Evolution of a Name

It’s a funny thing to me.  Nothing is so personal and yet so public at the same time.  It’s among my earliest memories of pondering a subject.  Where did it come from?  How did I get it?  Who else has it?  This subject has continued to be intriguing to me throughout my life.  So this is how my family name evolved.

 

Back in Norway, or “The Old Country” as my Great grandpa (Christian) would say, the father’s first name became the last name of his children.  So my 4 Greats Grandpa Christoffer’s name was added to my 3 Greats Grandpa Harald’s name.  So he was known as Harald Christoffersen.  Of course the sen meant Harald was Christoffer’s son.  Well this naming practice changed in the mid 1800’s.  Harald’s children used the last name of Haraldsen.  So Harald’s son, Christoffer (named after his grandfather mentioned above) became Christoffer Haraldsen.  But his children including Christian were the first generation to continue using the same last name.  Similar naming practices were followed in other countries, like Ireland where the Mc in Mcfadden meant the son of Fadden.

 

So then as a 12 year old boy, Christian immigrated with his widowed mother and surviving sisters to America in 1876 through Ellis Island.  While being processed to enter the country, an immigration official “Angloized” the family name into the more English sounding Haroldsen.  As I think about it, the one family heirloom my family could bring from the Old Country, their name, was in essence “vandalized” or at least thoughtlessly dinged with the careless mark of that immigration official.  But now of course it is carefully protected (with the immigration official’s mark and all) from the miss use from careless spellers, and bad spellers (like me).  Yes, I even know of some Haroldsen’s who are offended when they see their name misspelled.  Little to they know that technically, they themselves misspell it compared to the original spelling.

 

Not long after this Norwegian family arrived, Christoffer’s mother married another Scandinavian named Lars Villiamson.  Lars hadn’t had a son of his own, and so when he married Christoffer’s mother, he offered to teach him to farm and give him a farm as an inheritance if he would take his name and be known as Christoffer Villiamson.  Christoffer agreed to this and learned and earned a farm from his stepfather.  But he always regretted forsaking his own father’s name, saying he had sold his birthright for a mess of pottage.  Nine years later, while applying for a marriage license, the clerk told him that his name hadn’t ever been legally changed from Haroldsen.  So at that time he assumed the Haroldsen name once again. 

 

So if naming practices in Norway had changed a generation earlier or later, I would have been a Christoffersen.  If Christian hadn’t felt loyalty to his own fathers name, I would have become a Williamson.  (yes, Villiamson was also “Americanized”)

 

If this seems confusing, be thankful you didn’t live in one of these Utah communities back in the late 1800’s.  The Scandinavians tended to gather into the same settlements and of course attend the same churches.  Counties like Sanpete and Cache County were full of men with the same name.  The story goes that in church, the bishop (like a pastor) would call on Brother Jensen to come to the front to give the closing prayer.  50 men would begin to stand.  Seeing his mistake, the bishop would clarify, “Would Brother Lars Jensen please come and give the closing prayer.”  Then there would still be 10 or 12 men standing looking at each other wondering “which” Lars Jensen.  So then the bishop would resort to the less formal nickname and just ask, “Saddlebags” to come pray. Of course there is a story behind every nickname as well. But they really did have to use nicknames just so they knew who they were talking about.

 

With an understanding of my own last name, I have wondered at many of my other family names.  I have tried just as hard to learn about my Tillack family name from Prussia.  But to no avail.  I know some names evolved from occupations and some from farms or villages of residence.  But I haven’t found a good source of information in learning about name origins.  I wish there was some expert who has written a book on the subject.  But if so, I haven’t found it.  As hard as this is to try to sort out now, I pity the poor sole who takes it upon himself in a hundred years from now to sort through all the computer nicknames they find on what will be then “old documents.” If one of my posterity were to find a copy of my space, he/she may spend days trying to discover where “Storyteller” came from.  Of course, when I sign up on some other sight and Storyteller is not available, I’ll have to resort to some other nickname or add a lot of numbers to my nickname.  Over a lifetime I could well have hundreds of different nicknames I’ve been known by in cyberspace.  I’ll try to keep it simple (for posterity sake) and maybe choose something next time that no one else would want.  Heck I could make it descriptive to add meaning as well.  Something like “Badspeller” is probably available.  If not I could just misspell it.

