The Gothic letters “i” and “j”

When trying to read Gothic handwriting or a printed text accurately transcribed, the letters i and j may sometimes cause a little confusion.Reading Gothic handwriting can be a challenge for many, -myself included. In an attempt to get better at this I shared a “study” I did in Gothic handwriting. You might want to have a look at these 5 articles starting at

You might also want to familiarize you with the Norwegian Languages. I have tried to give a little introduction in the article found here.

In this short article I want to look at a problem that was illustrated by a question on a genealogy group I belong to. The problem is simple: Up until the first part of the 1700’s the letters i and j were used interchangeably (Tretvik 1993:11). Even though Tretvik mentions “the first part of the 1700’s” I have seen it occure in a large part of the 1700’s.

Most often the letter j was exchanged for the letter i. This happens when the letter appear in front of a vowel.

We can look at some words frequently appearing in the 1701 Census (manntall):

The exchange takes place after a single consonant, in front of a vowel

  • Tiener  If you look up this word in a dictionary you will not find it. If you exchange the i for a j you get tjener and your dictionary will tell you it means servant
  • Kiøbmand This is a Danish word. It will not appear in a Danish Dictionary. If you search for Kjøbmand you will learn that it means Merchant. The corresponding Norwegian word is Kjøpmann.
  • Field  Another Danish word. Following the same procedure we get the word Fjeld meaning mountain. The Norwegian word is Fjell.
  • Giestgiver Gjestgiver = Innkeeper
  • Fiord → Fjord
  • Ieg → Jeg  = personal pronoun I
  • Hiemme → Hjemme At home

Also in place names this phenomenon appear.

  • Skieberg If you follow my suggestions in “Find Norwegian place names”, and search the website “Se eiendom”  you will not find the name. If you search for Skjeberg you get several hits.
  • Skierstad → Skjerstad
  • Kiøllefiord → Kjøllefjord

In person names it may appear like

  • Biørn → Bjørn
  • Giertrud → Gjertrud

Sometimes a j is used instead of an in front of a consonant.

  • Ejnar → Einar
  • Ejlert → Eilert
  • Ajna → Aina

synnj-olsdSometimes a j is used instead of an i at the end of a name.

  • Signj This looks strange, even to us Norwegians, but exchanging the j for an i, we get the name Signi, that is recognisable.
  • Unnj → Unni
  • Anthonj → Anthoni
  • Rannej → Rannei
  • Tollej → Tollei
  • Synnj → Synni

There are a few words where you may think there has been a letter exchange e.g. Skien, Skiaker and Grieg. These are, however, written and read this way.

This is just a few examples of words with i and j exchange you may encounter. There is no set rules. If you have trouble finding a translation for a word containing or j, you may try to look for a possible exchange.

A good dictionary is a must to help you with the Norwegian words. Haugens dictionary linked below is recommended by many genealogists.

Norwegian-English Dictionary: A Pronouncing and Translating Dictionary of Modern Norwegian (Bokmål and Nynorsk) with a Historical and Grammatical Introduction
by Einar Haugen
For more than forty years, the Haugen Norwegian–English Dictionary has been regarded as the foremost resource for both learners and professionals using English and Norwegian. With more than 60,000 entries, it is esteemed for its breadth, its copious grammatical detail, and its rich idiomatic examples. In his introduction, Einar Haugen, a revered scholar and teacher of Norwegian to English speakers, provides a concise overview of the history of the language, presents the pronunciation of contemporary Norwegian, and introduces basic grammatical structures, including the inflection of nouns and adjectives and the declension of verbs.


Tretvik, Aud Mikkelsen:  Gotisk skrift : lærebok med tekster fra 1485 til 1875. Trondheim : Tapir, 1993



One thought on “The Gothic letters “i” and “j”

  • November 6, 2016 at 6:46 pm

    Very helpful article, Martin. That has always been confusing to me. Thank you!


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