WNW: The Scandinavian E vs. O (Or: Spell My Name Right!)
I'm combining two topics for today's Word Nerd Wednesday: history (in particular, family history) and word nerdiness in the form of patronymic names.
The history, of course, must come first:
Most people in the United States with European ancestry can point to a specific reason (an "immigration event") that spurred people to leave their motherlands and head to America for a better life, whether it was for economic, religious, or other reasons.
One big example is the Irish potato famine. Lots of Irish people came to the States during that period in hopes of, oh, not dying.
Other countries experienced hard financial times, and we see spikes in immigration during them, including people coming to work in U. S. mines, thinking that they'd strike it rich.
A lot of immigrants came from Scandinavia, Sweden in particular. Some of the more common last names we see from that era are Larson, Peterson, and Jacobson.*
Those are patronymic names, meaning the person's last name simply told who their father was. (So Jacobson is Jacob's son, and so forth.) Last names changed with each generation calling themselves after their father.
Most Scandinavian descendants around the U. S. come from Sweden, Iceland, Norway, or Finland.
Not Denmark. Why? Because Denmark never had an immigration event.
Except that it sort of did. The early LDS Church sent missionaries to Denmark, and lots of newly converted Danes then immigrated to Utah. So Utah has a large population of specifically Danish ancestry, something you won't find in any other area of the country.
Now we're getting to the fun part:
Danish patronymic names use an E instead of an O: Larsen, Petersen, Jacobsen. I learned this early on in my marriage when addressing a Christmas card to my grandfather-in-law.
"Is it Jensen with an E or O?"
The answer was a prompt: "E, not O. Grandpa's big on his Danish heritage."
The prevalence of Scandinavian (but not Danish) ancestry in the U. S. is why most Americans, when faced with a patronymic name, will assume it's spelled with an O.
The O is the normal spelling to them. And, assuming the person is not from Utah, chances are, they're right.
But in Utah, the reverse is true. The vast majority of patronymic names are Danish, and they end with an E.
The E is normal to them.
So, the kicker:
If you're like my high-school choir instructor, Mr. Larson, and have a patronymic name not from Denmark, and you either live in Utah or know people from Utah, and those Utah people are always spelling your last name wrong, now you know why.
*This post was inspired by Melanie Jacobson, a victim of this Utahn, who spelled her name wrong once and never will again.
Edited to add: The O is clearly from Sweden, not Finland, Iceland, or Norway. I'm aware of Icelandic and Finnish immigration, but I don't know much about Norway's. Must investigate!