“Hand Me Downs”

My children know what hand-me-downs are.  Especially the younger ones.  Sometimes when looking through photo albums one of my children will say something like, “That dress (or shirt) was mine.”  They then usually rehearse the history of ownership.  “Meagan got it new… and then Jessica wore it… then I got it… then Brittany… and now Clarissa is wearing it.”  Quietly, I think to myself, “WOW, my Scottish ancestors would be proud of us.  Waste not, want not.”

            Well, last night I happened to be looking through a “word album” in stead of a photo album.  Amelia came along and asked what I was working on.  My answer and ensuing conversation went something like this.

“These are old proverbs I’m going through.  They are listed by the country of origin.  I’m looking up the ones from the different countries that our family came from.”

She joined in, and we were soon engrossed comparing proverbs.  I was familiar with more than she was.  Some of them were new to both of us.  Some we liked and they added meaning to our understanding.  Some of them were archaic and we just scratched our head at.  I didn’t really relate to any of the Norwegian proverbs like, “A wooer should open his ears more than his eyes.”  We both looked at each other and shrugged in befuddlement. 

Through all of this, I was surprised at how many of the proverbs were not only familiar to me, but actually a part of my speech and thinking.  As I looked at the Danish proverbs, I thought of my Danish family, the Jensen’s.  While looking at the German proverbs, my family the Tillack’s, Von Dietrich’s, Everett’s and Schultze’s’s came to mind.  While perusing the Scottish proverbs, my Smith family was in mind.  And the many pages of English proverbs caused me to think of my English Families the Tansers, Rubbra’s and Websters. 

Last night, the time Amelia and I spent reading these things was fun.  In fact this morning, it was still on my mind.  Like my daughter seeing in an older family photo album pictures of “her clothes” that she has just discovered once belonged to an older sister, I have discovered words and phrases that I thought got new.  Now I see many of my favorites which are actually “hand me downs” from parents, grandparents and on back.  I am pleased with this one more connection I feel with my family who came before me.     

            Proverbs that like.  Some are new to me, some are old.  

 

Danish Proverbs

“A rich child often sits in a poor mother’s lap.”

“He who leaps high must take a long run.”

“It is hard to pay for bread that has been eaten.”

“There is no need to fasten a bell to a fool.”

“Though the bird may fly over your head, let it not make its nest in your hair.”

 

 

English Proverbs

“A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”

“A man is as old as he feels himself to be.”

“A man may lead a horse to water, but cannot make him drink.”

“All evils are equal when they are extreme.”

“An empty purse frightens away friends.”

“An ill workman always blames his tools.”

“As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”

“As good have no time as make no good use of it.”

“Beggars cannot be choosers.”

“Children are a poor man’s riches.”

“Death always comes too early or too late.”

“Deeds are fruits, words are leaves.”

“Dogs that bark at a distance never bite.”

“Every cloud has a silver lining.”

“Every dog hath its day.”

“Fame is a magnifying glass.”

“Give the devil his due.”

“God help the rich, the poor can look after themselves.”

“He teacheth ill, who teacheth all.”

“He that marries for wealth sells his liberty.”

“He that scattereth thorns must not go barefoot.”

“He who would climb the ladder must begin at the bottom.”

“Honesty is the best policy.”

“Kill not the goose that lays the golden eggs.”

“Lend your money and lose your friend.”

“Let sleeping dogs lie.”

“Make hay while the sun shines.”

“Many eyes go through the meadow, but few eyes see the flowers.”

“Never put off till tomorrow what may be done today.”

“No time like the present.”

“One hair of a woman draws more than a team of oxen.”

“One of these days is none of these days.”

“Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches.”

“Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.”

