speakers is able to read, to readily access, all the books published before its time, that this generation not be myopic and biased to present notions, not empowered to step out of the limits of its current Zeitgeist ( may here get the feel for me being more on the orthographically conservative side, despite my VERY liberal political leanings, which would, after all, advocate a sort of orthographic version of multilingualism taught to elementary school children - but that issue indubitably falls way the F’ing F out of the scope of this here ditty).

There are MANY considerations for MANY things...


Make runic spelling YOUR spelling! Let the runes bubble up from YOUR heart!

(((And THEN ask yourself: What does it “mean”?)))

PART IV: N revisited

If the C is to be interpreted as being the KENAZ sound, then the N would have been pronounced deep in the throat (at the velum a.k.a soft palate), id est, as in the INGWAZ sound (...think here of the word “frank” as opposed to the word “France”). Yet, could this N of FRANCIS phonemically be interpreted as NAUDHIZ which manifested allophonically as INGWAZ? [For details of this phenomenon of ALLOPHONIC VARIATION, see again the links above - just click HERE.]

In other words, you can say that maybe, just maybe, the alphabet of Latin did not have a specific single letter for the INGWAZ sound because this NG-sound only arose as an exception or interpretation or effort to resolve or simplify the grammatically difficult consonant combination of, for instances, NG or NC. However, though the word FRANCIS is a Latin form, its root FRANK- is from Germanic (and present in the linguistic and tribal names of the Germanic people the Franks), and in this way we could always choose to overlook this whole Latin issue - which in any case is not clearly settled - for, maybe Latin despite its orthography did indeed have the NG-sound not merely as an allophone but as a true phoneme. [If you yourself have a thought on NG in Latin, just email me. No prob - just do it, Nike-like.]

Personally, I feel the “ng” sound must have existed in Latin as its own phoneme. Were there not Latin words ending in “ng” and not “ng” to represent the phonemes “n” plus “g” but a phoneme represented by the digraph “ng”? Perhaps not (at least, off hand I cannot think of any).

But I will go with INGWAZ.

PART V: “pat” and “pet” again

This whole unique interlacing of issues upon issues raises the question: To what extent does one wish to use the runes phonetically as opposed to phonemically? [“Phonetically” refers to the raw sounds per se, as they make the airwaves vibrate; “phonemically” refers to speech sounds in the context of Grammar, id est, that behemoth of a psychological/psycholinguistic air filter.] Any a phonologist could tell you that if you try to use the International Phonetic Alphabet to write down an utterance in its true PHONETIC form, there will end out being such a digression of diacritics and unexpected allophonic variations (indeed, allophones of allophones!) that the very sinews of the skull begin to creak moan like the bulwark of a dam about to BURST. Therefore - and this is also in line with a particular language’s phonology, that is, Grammar (and thus its SPIRIT) - drawing the line at the phoneme, and not delving into true phonetics, ends out painting a truer picture of the WORD after all. (A word is not just a physical sound, but a psychological one, as well - and I am not speaking here of the word’s meaning: I am still only speaking of the sounds… physical realities vs. psychological realities of SOUNDS!)

That is why, in the first place (in PART II) we really had to know whether ANSUZ or EHWAZ would be the best choice for the A in FRANCIS. Phonetics are not what writing is all about, CAN BE all about - the phonology plays a rȏle, MUST play a rȏle ---> which means asking: Which features of a sound are important here in this particular language? To get a bit more technical: The feature of “frontness” in EHWAZ (though standing for the sound of E as in “pet”) is present in the sound of A as in “pat;” and the feature of “lowness” in ANSUZ (though standing for the sound of A as in “father”) is present in the sound of A as in “pat.” However, the lowness of A as in “pat” is not present in the EHWAZ sound; and the frontness of A as in “pat” is not present in the ANSUZ sound; and what with there not being a single rune-stave in the Elder Futhark that represents both frontness and lowness (unlike the Anglo-Saxon ligature of A and E into Æ), one must wonder which rune-stave any phonology that may be inherent in the Elder Futhark would decide on subsuming this Æ-sound into. In other words: would Old Germanic Grammar associate lowness (Æ) with not being front  (EHWAZ ), and frontness (Æ) with not being low (ANSUZ)- like German and Polish grammars? Or does Old Germanic grammar associate frontness (Æ) as a feature that could equally appear or not appear alongside the feature of lowness (ANSUZ)?

PART VI: vowels and features - an exersize

To get a feel for what is meant by vowels being front vs. back, do the following exercise....

