What’s in a Name?

Gullak Christenson ca 1860; personal collection

My paternal 2nd great grandfather was named Gullak. He was named for his maternal grandfather but the name was not passed down any further. A quick google search for ‘Gullak’ shows a sites for a personal finance app on the first three pages and genealogy pages for two people named Gullak on page four. Not much.

When I search the Norwegian National Archives for “Gullak” in the 1865 census, it results in 174 hits. Hmm. That is an unusual name then even for Norway. When I open the search up for variants, the results include Gulak, Gulek, Gullik, Gullek, in addition to Gullak.

Looking in my Norwegian English Dictionary by Einar Haugen (lovely gift from my Norsk bokklub, tusen takk), the word “gul” is “yellow” or “gold”. So “gullfisk” is “goldfish”, “gullboste” is “dandelion” and “gullgutt” is “apple of the parent’s eye, mother’s darling boy”. Also interesting and perhaps relevant is that Gulen is the Old Norse term for the Sogn region of Norway – the area where my Gullak lived.

The Nordic Name database shows that Gullak is a derivative of the Old Norse Guðleikr or a combination of Gud – “good” and Leik – “game, play, amusement”. It also mentions that the name has become a vocabulary word in Norwegian in the form of gaulik = ‘fool, joker, jester’. Perhaps my forebearer was a bit of a prankster?

I’ve always wondered about this name – it certainly is unusual and I’m glad to have dug in to a bit of the history about it. Now I’m going to go try to find any more Gullaks in my tree!!

This post is part of Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks Challenge, a year-long blogging project focusing on family history stories. This week’s prompt is “unusual name”.

Cara Jensen is owner of Sherlock Homes historical consulting & genealogy, where she provides expert services on cultural preservation and ancestral discovery.

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