“Six hours’ sleep for a man, seven for a woman and eight for a fool.”

“Talk of the devil and he is sure to appear.”

“Time trieth truth.”

“Tomorrow is a new day.”

“We live and learn.”

“Youth looks forward but age looks back.”

 

German Proverbs

“A little too late is much too late.”

“A teacher is better than two books.”

“All or nothing.”

“Beware of a silent dog and still water.”

“Fat hen lays few eggs.”

“He who has once burnt his mouth always blows his soup.”

“He who holds the ladder is as bad as the thief.”

“In the visible church the true Christians are invisible.”

“There are many preachers who don’t here themselves.”

“When God says today, the devil says tomorrow.”

“Where God has a temple, the devil has a chapel.”
“Where the devil cannot come, he will send.”

“Who begins too much accomplishes little.”

 

Scottish Proverbs

“A penny saved is a penny gained.”

“Better keep the devil at the door than turn him out of the house.”

“It is ill fishing if the hook is bare.”

“Never marry for money.  Ye’ll borrow it cheaper.”

“One may ride a free horse to death.”

“What baites one, banes another.”

The Antithesis of Anticipation

As the emotions which I experience change from one thing to the next, it triggers memories of past experiences and of family stories I have read or heard.  This week, my thoughts and memories are reliving the euphoric feelings of anticipation and of its antithesis, disappointment.  Why do these two extremes always seem to go together?  Is it possible to experience one without the other? 

 

Maybe it’s a guy thing, but I have learned (quite well I think) to mask how I am feeling on the inside.  While the crowd goes wild at the great performance or unbelievable feat, I am quietly taking it all in.  It doesn’t mean that I am any less impressed or excited.  On the contrary, all my senses are absorbing and storing the experience.  Long after the cheers and applauds have quieted, even after the stadium or stage is dark and empty, the experience is still vibrating inside of me like when it happened.  I guess I am more of a storage device than I am a reflector.  

 

However, it seems to me that this high is inevitably followed by a low in equal proportion.  It breaks my heart (though I don’t show it on the outside) to watch one of my children, bursting with excitement for a new toy, but then discovers that it isn’t as fantastic as was portrayed on TV.  As I watch their body language change, and I see in their eyes, the realization of being deceived, I am thinking that this is a hard but good lesson for them to learn.  But is it really?  Is the low feeling of disappointment really required as an offsetting balance for the high of anticipation?

 

Back when my Great-grandpa, Christian Haraldsen was a young boy living in Norway, he heard wild tails of how wonderful and easy life would be when they could live in America.  Life was hard in for him in Norway.  His childhood memories include frantically running through the streets of the city looking for an orange, so he could fulfill his sister’s dying wish for a taste.  That was a bitter memory.  There wasn’t an orange to be found.  At the same time, missionaries were telling Christian and his widowed mother how good life was in America, and more specifically in the Zion of the west.  Christian envisioned a life free of the religious persecution which he knew in his home in Risor.  Later in life he related that after listening to the missionaries talk about Zion, he expected to see “a roasted hog with a fork stuck in its back, just walking down the street waiting to be eaten.”

 

I can only imagine the great anticipation Christian felt when as a 12 year old lad, he and his family boarded the “Monarch of the Seas” with almost a thousand other immigrants.  The reality of life in the American west was a big let down.  Not only was food scarce and hard work plentiful, but persecutions continued.  Apparently, those missionaries forgot to mention that sinners also lived among the Saints.  In the Hyrum, Utah of 1875, lifting your hat to a passing lady in the street was reason for laughter and ridicule.  Christian had to quickly adapt to the less refined ways of the west.  I wonder how long and deep was his disappointment of real life in the American west.  If I were Christian’s father, observing his disappointment of the real American West versus the advertised American West, I know my heart would ache for him.  But then would I think to myself, “That is a hard but good lesson to learn,” like I do when I see my own children go through disappointment? 

