Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What would your name be in an old Scandinavian saga?

Chapter 30 in my edition of King Harald's Saga introduces us to Einar Paunch-Shaker, and a footnote to Chapter 37 tells us that Jon the Powerful was the father of Erlend the Flabby. What would your name have been in an Old Norse or Icelandic saga?
***
Medieval Norsemen didn't have family names, just patronymics and epithets, so their authors didn't have to go far for colorfully significant monikers. But even contemporary writers, burdened with the necessity of conventional first and family names, can sneak attributes into character names, too.

Walter Mosley has created protagonists named Ezekiel (Rawlins) and Socrates (Fortlow).  Michael Dibdin gave us Aurelio Zen. And Declan Hughes' series character, Ed Loy, is surnamed for an implement made for digging deep into hard, stony land — a kind of spade, in other words, and that's auspicious for a fictional private eye.

What are your favorite significant crime-fiction names?

(This old post and its comments offer more examples of significant names.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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44 Comments:

Blogger Matthew E said...

I'll tell you whatcha do. Go through every Ngaio Marsh book. Chances are you'll find a female character with a totally wild first name. Idris, Valmai, Decima. (Maybe nothing quite as bad as "Ngaio".) Even Alleyn's wife is unconventionally named: she's Agatha Troy, but she's called Troy. Troy Alleyn.

July 12, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've read just a collection of Marsh's short fiction, but a woman of the theater might be especially disposed to colorful names.

Come to think of it, Declan Hughes came from the theater world, too.

July 12, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Well, Norse/Viking women generally didn't receive those "colorful monikers" (like Blood-axe, Bluetooth, Seal Head [my favorite], etc.) so I'd probably be just plain Elísabet Edvardsdatter.

But if I can pick my own moniker, it might be something like "Hest Lytteren" (Horse Listener).

July 13, 2011  
Blogger seana said...

Hadn't realized that about Loy. That's great to know. Just in the middle of Hughes excellent piece in Down These Green Streets today.

July 13, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"favorite significant crime-fiction names"

I've always thought John Carroll Daly's "Three Gun Terry" was a hoot of a name. "Two Gun"--the common moniker of many a Western hero--wasn't enough for Daly's hero. Since he didn't wear a rootin', tootin' holster rig, I have no idea where he kept those three guns.

July 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, they may not have had colorful names, but some of those women in the sagas could raise holy hell.

But you might not have been Elisabet, at least in Icelandic. A footnote in King Harald's Saga to the mention of a character named Elizabeth said that the Icelanders or the Norsemen called her another version of the name, Elisif, I think.

July 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Seana, I'm sorry to deprive you of a possible subject to which you could confess your ignorance, now that you know what a loy is. But never mind; Loy/loy, as cool as it may be, is hardly of interest as wide as the subjects are on your enlightening blog.

A terrific essay by Hughes, is it not? He tackles national identity with greater style, passion and insight than many another who have written on the subject.

July 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I want to be Olaf the Argumentative.

Yeah, I always wondered about that Three-Gun handle. Shoulder holster, belt holster, pants pocket? I don't know; I haven't read any of the stories.

July 13, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"some of those women in the sagas could raise holy hell"

You betcha! Why do you think Viking men were always trying to get as far away from them as possible?! Exploring North America, Russia, China.

I've always felt good with a sword in my hand. And you should see my Ma, still a Viking at 80. I just don't know how to say "Ball Buster" in Old Norse (or contemporary Norwegian for that matter) so I settled for Hest Lytteren.

You may be Olaf the Argumentative. I thought you might want to be Pétr the Droll. My father is always saying "I'm sorry" (to calm down that Viking wife of his) so he borrowed the moniker Edward the Confessor.

There are many spelling variants of today's most common variant, Elizabeth. I just chose the Medieval Norse variant. Hey, don't mess with this old Viking broad--I can spell my moniker any dang way I want!

July 13, 2011  
Anonymous Linkmeister said...

American police procedurals seem to stick with plain names. The 87th Precinct has Steve, Arthur, Eileen, Roger, Cotton, Bert, Meyer, Andy . . .

Luis Mendoza's LAPD has an Art, two Georges, a Tom . . .

Hill Street had Frank, Mick, Lucy, Joe, Bobby, Patsy, Harry . . .

Travis probably turns up in romance fiction more often than crime, despite McGee.

Archie is more likely to show up in drawing room comedies than in crime, despite Goodwin.

July 13, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Wolf the Quarrelsome
from Njal's Saga.

July 13, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Names from crime-fiction novels which I like: Flavia Petrelli, opera singer in two of Donna Leon's books and Annika Gianni, attorney in the Stieg Larsson trilogy.

My name in Norse/Viking sagas would be Orla the Proofreader.

July 13, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

One of my (4) names is actually "Dagmar" which is definitely Scandinavian. I dropped it because it's odd. I like plain names, the kind everybody used to have.

July 13, 2011  
Blogger John McFetridge said...

Spenser is a good crime fiction name because he's always making sure people spell it with a 's.'

