American Name Soup

“My name is Norm Sandin.”  I’ve said that hundreds of times.  And yet if you look at my driver’s license you’ll see “SANDIN, NORMAN, ALBERT”.  If you look at my credit card, COSTCO, Medicare, AARP, and any one of a very large number of “legal” documents, you’ll see “Norman A. Sandin”.  I sign my credit card and credit card charges “N. A. Sandin”.  I sign my e-mails “Pono”.

In the US Army I was eventually known as “Sergeant Sandin”.  In the beginning I was called “Soldier”’ (without the capital) or "Private" – that is when I wasn’t called “Scum”, “Dirtbag”, “’Cruit”, or some other jewel.  At Non-Commissioned Officer Training Academy, I was “Student Sandin”.  I worked on a project once where my official designation was “Norm S.”.

In my imaginative and even more paranoid youth, when renting a room for two I have been known to sign motel registers with a totally different name which shall forever remain known to me alone.  For a short time in that same youthful period I went by “N. Albert Sandin”.  Other times I tried to keep the ancestral pronunciation “San-DEEN”, but couldn’t fight a society that insists on pronouncing “in” as “in”!  I have seen others spell my last name as anything from “Salmon” to “Sardine” with lots of “Sandlin”, “Santini”, “Sandine”, and “Sanders” in between.

One lady friend insisted on calling me “Sandy”, my father’s nickname.  A high school classmate started calling me “Sandy Beach” which morphed to “Sandy Ago” (San Diego), which was abbreviated eventually to just “Ago”.  My children called me all the usual fatherly terms and my wives called me all the usual (often derogatory) husbandly terms.

So, what’s my name?  And why did I go to all the trouble to write down this history?

I belong to an e-mail list consisting of people with a common interest in genealogy of people born in Sweden.  Most of them are first, second, or third generation Americans whose Swedish ancestors migrated to the USA from Sweden.  We are now busily engaged in trying to trace these ancestors back to their roots and having trouble with names.

We are frustrated when we find a person listed as “Catharina” in the birth record, “Carin” in the clerical survey, “Katrina” in the marriage record, and “Kathrina” in the death record.  We can barely cope with the record of a man whose patronymic name appears as "Pehrsson", "Persson", and "Pettersson" in Swedish records, and then "Pearson" when he migrates.

In the Swedish records it is necessary to have patience and a degree of flexibility.  One must remember that the records are all handwritten.  Each writer wrote what he thought he heard, had his own concept of phonetics and patronymics, believed what he was told without a lot of questions, and even had his own (sometimes wildly unusual) penmanship.  Each supplier of information had his or her own concept of family data, dialect or way of speaking, motivation (or lack of same) to cooperate, and degree of attention to detail.  What is more to wonder is that the Swedish records are as wonderfully accurate and complete as they are!

And while assessing Swedish records, we must remember that we do many of the same things and lots of others, as illustrated by my own history.  I pity the descendant of mine who tries to find my tracks, not so much in official records, but in the less official records of tawdry motels and credit card companies around the world.