 

While going to college, a friend and I made plans to cross the United States on a bicycle tour.  After talking and researching and planning for several weeks, he said something that really took me back.  “We’ll probably never go on this trip, but it sure is fun planning it.”  Until then, I had totally planned to follow through with the plans.  But it wasn’t long after that, I met a Beautiful Redhead who later became my Beautiful Wife.  Needless to say, my priorities quickly changed and my college friend was completely right in his prediction.  Of course I was too distracted with my new interest to notice the disappointment of not taking the tour.

 

Guess that I can store up the emotions of disappointment as well as excitement.  This week I wish I were more of a reflective device and less of a storage device.  I guess I need to go find something new to anticipate.

My Garden

I grew my first garden when I was about 10 years old.  It was a great garden.  I had alot going for me.  Plenty of fertile soil, lots of water available, perfect weather conditions all summer, and beginners luck.  I was too young and naive to know how much work I was setting myself up for.  But by the end of the summer, I had done a pretty good job supplying the family table and I had aquired the nickname of "Farmer Jones."
 
That was the beginning of a life long love of gardening for me.  And I have tried to grow gardens ever since.  Though, not all of them have been the same success as my first garden.  Not long after I was married, I had a beautiful garden growing when a cold front came through and hard froze my garden on the morning of the 4th of July. 
 
It seemed like when ever I got my garden established, we would have to move and start over again.  This was a real set back for the perennials like the berries.  I used to joke to my Beautiful wife that  every time I got my favorite, the strawberry, going good, we would suddenly have to move.  Sadly, it wasn’t a Joke though.  We could count on moving after my strawberry patch was doing well.
 
My best garden was about 8 years ago.  That summer, I had plenty of good fertile soil, abundant water, lots of free time to work on it, great weather conditions for gardening, and lots of dumb luck.  That year I tried to grow everything offered in the seed cataloges.  And everything I planted grew well.  Even with our large hungry family, we couldn’t eat everything we grew that year.  Yes, even my favorite, the strawberries, grew like they were in then Garden of Edon.  But then the curse kicked in and by the next spring, my job made us move, kicking and screaming all the way. There are million dollar homes on top of that garden plot now.
 
Well, like I said, that was 8 years and two moves ago.  Now we live in a desert waste land that won’t grow anything.  I didn’t know that when I first moved here.  We spent many dollars and many hours on fruit trees, all kinds of berries plants, and of course all the regular garden vegetables.  For four years, I have been torturering and killing every kind of plant I could get my hands on.  If plants could talk, they would call my yard the death camp or the killing fields.  I think the only reason my beautiful wife hasn’t objected too loudly to all the money I have wasted trying to grow a garden here is because she is hoping that I will eventully be successful with the strawberries, which of course will envoke the "Strawberry curse" causing us to be forced to move soon after.  Yes, she hates living here.
 
But this summer has been alittle different.  I have scaled back my gardening plans to container gardening.  At first, this was a disaster as well.  When I finally realized that I couldn’t do anything with this soil to help it, and when I started setting up my containers with potting soil and peat moss from out of the area, then things were different.  Now my small container garden is productive and happy.  I am once again eating vine rippened tomatoes picked directly from my garden.  
 
And Yes, Beautiful Wife, it is still hopeful that sometime in the not too distant future, my strawberry plants will start to produce, envoking the Strawberry curse, "Forcing" us to move.
 
But for the last few days, while enjoying the fruits of my labors, I have been thinking about other areas of my life.  I have been wondering if there are other failures which I could scale back and put into smaller containers.  As I sit here eating this perfectly vine rippened tomato, with juice dripping from my chin, I realize that a small scale success is alot easier to swallow than a large scale failure.  And who knows, after the "Strawberry Curse" kicks in and we "Have" to move, maybe I’ll find more fertile soil in other areas where I can expand my dreams once again.
 