Say aloud the words “seen, sin, fate” and “pet.” Carefully note - carefully FEEL FOR - what your tongue is doing when you say those words.  This posture of your tongue - lingual posture, if you will - is that feature of FRONTNESS. You may not have a feel for this, however, until you do the following exercise and compare the two differing FEEL’s...

Say aloud the words “boom, book” and “slope.” Do not pay attention to what your lips are doing here (that is another feature - that of ROUNDEDNESS). Just carefully note - carefully FEEL FOR - what your tongue is doing when you say those words, what the Lingual Posture is. This itself is the feature of BACKNESS.

Now say aloud the words “Ra” and “pat.” Notice where your tongue is. Your tongue is in the position of LOWNESS. Sure, for “Ra” your tongue is in the position for backness, too; and for “pat” for frontness, as well. But what about the tongue position is the same for the two? THAT... is lowness.

Now compare this lowness with the HIGHNESS of the words “seen, sin” and “boom, book.” The frontness of the first pair and the backness of the second pair is irrelevant here - just consider what in the articulation is THE SAME for all four. That is highness.

Are you noticing, GETTING THE FEEL FOR, AXES of phonological features?

Let us then review and delineate our findings...

HIGH & FRONT: “seen, sin” (both of which would have ISA, assuming EIHWAZ would not somehow fit into here - but that’s another story: UGH!!!)

HIGH & BACK: “boom, book” (both of which would have URUZ). There is also the feature here of ROUNDEDNESS, which in English, at least (but not, for instance, in German) automatically goes hand in hand - and MUST go hand in hand - with highness and backness, such that (in English) to distinguish between roundedness vs. non-roundedness seems redundant, and therefore, roundedness may not (in English) be a distinctive feature

...and so, a German rounded front vowel would be HEARD by the English ear as a back vowel... Is not that phenomenon parallel to the whole issue of “pat” vs. “pet” ? Example: German “schwüll” (front rounded; “muggy, humid”) and “schwull” (back rounded; “gay, queer, homosexual” both sound to the English ear as “schwul” (back), just because both are rounded. Thus, in English, the Grammar thinks: “roundedness MUST MEAN backness!” (id est, the category of Roundedness subsumes that of Backness. [See “Lexemes” writing for talks on categories.]

LOW & FRONT: “pat” (ANSUZ or EHWAZ???Hmmm...)


“Fate” and “pet” are FRONT & MID (“pet” would be EHWAZ, perhaps “fate,” too - or else “fate” would be EIHWAZ - but that’s another story: UGH!!!)

“Slope” is BACK & MID (OTHALA) Its ROUNDEDNESS is irrelevant (non-distinctive, not “marked”) to English Grammar, but relevant (distinctive, “marked”) in German Grammar.


There is a LOW & MID, too, which would be the U in “but.” (Whether this sound would be ANSUZ or OTHALA or URUZ is a whole other story: UGH!!!) And, of course, we could go on and on!

Just one more (...really - though there are MANY more): the SCHWA would be MID & CENTRAL, id est, completely neutral - and WHAT rune-stave could possibly be completely neutral? Should we get into that here or save it for another day - a rainy day so as not to make this day rainy? I think the latter sounds good.

And now - just for good measure...



Clearly(?) I of FRANCIS to be represented by ISA, but what of the S? We know - of course! - that the S-sound is represented in the Elder Futhark by the rune-stave SOWILO. But there is another rune - one that as a stave does not represent a sound exactly, but, perhaps, a morpheme or suffix: ALGIZ [Granted, this is my personal opinion, if not mere mindgame; it is not the authorative or definitive view - which we are trying to avoid here, anyhow... But this as a linguistic exercise is itself sound; and this as runework may prove good for something in ya!].

For a description on morphemes, you may want to click on this here sentence you are reading now.

Suspiciously, the ALGIZ stave occurs only at the end of words. One way of looking at this is that it is due to the SOUND represented by ALGIZ occurring only at the end of words. This sound would be a cross between the S-sound and the alveolar trill R-sound (like that of Scottish or Polish); and this S/R interphase sound is commonly represented in runology with the letter “z” or a capital “R.” The problem with this interpretation is that it is valid only assuming ALGIZ always represented this “z/R”-sound. When the Elder Futhark was first put together, was this sound at the end of words and in special suffixes still as it was originally (in its pre-“z/R” phase) in the proto-language from which Old Germanic is descended from, that is, as the S-sound as in SOWILO and “sssssssnake”? According to Gothic spelling - and Gothic is the oldest widely attested Germanic language - there was no difference between this word-final suffixal S and all other instances of S (the SOWILO kind). Therefore it is conceivable that ALGIZ represents not so much a phoneme (“letter-sound”) as a suffix or morpheme - or at least part of a suffix (the morphological ROOT of it), the vowel quality still needing to be indicated: which would be in the spirit of Germanic and Indo-European roots, which kept the same consonants but varied the vowel-types, exempli gratia“s-ng” as in “sing, sang, sung,” and the noun form “song.” [This phenomenon is that of ABLAUT. You may wish to (re-)visit the site just previously linked.]

