That's the meaning of “Gandalf” in old Norse.
Since I've started writing my Portals books – a blend of police procedural and our own folklore and mythology – I've become intrigued by how many modern names, and words, are rooted in our ancestors' beliefs in elves, faeries and other magical beings.
My own grandfather's name was Aubrey – derived from two Germanic words that meant “elf” and “ruler.” Aha! I'm a descendant of a ruler of elves!
If you're named Alvin, or Alvina, you're an “elf friend” - from the Latin “Alvinius.”
Alfred E. Neuman of “Mad” Magazine fame? His name is from Old English and has been interpreted as “elf counsel” or “magical counsel.”
Oliver, from the French Olivier, is believed to come from Germanic Alfihar – “elf army.”
But the belief in these supernatural beings has entered our everyday vocabulary too.
Sudden, inexplicable illnesses of people or animals were once attributed to the person or animal being “elf shot” – wounded by an arrow or bolt shot by elves or some other fae being.
A person who's “pixilated” – slightly eccentric, whimsical, or under the influence – is being “pixie-led,” drawn astray by the pixies.
The puca, a mischievous, sometimes dangerous nature spirit in English folklore, gives us the term “puckish” for someone who's mischievous or, possibly, devilish.
From Greek and Roman myth, we get such words as “herculean,” meaning something that requires great strength or tremendous effort to achieve. The origin is with Hercules, son of Zeus (or Jove, the Roman equivalent) and a mortal woman, a demigod perhaps best-noted for performing 12 impossible labors.
From the fifth of those labors – cleaning the Augean Stables in a single day – comes another word still in use today: “Augean” now means any task that is difficult and unpleasant.
The link between myth (or folklore) and modern-day words isn't always obvious – and I love to discover new ones. There's “oaf,” for example. That's from the Old Norse “alfr” – an elf. The word originally meant someone who was rendered clumsy or stupid by elven enchantment, or – at least as early as the 1620s – a changling, a “foolish child” left by faeries in exchange for a human mother's own infant.
And … I've never associated Napoleon with the dwarves of Norse (or Germanic) mythology, but some etymologists now say there's a connection.
Rather than the origin of the name being in Naples, they say, the name may come from the Germanic “Nibelungen” – a race of subterranean dwarves who hoarded an immense treasure of gold and jewels.
I love to collect this kind of lore, so any of you who know other names or words that derive from our folklore … Please come share!