2-52. The Dark Chieftan in your Pocket


By now, you’ve probably heard of Bluetooth. And you can probably recognize its little Bluetooth symbol on your phone or headset or car or whatever. You may not know about King Harald.

King Harald Blâtan was a viking and King of Denmark and Sweden over 1000 years ago. He was truly known as just Harald—Blâtan was an epithet. It means literally “Blue Tooth,” but why he was called that is up for debate.

Some say it was because he had bad teeth, blue being synonymous with dark. Others claim he was named for blue clothing that he wore. Blue has always been a rare pigment, and only the wealthiest and most powerful could afford to wear it.

Some suggest that “tooth” is a mistaken translation of the English word Thane, meaning “chief.” Thane was mistranslated to “tan” in Old Norse, which means tooth. Blue Thane would properly translate to “Dark Chieftain” rather than “Blue Tooth.”

So we know where the word “Bluetooth” came from more or less, but how is it associated with modern personal network protocols?

Jim Kardach invented the system in 1997, and he proposed the name. At the time, he was reading the book “The Long Ships,” which mentions the story of King Harald’s joining of Norway and Denmark, much the way current Bluetooth protocol joins devices.

As for the symbol, it’s a joining of the Norse runes Runic letter ior.svg H (hagall) and Runic letter berkanan.svg B (berkanan), which stand for the name Harald Bluetooth.

And there you have it. I think if King Harald could have known this would be his legacy, he’d be pleased.



Harald Blâtan

Harald Blâtan

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