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How to Name Yourself

Mine didn’t quite translate when I came to the U.S.

Credit: artisteer/iStock/Getty

MyMy name is weird. How weird? It’s “Haukur Örn Hauksson.” Yeah. Literally translated, it means “Hawk Eagle Son of Hawk.” I love my parents dearly, but they can be a little bit eccentric sometimes, like when they explained their inspiration was for me to have a “Native American name.”

This is interesting, because I’m not Native American, I’m actually from Iceland, that cold, brutal, volcanic island in the North where Vikings wrestle polar bears, eat sour ram testicles, and have an unorthodox naming culture. See, Icelanders don’t actually have a last name in the traditional sense. Our last names are our father’s name plus “Son” as in “son of,” or “Dóttir” as in “daughter of.” I am Hauksson, my sister is Hauksdóttir.

A family unit thus often all have different last names. In my experience, Americans find this fairly incomprehensible. And in case you were wondering about the weird symbols, we do have a few extra letters, and yes, it’s a little bit complicated.

Image: Omniglot

In fact, Icelandic is a very stubborn language, and has basically refused to change for over 1,000 years. It’s hard to teach an old dog to sit. This has its uses: I can pick up an ancient scroll written by a Viking shaman and read it like a newspaper. But it’s also the reason Icelandic has consistently been ranked as one of the most difficult languages for English speakers to learn. All that archaic vocabulary and complex grammar tends to be hard to swallow. Plus, the language is literally a tongue twister. We make sounds that no self-respecting American would (or could) ever repeat or emulate.

So when I met an American girl in a bar in Iceland my fate was sealed.

After destiny and romance upended my peaceful life, I relocated to New York and started introducing myself to people. Raised eyebrows, nervous chuckles, awkward mumbles; I’ve heard the pronunciation of my name butchered in more ways than I ever dreamed possible. My name has also been a career hindrance. As a writer, neither my name nor nationality necessarily indicate a mastery of the English language. I’ve had many initial meetings and phone calls where I get that insidious, terrible compliment: “Oh, your English is very good.”

Could I live out the rest of my days as a Jonathan? Shed my name like a snake sheds its skin? Possibly.

Now, as a permanent resident in the land of the brave, I commonly go by “Hawk.” I’ve never really had a nickname before. I like it. Sounds kinda badass. And it’s easier for everyone.

My darling wife, interestingly enough, doesn’t love it. She makes a point of calling me “Haukur” at least 40% of the time, demands I teach her Icelandic, and once tried to have a serious discussion about taking my last name before we got married. I vehemently opposed it, of course. She is not the son of Hawk. Unfortunately, this has made a few people question whether she’s married, or downright ask her why she kept her name. Hashtag feminism.

This begs the question: Why don’t I just legally change my name? I could choose a name completely different from my given one, something more easily digestible for the Western market. The whole point is to blend in, after all.

I had given a lot of thought to finding my perfect American camouflage name, and decided to split the contestants into two categories:

  1. A cool name my 14-year-old self could really get behind.
  2. A nice, professional name generated by my super-wise adult self.

A few evening walks later, a little bit of gazing thoughtfully into the distance, and the results were finally in.

Behind door number one, we have “Logan.” A Wolverine reference? I can neither confirm nor deny that absurd claim.

For my nice, professional name, however, I settled on “Jonathan.” I’m not sure why, but I’ve found Jonathan a very appealing name for a while now. Could I live out the rest of my days as a Jonathan? Shed my name like a snake sheds its skin? Possibly.

Then again, people have been troubled by their names for a long time so maybe I should just suck it up. Or perhaps I should borrow a page from Shakespeare’s hormone-fueled and star-crossed lovers, who believed in love above all and did not care about family feuds or cultural norms.

“O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?

Deny thy father and refuse thy name;

Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,

And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.”

Jonathan Capulet? I’m considering it…

Writer/basketball lover/semi-professional dog sitter. Born on a savage, volcanic island in the North, currently residing in the Big Apple.

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