 

My Spin on My Great Grandpa – Christian Haroldsen “Uncle”

 

 
 
 
 
Several days ago, I was chatting with my father on the phone.  He had just attended a family reunion.  In the conversation he brought up the subject of his Grandfather (and my Greatgrand Father), Christian Haroldsen,  who immigrated from Norway when he was 12 years old.  Now my father is as proud of our family as anyone I know.  But I have never heard him say anything good about Christian.  And his conversation on the phone was no exception.  So since that visit of a few days ago, I have thought alot about Christian.  My story follows a timeline beginning in 1839.  And I am now writing the story of our family in 1853.  And Christian wasn’t born until 1863.  So he is not in my story yet.  But when I do write about him, I want my family to see a different perspective on his life than has been told before.  My spin on Christain will be different.
 
All that we "family" seem to remember about Christian, was that he was a drunk who almost bankrupted the family farm.  My dad even said that he regretted that our family name comes through him.
 
I am bothered that the value of Christian’s life  is judged solely on his addiction to alcohol.  In spite of this addiction, he had a wonderful life.  His contribution to our family heritage will not be forgotten when I tell his story in my novel. 
 
Even his bad example in this one thing has become better than no example at all.  None of his 9 children ever drank.  My father has never tasted alcohol.  I have never tasted alcohol.  And to my knowledge, none of my children has ever tasted alcohol.  I wonder how many lives of his posterity have been spared ending up in a ruined life because the Haroldsen’s learned their lesson about booze from watching what happened to Christian.  I don’t despise my Great Grandpa, who didn’t feel worthy of the title.  He asked that everyone in the family just call him "Uncle". 
 
I have files of information and have spent years studying and pondering his life.  When his story is told by me, it will have a different spin on it. 
 
Great Grandpa Christian, I won’t call you Uncle ( I wouldn’t have done it to your face, and I won’t do it in your memory) , if you somehow have internet access in the next life and can read this, I want you to know that I think you were a pretty cool dude.   Just wait until you see what I write about you.  As your posterity read, I promise smiles of admiration along with the tears of sadness.
 
 

Why I call myself “Storyteller”

I was about twelve years old when I first read of my Two-Greats Grandfather, Christoffer Haraldsen, who was a sailor that was lost at sea.  There were no details about what happened, only that his family was left to manage without him.  I sat and reread the account and then thought about what might have happened.  In a very personal way, I was saddened at the family loss of Christoffer.  From that day on, anytime someone made a comment or told stories from my Norwegian heritage, I have listened with great interest.  I have been frustrated at the lack of information and occasional miss information.  Like when I learned that it was really Christoffer’s father, Harald, that was the ship captain who was lost at sea.  Christoffer was a ship carpenter who drowned in an accident in the bay of Christina (now Oslo) Norway.
 
Then about in 2000, my teenaged daughter, Meagan, brought home a video for our family to watch, that she had seen in the theator and really liked.  I sat and watched "The Perfect Storm" with my family that night.  The true story of a New England fishing boat that was lost in a bad storm made my whole family cry.  I could not help but think of my 3-Greats Grandfather, Harald, who was the captain of a small freight ship that went down in a bad storm in the Skagerrak strait between Denmark and Norway in the mid 1800’s.  After the movie was over, I told Meagan and some of my other older children that they had a 4-Greats Grandfather who’s story was very similar to the one we had just watched.  They only gave a "That’s nice dad" look as they were thinking, "so what?" 
 
I just couldn’t, and can’t, get it out of my mind, the idea that because how the story was told, my family can morn the loss of a fishing boat captain from New England, and at the same time they don’t really care about our own "Harald" and our other family, who came before us.  So since 2000, I have researched every true detail I can find about Harald and our other progenitors.  I have also studied where they lived, and what life was like for them.  I am now putting this information into a historical novel for my children.  My goal is to make my children cry for their 4-Greats Grandfather, Harald, like they did that night for George Clooney’s charactor in "Perfect Storm."  I want them to feel the same emotions for all our family who have blazed the way so we could be here now enjoying the good life that they feel for our other close family members. 
 
So inspite of the fact that I am a terrible speller, a slow reader, and have only learned to type (which I do very poorly) when I started to work on my novel, my nickname is now "Storyteller" and boy have I found a great story to tell.