Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Of Naming Conventions of Iceland and My Ancestral Roots

As you may have noticed in the post below, we have a naming system in Iceland that is different from the traditional use of a family name.

I will try to explain our system, which stems from the old Nordic, by giving examples from my own family:

My name is Greta Björg Úlfsdóttir
My fathers name is Úlfur Ragnarsson
His father, my grandfather, was Ragnar Ásgeirsson
His father was Ásgeir Eyþórsson
His father was Eyþór Felixsson
and so on...

My fathers mother was a Dane, originally by the name of Olga Margrethe Harne Nielsen, hailing from Århus in Jutland.
Upon marrying my Icelandic grandfather she followed the European custom (taking the opportity of shortening her name at the same time) and became Grethe Ásgeirsson.
I guess that at that time there had not yet been made the strict (and stupid) laws regarding the names of people gaining citzenship; by them she might have had to change her name to "Margrét Óladóttir" or maybe "Gréta Óladóttir", as she was the daughter of the late pub owner Ole Harne Nielsen and his wife Margrethe. (In fact for years "the system" tried to name her "Ásgeirsdóttir") As it is today people adhere to these rules by getting an official name, but most, except Asians with "strange" names that Icelanders can´t pronounce anyway, just keep on using their original name privately. Pretty stupid!

But, "like we say in Iceland: On with the butter ;)" :

My grandfathers mother was Jensína Björg Matthíasdóttir

Her mother was Sólveig Pálsdóttir. This woman was the first Icelandic woman to finish a formal education for becoming a midwife. She got a scholarship from the Danish state (we were at that time still a Danish colony) to obtain this education. This was badly needed in her hometown in Vestman Islands, where babies were dying in numbers from a disease called Foot and Mouth Disease, stemming from animals. As it is she had to have an exception from the rules for admittance, as by them women had to be mothers themselves to be eligible for the school. After completing her education she was a midwife to the islands for 20 years, 1847-1867.

One of my great-great-grandmothers medical appliances
now on view in the Westman Islands Museum

Her father was Páll Jónsson, widely known by the nickname "Páll skáldi" (Paul the skald). He was orginally a priest or a minister, but had to give that up as a result of a combination of his liking for the strong drop and a lack of respect and humilty towards authority. He then became one of Iceland´s last real vagabonds or tramps.

So you see, my great-great-great-grandfather was a Supertramp! I´m immensely proud of him, as I can see by what still exist of his poems and rhymeries today that he was also a man who had a burning longing for justice for the common people, a man who stood by his convictions and didn´t let them be trodden on by any costs.

Ásgeir Ásgeirsson

And I think he will have laughed in Heaven when a century or so later his great-grandson Ásgeir Ásgeirsson became the second president of
The Republic of Iceland!

...but as Óskar just now rightly pointed out to me: I have my mother´s ancestral side too; just like my mother sometimes pointed this out to my father about his father having had a father as well as his grandmother´s line of ancestry leading to Páll skáldi. So maybe I´ll sometime later do a post on my other lines of ancestry...

Maybe I´ll make a whole new page for myself and those interested in some history:
Delving into the ancestral roots...hmmm... ;)


Johnny Newt said...

Very enlightening ! I think I understand now.
You should be very proud of your heritage. i would think it much easier tracing ancestry in a country like iIceland then it seems to be here in the giant melting pot that is America.

Greta said...

I am.
And yes, it´s much easier for us to trace our ancesty, especially since we own well preserved and detailed church records of births, deaths and numbers of population in general, reaching far back into the past.
These play a great role in a recent Icelandic firm established by an Icelandic doctor of genealogy (who atually studied and worked in the States before returning to his native country)in cooperation with some big international drugproduction companies for the researc of the genealogy behind some inherited diseases and finding cure, i.e. diabetes, schizophrenia, rheumatism, cancer, coronary and heart disease etc.

A Hairy Snail said...

Hey! That was a great read... I had read somewhere (I think some Tom Clancy book) in complete "vagueness" about the naming process in Iceland - good to find out more.

It's good to know your ancestry and all the culture and traditions that goes along with it. For me, a mixed breed (half punjabi and half bengali), the question of roots keeps arising due to the fact that I have never been brought up in the places where my parents hail from. The Indian Diaspora I am.

Lovely blog you have - great read.