Home sweet Hellerup | What’s in a name?



Something that has long interested me (well, since IÂ’ve been living in Denmark) is the relationship between Danes and their names. It first took my notice when someone told me that the queenÂ’s husband was French.

A Frenchman called Henrik – that didn’t seem likely, I thought. I then found out that this was not the name the dashing young French aristocrat was born with (and if you don’t believe me about the dashing bit, just google some old black and white photos of him – he was quite hot).

On marrying Margrethe, Henri was politely encouraged to change his name to a Danish one. Poor man. And as for the ‘dashingÂ’, it seems that his looks have grown into his adopted name.

Times have changed, in that respect. When Prince Frederik married his young Australian bride, Mary, there was no question of her changing her name to the Danish equivalent ‘Maria’, which in retrospect was rather lucky, because Frederik’s younger brother was also to marry a Marie (Henrik’s second name, by the way) a few years later!

On the subject of the DanesÂ’ apparent inability to understand names that are not wholly Danish, cartoon characters havenÂ’t escaped. Donald Duck, the iconic Disney character, is called Anders And in Denmark. Even the two European stars of voice dubbing, namely France and Germany, have chosen to keep the duckÂ’s original name. However, there are some other countries that have chosen to name him something else. We should be glad that he is not known as Aku Ankka, like in Finland, or Sergio Belasconi, as he is known in Italy.

Or is that the name they’ve given to Mickey Mouse? On that note, even the Disney god Mickey Mouse spent the first years of his life in Denmark called Mikkel Mus. This was changed in 1949, when the Danes found out that they could actually pronounce the word ‘Mickey’, and that many children could indeed guess that ‘mouse’ actually meant ‘mus’ and were not irrecoverably damaged by the potential language confusion.

And what is it about Danes and long names? I come from the UK, and over there double-barrelled names were the preserve of the mega-posh, such as Tara Palmer Tomkinson and the like. Here, they just love long names – the more the better. Look at the last three Danish prime ministers: Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Lars Løkke Rasmussen and Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

To further complicate the issue, many people also have two first names. Each to their own, I hear you say … except that this creates an unforeseen problem when the person travels by air. The airlinesÂ’ international booking system only has room for 32 characters including spaces, and there have, indeed, been cases of people encountering problems at customs, because the name on your ticket should be precisely the same as that in your passport.

Perhaps Danish parents should take note of a warning once given by national broadcaster DR. The rules are fine if youÂ’re called Mads Jensen, but not if youÂ’re called Mads Emil Tristan Toftegaard-Jensen!

So long, this has been Victoria Steffensen, or rather: Victoria Louise Steffensen-Jones!