When we go back in time from ALGIZ as “z/R,” we see how it can be considered not so much representative of a phoneme as a morpheme (lacking vocalic specifications - its ablaut rhyme, that is). Beautifully, this contention is backed up when we go forweirds in Time. For, in Old Norse this ALGIZ sound or “z/R” (as it was in Proto-Norse) or S (as it was in Gothic, and even Proto-Indo-European) becomes the same alveolar R-trill as RAIDHO. If we used the Elder Futhark (instead of the Younger Futhark) to write in Old Norse, would we prefer to use ALGIZ for case endings ending in R, or RAIDHO? I myself opt for ALGIZ because of its historical flavor, that is, the way it refers to the historic nature of where this final R came from - and also, the way this R is in this way set aside to seem like more than just a phoneme, to be a morpheme without vocalic specification like a Germanic or Indo-European consonantal root. Perhaps this choice of mine is not historically in the minds or even subconsciousnesses of the fashioners of the Elder Futhark; but this choice of mine certainly is plum PACKED with meaning - and that says something. (Says and says and SAYS, to be sure!)

But the choice is yours!

PART VIII: my first name in runes

I myself, for my personal runic signature, will choose the following for the first six letters of my name...


    F            R               A             NG              K          I

         ᚱ       ᚨ       ᛜ       ᚲ    ᛁ

I choose ANSUZ over EHWAZ for the same reason I choose KENAZ over SOWILO: the A in FRANCIS is historically descended from a sound of A as in “father” - not only in the Latinate form FRANCIS[CUS],” but also, I believe, in the Old Germanic adjective “frank.”

The use of ALGIZ for the seventh letter (C) would smack of this same history, too. However, in the spirit of this HISTORY - of this love of mine for the archaic - I wish to go back to the original Latin form of my name. It is a composite of Old Germanic “frank” plus the Lating ending “-iscus.” I trace the “-isc-” back in time to Indo-European “-isk-,” and from there forwards in time up the Germanic path to the adjectival suffix “-ish” as in “Frankish.” Then, the “-us” part of Latin “-iscus” is a nominative singular masculine ending which I believe would have gone back to Indo-European as “-os,” from whence forwards through time up the Germanic path would yield (I believe) ANSUZ followed by ALGIZ.

In English lettering, my runic name is (so far)…


But now there is the whole question: How do you represent the SH-sound with the Elder Futhark? Well, since there is no specific rune in the Elder Futhark for this sound, we can go for the closest one, SOWILO. Both SH and S are fricatives; so is “f,” for that matter - but “s” is closer in place of articulation than “f.” Historically, the sound SH comes from two sounds - just like it is spelt as though it is, with two letters, that is (how wonderful is the outdated orthography of English that it carries such fossilizations of sound changes!). Those two sounds are S (SOWILO) and a kind of CH-sound (as in Scottish “loch” or German “Bach”) - and this CH-sound is present in the Elder Futhark with the rune-stave HAGILAZ - which only as its allophonic variation is the H-sound we have in English, as in “have” or “home,” so on: a glottal fricative (a.ka. voiceless vowel), as opposed to the voiceless velar fricative of CH in Scottish “loch” and German “Bach.”

Therefore, my runic name is -

- - - as I view it: this is a colorful interpretation of runes; I am not saying this is objective or absolute, but that, roughly speaking, objective facts and history are being taken into consideration, along with a personal aesthetic, perhaps - - -

FEHU                 F                             

RAIDHO            R                            

ANSUZ              A                            

INGWAZ          NG                          

KENAZ              K                           

ISA                      I                            

SOWILO             S                            

HAGALAZ     CH/H                        

ANSUZ              A                             

ALGIZ            “z/R” (Gothic S)   


Now the English-lettered spelling tidied up:


PRONUNCIATION: frrrahng-kih-shahzh, with primary stress on frahng, secondary stress on shahzh, ih pronounced like I in “wit,” zh like Z in “azure.” And don’t forget: rrr is wildly trilled as in Scottish or Polish!

MEANING: “The Free One.”

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