Norse vs. Norwegian vs. Nordic: Differences Explained

I get it! With all these terms about us Northern European folks that kinda look and sound similar, it’s not easy to tell all the words apart. So if you’re curious about the exact difference between Norse, Norwegian, and Nordic, you’ve come to the right place.

What’s the Difference Between Norse, Norwegian, and Nordic?

  • Norse = The people of and anything related to or from the Scandinavian region during the viking and early middle ages, (including the Norse settlements, Old Norse language and Norse mythology).
  • Norwegian = Citizens of and anything pertaining to Norway (including the Norwegian language).
  • Nordic = Citizens of or anything pertaining to the collective countries of Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Iceland, Faroe Islands, Greenland (including the Nordic language group).
Time period
Definition
Spoken Language(s)
Norse

Norse

A.k.a. the Vikings
Time period
Viking Age (793-1066)
Definition
Relating to Scandinavia or its people or language
Spoken Language(s)
Old Norse was spoken in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Faroe Islands and Iceland between 6th and 14th centuries
Norwegian

Norwegian

From Norway
Time period
Middle Ages–Now
Definition
Relating to Norway or its people or language.
Spoken Language(s)
Norwegian has been the primary language in Norway since the 14th century
Nordic

Nordic

From the Nordic region
Time period
1919–Now
Definition
Relating to Scandinavia, Finland, Iceland, or the Faroe Islands.
Spoken Language(s)
Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, Icelandic, Faroese

Norse essentially means what most of us would call the Scandinavian Vikings and their culture during the Viking Age and early Middle Ages, Norwegian refers to anything from the country of Norway, and Nordic refers to anything from the Nordic region.

Related reading
Recent advancements in DNA analysis tech have led to extraordinary insight into how Vikings looked, from hair and eye color to size and ancestry. Scientists are now able to create eerily realistic facial reconstructions, getting us closer than ever to finding out who they were and what the Vikings looked like. Read Article Now

The Norse — An Overview

Countries: 🇸🇪 🇩🇰 🇳🇴 🇮🇸 🇫🇴 🇬🇱 (Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Faroe Islands, Greenland)
Location: Northern Europe
Official Languages: Old Norse (divided in Old West Norse, Old East Norse, Old Gutnish)
Combined Population: around 800 000

Norse: The Norsemen, Old Norse Religion, and the Old Norse Language

The Norse people (or Norsemen) were essentially the inhabitants of Scandinavia during the Viking age. They all spoke Old Norse and shared an Old Norse religion. As you probably know, many Scandinavians known as Vikings went out on journeys in search of land and riches during this time, but not all Norse were Vikings.

Norwegian: Citizens of Norway, Their Language, and Their Ways

Norwegian refer to citizens of or anything related to the Scandinavian country of Norway, and has been a term in use since the middle ages. During the Middle ages one could be both Norwegian and Norse, but this is not so much the case anymore since not many people identify as Norse today.

There are 5 391 369 Norwegians currently living in Norway according to the latest data, and another 5 or so million with Norwegian heritage that currently live in the US, totaling around 10 million Norwegians worldwide.

Norway — An Overview

Official name: Kingdom of Norway
Meaning: Norway means “the northern way”
Location: Northern Europe
Capital: Oslo
Official Languages: Norwegian, Sami
Population: 5 372 191
Total Area: 148 729 sq mi across 1 timezone (US 50 states + D.C. = 3 796 742 sq mi across 6 timezones)
Established: 872, gained independence in 1905

The Nordics — An Overview

Countries: 🇸🇪 🇩🇰 🇳🇴 🇫🇮 🇮🇸 🇫🇴 🇬🇱 (Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Iceland, Faroe Islands, Greenland)
Location: Northern Europe
Official Languages: Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Finnish, Icelandic, Faroese, Greenlandic, Sami
Combined Population: 27 376 022
Combined Total Area: 1 345 274 sq mi, across 5 timezones (US 50 states + D.C. = 3 796 742 sq mi across 6 timezones)

Nordic: The Northern European Region and Its People

The more modern term Nordic refers to citizens of or anything related to the Nordic countries in northern Europe (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Faroe Islands, Greenland). This term has mainly been used since the establishment of Förening Norden (The Nordic Associations) in 1919.

The Nordic cross flag refers to the type of flags the Nordic countries have, containing a Nordic or Scandinavian Cross. The oldest of these is the Danish, dating back to 1219 according to legend.

Quick Answers

Is Norway Nordic or Scandinavian?

Norway is both Nordic and Scandinavian, same as its Scandinavian neighbors Sweden and Denmark. They are all Scandinavian countries—formally speaking—and are all also part of the larger Nordic region that further includes Finland, Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and Greenland.

🤔 Curious about the differences between Swedish and Danish culture? I’ve written an article where you can find out how Swedes and Danes compare and how their behavior generally differs, go check it out if it sounds interesting!

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Sources

https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rstb.2013.0384

https://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199935413.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780199935413-e-7

Karl Andersson

As a native Swede with a Finnish mother, Karl identifies as both Nordic and Scandinavian. He left Sweden at 19 to explore the world, and stayed abroad for almost 8 years—during which he backpacked, worked every job there was, earned a degree from UC Berkeley, and met the future mother of his children. He ultimately returned to his native Malmö with his love, where they now have 3 Swedish-American boys eager to explore the world.

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