Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What's in a Name?

I slipped up in Danish class yesterday and pronounced my own name Danish-ly. Some embarassment ensued as well as a discussion of whether my name could even be considered Danish. I was pretty sure it constituted a "foreign" name but thanks to those geniuses in Disney's marketing department I have achieved a sort of quasi-fame in Denmark as a cartoon character.

Enter "Nora Malkeko".

That's right folks - literal translation: Nora Milk Cow.

If you're thinking she looks familiar, it's because she is. In the States she goes by the suitably hickish name Clarabelle Cow. She's an original Disney cast member, best friend of Minnie and Daisy, and former girlfriend of Horace Horsecollar but more recently linked to Goofy.

Now I knew that with names like Margrethe, Isabella, and Benedikte, I had no chance of styling myself after Danish royalty but come on people, a milk cow, seriously?!?!

While we're on the subject, names are a funny thing here in Denmark. You may have heard or read about the rules and regulations around naming your child in Denmark. It's true, you can only name your child from an approved government list. If you want to name your child Chiquita Banana, you'll have to apply for a special dispensation from your local civil registrar (and likely be denied). Some interesting facts gleaned from an enormous report on the handling of names in Denmark:
  • Most first names are considered gender-specific. It is not allowed to give your child a name that suggests the gender opposite of theirs.
  • You may, however, combine two approved names. Suprisingly, it's okay to do so by doubling the name or adding a hyphen.
  • Once there are 25 individuals of the same sex registered with a given first name, it is automatically added to the list of approved names. You may also change your last name but only if there are 2,000 or more individuals with the same name in Denmark.
  • If you do want to get creative, you will have to show evidence that your name may be used as a first name in other cultures. For example, generally titles such as Baron and Count are not allowed as first names. For us Americans, it means we can thank the artist currently known as Prince for opening up that option for us.
  • Danes do accept the popularity of certain word types, like foods, and nicknames commonly used in other cultures, when they are appropriate. Hence, Paprika is an approved name. Potty is not.
Like the American Social Security lists, Danes keep tabs on trends and popularity in naming.

Top five names for Danes of all ages:
  • Males: Jens, Peter, Lars, Michael, Henry
  • Females: Anne, Kirsten, Hanne, Mette, Anna
Danes too are not immune to the influence of popular culture, though with somewhat different references. See if you can spot the monarchs and/or minor European celebs among the top five names given to children born in the first half of last year:
  • Boys: William, Noah, Lucas, Magnus, Mikkel
  • Girls: Ida, Isabella, Anna, Mathilde, Freya
Glancing at Denmark's entire list of most popular children's names from last year, it seems that, for better or worse, American culture is also making some inroads. Classic names like Emma, Laura, Victoria, Jonathan, and Philip all cracked the top fifty. Sadly, so too did Storm, which was given to 161 unfortunate boys who should pray their parents keep them in Denmark at least through their grade school years.

Search to see if your name makes the cut.
Find out how many people share your name in Denmark.

Nice to know that while there are 2,150 men named Jens Hansen and 1,330 women named Anne Pedersen in Denmark, there's only one me!