How to Name Yourself
Mine didn’t quite translate when I came to the U.S.
My 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.
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…