Monday, October 13, 2008

Just Call Me "Anna"

Whenever I look through Norwegian genealogy and census records that are filled with many of the same names (Karen, Maren, Berit, and Kirsten, to name a few), I've had to wonder how one of my great great grandmothers acquired the unusual name of "Thibertine" (pronounced : Tibb-air-TEEN-eh).


According to Greek and ancient world mythology, "Tibertine" was a Sibyl (prophetess)--identified by her habit of wearing animal skins and carrying a bag of rocks. Well, every Sibyl had her own fashion sense, you understand. And, in Rome, attesting to the Roman fondness for all things Greek, there is the Tibertine Way, as well as the River Tiber. But, how did the name come to be used in sub-arctic Norway?

My great great grandmother, Thibertine Olsdatter Lassemo was born in 1841 in northern Norway: Grong Parish, Nord-Troendelag. News traveled more slowly in the nineteenth century than now, to be certain, but it was most likely the mid-century revival of romanticism and interest in classic literature that was responsible.

According to John I Borgos, who maintains the Slekt & historie website, Norwegian first names have seen a lot of change over time.

Many [Norwegian] names are derived from biblical originals, they are of course much changed to suit the Norwegian tongue. Other names have Nordic origins. Since many of the old Nordic names have meanings related to pre-Christian beliefs, the priests tried to avoid the use of the most "heathen" names, at least before 1850. After that these old names gained new popularity as a result of a strong national cultural movement, and they climbed very high in the statistics after 1900.

On his website, Borgos has created a Top 25 table of Norwegian girls and boys names from the 1700s through the 1900s. Heading the girls' list for the 1800s are: Anna/Anne/Ane, Petra, Johanna/e, Ellen/Elen, and Hanna. Topping the lists for both the 1700s and the 1900s is (you guessed it): Anna/Anne/Ane. It isn't so far fetched, then, that I also have great great grandmothers who are named (double bonus points here): "Anna," and also a "Karen," and a "Kjersten" too!

"Thibertine" is not an old Nordic name, and I doubt it would be classified among the heathen types. You do have to give her mother, Maren, an A+ for innovation. She found a lovely, but rarely used name for her third daughter, and that choice influenced at least a couple of local expectant mothers.

I conducted searches in Digitalkarkivet (the Norwegian census online) for 1801, 1865, 1875 and 1900, and verified that Grandma's name was rather unique in nineteenth century Norway. There were only three uses of the name "Tibertine" (this spelling) found in the early censuses, and my ancestor was among them. The other two were: Tibertine Olsdatter (age 6 in 1865), and Tibertine Albrigtsdatter (age 7 in 1865), both born in Grong, Nord-Troendelag like my great great grandmother. The 1900 census records the younger (unrelated) Tibertine Olsdatter all grown up at the age of 41.

And, what happened to my grandmother's ancient and lyrical name once she emigrated to America? Why, it was shortened, of course! From then on, she was commonly known as "Bertina."


  1. I found this post very interesting and now I am wondering if anyone has done a Top 25 table for Dutch names for boys and girls!

    Also - welcome back. I missed you all those months when you weren't posting!


  2. Hey Thomas,

    Thanks much! It's nice to be needed! And, if I ever see a Top 25 for Dutch names, I'll certainly let you know.