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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Surf and Turf

Being the granddaughter of Minnesotan farmers and growing up in a rural community, I am familiar with the agrarian life. Familiar with slowing down for tractors towing grain laden wagons in the Fall and the beautiful sight of parallel rows of green sprouting from black fields in the Spring.  So when I started looking into another vein of my Norwegian heritage, the ones who lived on an island hugging the Arctic Circle, I was curious and intrigued as to how they lived.

My Johnsons lived in the Helgeland region, the southernmost part of North Norway.  This region is characterized by mountains with names like ‘Seven Sisters’,’Rødøy Lion’ and the ‘Dønna man’ rising up from the ocean.

Nord-norge-north-norway-Mountains-in-helgeland
Alexander Erdbeer @CC

Kristoffer Johnson and his wife Ingri Jorgensdatter, my 2nd great grandparents, lived on one such island.  How their life must have been.  Boats, nets, salt in the air, fish smell, sounds of sea birds – so different than the landlubber lifestyle to which I am accustomed!  Especially the food – I imagine they did not dine on pork chops, beef steaks and corn on the cob as I did (though maybe the mashed potatoes?).  What cycles did they observe that would correspond to the planting and harvesting seasons that a farming community depends on.  The children would have grown up playing in and around the sea instead of my backyard cornfields and creekbeds.

Kristoffer and Ingri immigrated to the United States in 1880, bringing their children Ida, Jørgen (my great grandfather George), and Ragnvald, settling in western Minnesota.  How shocking for them must the transition have been to go from coastal views to the endless plains! They adapted and survived.

I look forward to visiting Helgeland (it motivates my daily Norwegian language lessons) to learn firsthand the sights, smells, tastes, and sounds of what my ancestors experienced.  But until then, I will try to find out more about my Arctic island ancestors – maybe trying to incorporating more seafood into my diet in their honor, much to the chagrin of my meat and potato loving husband – haha!