Gárdin-Ingá to the right, and her friend at Gárdin Mountainhouse in Karasjok.
Most of the Sami people use two names nowadays, – the Sami and the registered name. But the Sami names are less and less used, mostly of practical reasons; it is hard to remember two names for everyone you meet. Most use the Sami name only in the local and nearby areas, and the registered name otherwise. But we think it is a really cool thing to register the Sami name in the Name register, like we know a few people have done.
After the war and Sápmi was divided between Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. The reason why Sami people had to get another name, apart from the Sami was that the Norwegian law stated that only individuals with a Norwegian name could buy land. Similar laws existed also in the other colonizing countries. Thats why everyone had to start using Norwegian names. But the law from 1928 that stated that only reindeer herders where Samis did allow reindeer herders to keep their Sami names, but forced the Sami non-reindeer herders to take names of the colonizing countries. They had to be assimilated.
Many of the names Samis use nowadays are not originally Sami names but rather foreign names that have a Sami pronunciation. These names have a Sami translation. For example Ellen = Elle, Maria = Márjá, Petter = Biehttár, John = Jovnna, Máhtte = Mathis, Nils = Niillas and so on.
We believe that the names that dont have a Scandinavian translation, and that cannot be translated, are the original Sami names, but this is still only a theory from our part. The following examples are names that can not be translated: Ailo, Sáve, Urbi, Áile, Ánte.
We found a nice lists of Sami names on the web. Look at it here.
A persons Sami name can contain of 3-4 generations of his/hers family. The name explains exactly who you are and where you come from. It is build so that it is easy for people to understand who you are. Not just your name, but your family line.
When you meet people, there is seldom just a short greet before you start talking about other matters. The Sami people are very interested in family lines and kinship. Always when meeting people, there will be a long conversation about your name first, your mother and father, and grandparents, uncles and aunts, and your siblings. After that a conversation about who in your family they know, and have met will go on for a while, and then a longer conversation about if and how the two people who have met are related with each other will take place. After all this, then other topics of conversation are on the table.
Elins Sami name
Elins Sami name is “Gárdin Inggá Brita Elin”.
Elins name contains of one of her grandmothers name, her mothers, and her given name. What decides if you should use your mother or fathers name depends of who of them is most known to people, – who the most people know. Sometimes people would have to present themselves on both the mother and father side of the family, if the they are presenting themselves to someone who does not know the side of the family you first presented.
In Elins case, her grandmother had a tourist mountain house in Karasjok, so everyone knew her and that place. Her grandmother was Gárdin-Ingá. “Gárdin” is the sami name of the mountain house “Ravnastua”.
Gárdin-Ingá – Elins grandmother. She had 9 children, including Brita.
Brita – Elins mother
Elin – her given name
Her Sami name is therefore “Gárdin-Inggá Brita Elin.”
That is the most common way to present yourself in Sami culture. Sometimes this can cause really curios names. For example the joiker “Fire Máhtte”. His registred name is Mathis Mathis Mathis Mathisen Gaup. He is the fourth generation of Máhtte/Mathis. (“Fire” means four in Norwegian).
In the north- European tradition it has been a tradition to have names that tell who you are the son or daughter of. The endings -sønn, –sen or -son, and -datter, or -dottir translate to -son and -daughter. Some of these names are still used today as the last name of many families. Specially in Iceland it is very common. For a while some places it was most common to tell who your father is, but in Sami culture generally both mother and father are relevant.
Other ways of namegiving
But not everyone use the names that tell your parents, and grandparents names. Like Gárdin- Inga, it tells where she lives. Some names can describe something in your persona, or other aspects of your life. Especially if you have a very common name. Máhtte is a very common name, and so the profession could be used to tell who he is; “Poastta-Máhtte” is “Máhtte the postman.”
The name could also tell something about you. An example from the old norse sagas is for example the king “Harald den Hårfagre”, which means “Harald – the one with fair hair”.
The famous Sami politician and activist Beaska-Niillas got his name because he always wanted to wear Sami clothing in his childhood. “Beaska” is the traditional winter-clothing made of reindeer skin. Niillas is a very common name, so the name Beaska, distincts him from the others. He later registered that name, and his famous joiker wife Sara Marielle Gaup Beaska also has that name now.
Jungles father was “Lásse-belá.” Lásse is a very common name, so there where many named Lásse around. One of his cousins started to call him “Lásse-belá.” Belá means cousin. Everybody understood which Lásse he meant, and after a while everybody started calling him “Lásse-belá”. Now everybody understood who they where talking about when they said that, and it became his name.
By the way, we can compare this to the todays nicknames. For example “Idol-Jenny”, that says that we are talking about the Jenny that was on the TV-show Idol… In sami society nicknames can still become real names.
The way of giving people names is something that the Norse and Sami has in common. It is simply a very logical way of naming people. It is more personal than just giving someone a name from a namelist. Instead the name tells who you are. On the down side you are carrying your families reputation, feuds and associates wherever you go, and you as an individual is more shadowed.
If you know any nice lists of Sami names, or have any other comments, please write it below.