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Wednesday, March 27, 2019

What’s in a (Danish) Name ?

    Have you ever wondered why so many Danish surnames end in “sen?” Unless you have Danish ancestors, probably not. But the reason lies in a naming tradition that is not exclusive to Denmark.
    In the very-olden days, when the population was small and no official records were kept, most people had only one name such as Hans or Jens. As the population grew, many people were given the same names. To distinguish between the many who were named Hans, they added a descriptor such as Hans the baker as opposed the Hans the crook. These descriptors applied only to the individual, not to that person’s family.
     Surnames were initially used only by nobility and wealthy land owners, and they were usually based on where they lived, what they did for a living, a personal characteristic, or a parent’s (usually the father’s) name. This last option, known as Patronymics, became popular especially in the rural areas, which encompassed much of Denmark.

     The way Patronymic surnames work is to combine a person’s fathers’ first name and the word for son, sen, or the word for daughter, datter. So if you are a girl, your name is Inga, and your father’s first name is Jens, your full name would be Inga Jensdatter. If you are male, your name is Erik, and your father’s first name is Thor, your full name would be Erik Thorsen. Up until the mid 1800’s, patronymics were the most common type of surnames.
     As the population continued to grow, this naming scheme became problematic. Only one generation had the same the same surname, which made determination of familial lines in government records impossible. In 1828, a decree was issued, declaring that all families should have a permanent surname. However, especially in rural areas, it took many years to abolish the custom of patronymic surnames.
     In the 1850’s, people living in cities began taking permanent surnames that were not patronymics. Elsewhere, it was common for families to adopt a patronymic as a permanent surname.
     In 1904. a law was passed to allow people to change their patronymic family name to a more individual name. However, names ending in “sen’ are still predominant in Denmark.
     I am half-Danish. My mother’s family history inspired THE LEGACY. Neither of her grandfathers had a patronymic surname, but my married surname is Knudsen (Son of Knud). When I began writing, I knew I was going to choose a pen name that was easier to spell and easier to pronounce. My name is frequently misspelled as Knudson, Knutson, Knutsen, Kuntson, and so on. And then there is the dilemma, do you or don’t you pronounce the ‘K’? We do. Most people don’t. Why would they? Probably the most common English word beginning with ‘kn’ is ‘know.’ Apparently, in Denmark, the ‘K’ is pronounced, but the ‘d’ is silent.
    When it came to choosing my pseudonym, I wanted something family-related, easy to spell, and easy to pronounce. I also wanted something that would reflect the women in my family. So I chose ‘Ann,’ the first 3 letters of my mother’s first name, ‘Mar,’ the first 3 letters of my first name, and ‘Kim,’ the first 3 letters of my daughter’s first name. All together it is Ann Markim.

Do you know the derivation and meaning of your name? What kind of problems, if any, does your name cause you?


Ann Markim





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10 comments:

  1. That was very informative, and yes, it must be a real nightmare trying to trace one's ancestry. I love the way you put your pen name together and should be easily spelled. I bet it's unique.

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    1. Thanks so much for stopping by. I have relatives who have traced the family back many generations. I'm very grateful to them, as I'm not sure I would have the patience.

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  2. I've always been intrigued with family names and how spelling changed over time knowing that a lot depended on pronunciation and interpretation of that. This was interesting, thanks for sharing.

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  3. I write under a pen name, but I do have ancestral information on both sides of my family that goes back a few generations. I'm interested in discovering more about my family history, but the devotion to searching for one's roots is an all-consuming endeavor, and I'm not the one in the family who is going to undertake that task.

    On my dad's side, one of the family surnames is Iungerich (pronounced phonetically: You-ner-ick.) All I know about the origins of that name is it is Germanic and considered Pennsylvania Dutch.

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  4. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing. I would never have guessed the correct pronunciation.

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  5. I didn't realize you were Danish, Ann. Very interesting blog. There are similarities in how the surnames work for both the Irish and the Scottish. My family originated in Ireland with Neil of Nine Stones--later to become O'Neil meaning son of Neil. When Neil took Mave (know as "the fairy queen") as his wife from the Isle of Barra in the Scottish Hebrides, the surname became Macneil (there are lots of variations in the spelling and it was Americanized by spelling it without the "A" as in McNeil) meaning son of Neil in Scotland. It's rather interesting that the similarities in surnames goes across countries.

    Great post, Ann!

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    1. Thanks for stopping by. It.s really interesting that the Scotch and Irish used a similar pattern. I'm Danish on my mother's side, and Irish/Scotch Irish on my father's side.

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  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. Sorry. I posted as a comment instead of a reply.

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