Futhorc: Anglo-Saxon Runes

February 24, 2010

Futhorc is a system of runic writing used in Anglo-Saxon and Frisian inscriptions belonging to the 5th to 9th centuries. Already the word itself shows that Futhorc (as compared to Common Germanic Futhark) developed due to phonemic changes in the languages that it was designed to transcribe:

Anglo-Saxon Futhorc

At first, both Old English and Old Frisian used a runic alphabet of 26 signs, adding two new runes in order to allow for reflecting the soundchanges in West Germanic languages known as Ingveonic changes. These included (but were not limited to): (a) nasalization, (b) fronting and (c) monophthongization:

(a) a > o before nasal consonant and a + n > ō before voiceless spirant;

(b) a > æ when not followed by a nasal consonant;

(c) Gmc. *ai > OE ā; Gmc. *au > OFris. ā.

A good example of these changes is the name Oswald, the first element of which (ōs-), due to nasalization, reflects the common Germanic *ans-, found in the name of the *ansuz rune. Where this single rune sufficed in Germanic, one now needed three runes: (1) for /æ/, which developed as a result of fronting; (2) for short /a/ not affected by fronting and for long /a:/, which developed due to monophthongization; (3) for short /o/ and long /o:/, which developed due to nasalization. In Futhorc the original *ansuz rune was used to cover the first option (æ) and received a new name æsc, ‘ash-tree’. To cover the second and third options, two new runes were invented, both on the basis of the *ansuz rune: āc, which seems to be a combination of a + i and ōs, which seems to be a combination of a + n. It is the new ōs rune that now took the fourth place in the system, wherefore the change of the name: Futhark > Futhorc. Whether or not the use of these two additional runes reflecting parallel linguistic changes both in Frisia and Anglo-Saxon England point to a period of ‘Anglo-Frisian’ unity is a disputed issue. Whatever the case, from the 7th century on English runic alphabet continued to develop independently, adding new signs. Listed above are 31 runes, which are found in the inscriptions. There are three more runes that occur only in manuscript listings and were probably invented by a medieval scholar or learned rune-master. These are runes ior for ‘io’, cweorþ for ‘q’ and stan for ’st’.
A special place among Anglo-Saxon Futhorc inscriptions belongs to the 8th century Ruthwell Cross with 320 runes, containing portions of the poem known as The Dream of the Rood preserved in the so-called Vercelli Book. No less remarkable are the Francis Casket and St. Cuthbert’s Coffin.
The transliteration of the oldest Anglo-Saxon runic inscriptions is given in bold Roman lower-case letters. However, for later ones a so called Dickins-Page system is often used, according to which the transliteration is given in s p a c e d letters within ’single’ quotation marks.

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

J Kane December 1, 2010 at 10:05 am

I found this helpful in my work (only a brief presentation of runes in a text book about English Language that will probably never reach publication).
I was pleased to see ‘futharc’ as, in my day, we spelt it futhark, despite the runic word cen, with its c. I am encouraged to follow this, and realise things have moved on since my time. Thank you.


Debra Pendergast December 20, 2011 at 2:57 am

Is the name RYAN spelled with the Y rune or the I rune since it’s pronounced RI (long I) AN?


Torin Saille February 11, 2012 at 2:01 pm

@Debra Pendergast
The name Ryan is spelled with the “I” rune because runes are written phonetically. Runes also do not make use of double letters in most cases; proper nouns such as some titles(as of books) or places(only ones where lack of double letter usage would create confusion, and clearly this is objective) may use double letters. Also not mentioned above, the rune words when written can(but do not have to be) separated with one dot between words and two dots(resembling a colon) between sentences or paragraphs. For example, “book” is written “bok”.
@ J Kane
futhorc and futhark are two separate writing systems. Futhorc has retained its letters and remained virtually the same, with the exception of the added letters. Futhark, contrastingly, was influenced into two distinct writing systems: Elder Futhark(still used in some Pagan religions today) and Younger Futhark(which has letters similar to some in Futhorc and seems to be a blending of it and Elder Futhark).


Max Wellbrock-Talley September 22, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Wouldn’t the writing of “Ryan,” if done phonetically, result in a runic inscription approximating “RAIAN,” as the use of the is-rune represents IPA [i] while the letter y in “Ryan” is pronounced as a diphthong (IPA [ai])? So it should be written as rad-ac-is-ac-nyd.


Audrey May 21, 2012 at 5:22 pm

If I wanted to write a word such as the Swedish “Älskar” would I use cen or calc in place of the letter K? Is there a difference in how they’re pronounced? Since Futhorc contains both a letter for K and one for S, what sound does cen represent?


Max+Wellbrock-Talley September 22, 2014 at 1:14 pm

The cen-rune is peculiar in Fuþorc because it can represent three different sounds. The first is the [k] sound like the letter K, much like the kalc-rune (which you should probably use instead). The second is the [tʃ] sound, like the “ch” in “cheese.” The last is a palatalisation of the first, so that it’s like the first syllable of “Kyoto” (a two-syllable word, mind you).

Since you’re trying to write a Swedish word, I’d suggest using Swedish runes or the other Fuþark systems since they’re better suited than the English model. Otherwise, you’d want æsc-lagu-sigel-kalc-ac-rad.


aaron September 6, 2012 at 9:45 pm

What is the rune for “V”? Is there one?


Anonymous November 15, 2013 at 2:18 am

I don’t think there is one – you could use either U or W.


Max Wellbrock-Talley September 22, 2014 at 1:16 pm

There isn’t an equivalent for V. In different runic scripts there are usually two different solutions for this:

1. Treat it like how Latin treats it and understand V as the consonant form of U, so make all the V borrowings into ur-runes.
2. Place a dot relative to the feoh-rune, since [v] is just a voiced form of [f]. This isn’t so much done by the English as it is elsewhere and much later.


Wikk Thor December 26, 2013 at 4:14 pm

@Audrey I would rather use Elder Nordic or Viking runar to write down “Älskar”. Viking runar better fits to write this.
And if you really want to write it by Anglo saxon’s runes the C is same pronounced as K.


Desiree Ashcraft July 6, 2014 at 1:05 pm

My name is derived from the name Ashcroft, which is from the Anglo-Saxon “Oesc-croft.” How would that be written, as I have seen a few different ways now? I would love to know! Thank you!


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