Knoop – Descended from a Viking King’s family

Abstract: The family name of Knoop is probably named after a Danish Viking king, King Gnupa, who lived during the 10th century. The exact spelling of “Gnupa” is open to discussion, because the Vikings used a different alphabet to ours, and there are not always direct equivalents to our letters. Today the spelling “Knoop” and “Knop” are predominant for King Gnupa’s descendants, be they direct (fathered by the King Gnupa, or indirect (by his wider family).

In 891 Olaf won the battle of lion in the Brabant region of what is now Belgium. With this battle Olaf began to conquer the Danish Viking crown, which he achieved around 900. This was the beginning of the Olafidian dynasty. Olaf died as the King of Denmark around 906, leaving the crown to his son Gyrd, who died in 916. After that Gyrd’s younger brother Gnupa was crowned Viking king of Denmark, and lived in the largest Danish settlement called Haitabu, close to what is now the city of Schleswig in northern Germany. King Gnupa married Astrid, the daughter of an influential Danish earl named Odinkar. King Chnuba lost the first Danish-German war in 934 against the German King Heinrich 1. King Chnuba was baptised and forced to pay tribute, according to a contemporary report from Widukind of Corvey. Their son, Sigtrygg, the last Olafidian King, lost a battle at Haitabu to Hardegon in 940. In that battle Sigtrygg’s troops were wiped out. Gorm became the new King of Denmark, and drove Sigtrygg out of the country. Sigtrygg died in a battle of Normandy in 942. The Gormidian dynasty lasted until 1157. Adam of Bremen interviewed the Danish King Estridsen in 1070 in Roskilde, who is supposed to have said „ Olaf’s saga is tradition in the Danish court!“ and named Olaf, Gyrd, Chnob, and Sigtrygg as early Viking Kings baptized to Christianity, while writing the history of the church of Hamburg (“Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum”). Viking descendents are known until this day for telling stories of their forefathers, and this verbal heritage helps replace the general lack of written history in their culture. While researching the name Knop/Knoop, Adolf Knop came across reports from Knoop’s, that tell of the origin of their name from King Gnupa.

When King Gnupa lost the battle against Heinrich I. in 934, he probably had to give family members as hostages to secure the payment of the tributary. This was a common part of peace contracts in ancient and medieval times. Based on the distribution of the Knoops in old historical records, these hostages were possibly taken to the area around Celle, in Lower Saxony. After Sigtrygg lost power six years later, the remaining hostages were not bailed out by his successor Gorm. To distinguish the royal, foreign hostages from others, they were given the last name of Knopa. The last name Knop is to be found in the oldest documents in and around Celle, dating from the 13th century. Most of the people in Lower Saxony) did not have a last name until the 14th or 15th century. Mainly royalty used last names in the 10th and 11th century.

Ex-Queen Astrid had two runes made in memory of her son Sigtrygg. One of the runes was written in old Swedish and the other in old Danish, probably to cater to the two language groups who lived in Haitabu. These runes are now in the museum at Haitabu. Asfrid, the daughter of Odinkar, created these monuments for King Sigtrygg, her and Gnupa’s son. Gorm engraved the rune. The small Sigtrygg rune was written in old Danish. The large Sigtrygg rune was written in old Swedish with the following text: “Astrid made these monuments for Sigtrygg, her and Gnupa’s son.” The runes were written in “younger Futhark”, and the letters do not translate directly into our alphabet. For this reason the exact translation of each letter is open to interpretation. “Gnupa” could have been spelled in many different ways, according to our alphabet.

K, G, C or Ch


o or u

p or b


Widukind of Corvey spelled it “Chnuba”, Adam of Bremen “Chnob”, while the Danish historian Hennig Hellmuth Andersen chose to spell it “Gnupa”. Later generations usually spelt it “Knop” at first, with the “o” pronounced long as in “snow”.

The “a” at the end of the “Knopa” was dropped, similarly to many such endings in old lower German. Adam of Bremen already reported the name without an “a” at the end.

In the middle ages a long vowel was sometimes emphasised by the addition of a silent “e”, “i”, “y” in Germany. “Knop” became “Knoep”, “Knoip” or “Knoyp”. The most common change became “Knoop”, which is the predominant form today, along with “Knop”. All of these names are pronounced in the same way.

It has been suggested that “Knoop” comes from Knopf (button) or Knauf (knob), but this is probably not true. “KN” is of Indo-Germanic origin and means gnarled, knobby, knotty, thickened or small and compact. Other words using this root are Knoedel (dumpling), Knolle (lump), Knospe (bud) or Knirps (tiny tot or small child). Another group of words describe a hill or mound in various old German dialects; Knobbe, Knopp, Knipp, Knubbe. People named after words using this root often have a  small, stout, compact body stature. The Knoops/Knops usually have a large stature. It is not likely that a group of large people were named after a knob, dumpling or mound. A second difference is that the “o” in Knoop/Knop is pronounced long (like “snow”) and not short (like “knob”). All words derived from the Indo-Germanic “KN” have a short “o” following. The third argument against this sort of a root is that Knop/Knoop is found in the earliest records, before the time that non-royal people had last names. The story of descending from the family of King Gnupa has also been passed on through the generations to some of the Knoops living these days, according to Adolf Knop. The origin of the name Knoop/Knop is probably derived from King Gnupa, and not named after a “Knopf” or “Knauf”.

The views presented in this article are a summary of the thoughts in the book written and published by Adolf Knop. This book was written in German, so this article offers a translation for English speaking readers. If you have any changes, additions or comments to this topic feel free to contact me over the website.

Steffen Knoop


  1. “Knop – Knoop, Ein grosses Bauerngeschlecht mit einem uralten Namen”, Adolf Knop (2001).  This book was printed by Adolf Knop, Eulenbergstrasse 9, D–51065 Koeln and Ursel Schroeder, Laubenweg 7, D-29227 Celle
  2. „Haitabu, Fernhandelszentrum zwischen den Welten“, Birgit Maixner, Archäologisches Landesmuseum in der Stiftung Schleswig-Holsteinische Landesmuseum Schloss Gottorf (2010)

Steffen and his three sons, Tiemo, Lukas and Silas, with the large Sigtrygg rune in Haitabu.

Steffen and his three sons, Tiemo, Lukas and Silas, with the large Sigtrygg rune in Haitabu.