July 13, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

That reminds me how much I dislike the name business in Connelly's Hieronymus Bosch series. That always felt dragged in by the hair, and I didn't need lectures on the painter.

July 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, those women could also get men to do their dirty work for them, as in Njal's Saga:

"Hallgerd was outside. "There is blood on your axe," she said. "What have you done?"

“I have now arranged that you can be married a second time," replied Thjostolf.
"

July 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Linkmeister, that's an interesting observation about "Archie." Perhaps Rex Stout thought the name would match the English eccentric-comedy side of the Wolfe stories.

With the possible exception of Meyer and Mick, those names sound like character lists for The Brady Bunch or The Hardy Boys. This must be of some interest. I guess authors thought the gritty realism of police procedurals ill-suited to names that would denote a given mental, psychological or physical characteristic.

July 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

adrian mckinty said...
Wolf the Quarrelsome
from Njal's Saga.


No.

July 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., a sister of King Harald in the saga that bears his name is Ingirid (yes, it's spelled that way.) Easy for you to insist on plain names when you're already in the story.

You're right to be wary of names weighted with significance, which is why the best ones in current and recent fiction rest lightly on their characters and work equally well if one has no idea of their signifcance. I had no idea what a loy was until I'd read probably two of Declan Hughes' novels. And Walter Mosley's most famous character is known to all by the unassuming name of "Easy."

The Socrates character's last name is Fortlow, by they way, which is full of rich associations of its own.

July 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., does Michael Connelly hit readers over the head with lectures on the painter? Declan Hughes leaves it to the reader to know what a loy is.

July 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

John, that's efficient. It gives the character a built-in comic tag line -- as long as Parker doesn't hit the reader over the head with reminders of Edmund Spenser. Of course, Chandler didn't hit the reader over the head with lectures about Christopher Marlowe.

I read a few of the Spenser books years ago, and I don't remember any references to the poet. Spenser is a good name for and English or American or Canadian character because it's an everyday name. Call a character Joe Shakespeare, or Billy Bach, on the other hand, and you're asking for trouble.

July 13, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Re Connelly: Yes, there are always references to the Harry=Hieronymous, and in at least one book, he draws heavily on the significance of the paintings. The Bosch paintings tend to depict a madhouse of monstrous creatures moving about in hellish places lit by flames. Actually, I do like the paintings. I just don't see them having any relevance to the Connelly books. Or else, it's heavy-handed to the extreme.

I do know that Ingrid is also Scandinavian. What can I say? My mother was enamored of all things Nordic. Maybe she'd read Kristin Lavransdottir (sp).

July 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Bosch's "Garden of Earthly Delights" had been taken off display for cleaning when I visited the Prado, but who does not know his nightmare images, even if not everyone could name the painter?

I can well understand the painting's attraction for an author writing about Los Angeles or any other sprawling city. I could even imagine a character named Hieronymus Bosch musing upin his name.

As a test, do you remember which book included the most heavy-handed invocation of the painting? Maybe I should try that one; I have a bit of an art history background, so I might enjoy invocations of the picture more than some readers do.

July 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, almost anything sounds good in Italian.

My name in Norse/Viking sagas would be Orla the Proofreader.

Daughter of Kjetil the Careful.

July 13, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Peter, I'll barge in with the answer to "As a test, do you remember which book included the most heavy-handed invocation of the painting?"

The answer is A Darkness More Than Night, 2001, (next test question: From where did Connelly borrow that title?).

How do I know that? It was the first H. Bosch I read. It is in the "Art in Fiction" collection of the research library where I work, the J.Paul Getty Fndn. And the Getty Museum has a cameo in the novel, in a plot device that, considering the year the novel was written, 2001, is completely superfluous. That is, that one would make an appt. with a curator, get in a car, drive to an art museum, meet with said curator, who pulls out some books for the detective to peruse while she delivers the equivalent of a night school Art Appreciation 101 lecture on Hieronymus Bosch. Detective learns nothing that he couldn't learn by having Googled the words "Hieronymus Bosch." (Trivia: Connelly gets wrong the number of digits in our phone extensions.)

I agree with I.J. (Ingrid; the name of one of my aunts, btw) on the all-too-obvious naming of H. Bosch. Why couldn't MC have gone with Jeroen (Dutch), Jerome, or Ambrose if he was dead set on making the Bosch connection; on making Bosch the main character in a Los Angeles that is a "living breathing hell" and let the reader figure it out for himself? The name is a constant irritant for the detective.

July 13, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"...I like plain names, the kind everybody used to have."

Amen, Ingrid (the name of one of my aunts, btw). Names like George, John, Thomas, Robert, William, Henry (hey, that coulda been another variant for MC's H. Bosch); Mary, Martha, Caroline, Catherine, Anne, Jane.

That's one reason I'm known in "private" life by my middle name, Elisabeth (spelled and pronounced the Scando way, "elissa" rather than "elizza") rather than my very Norwegian first name that is on all my legal and business docs so is the name I go by in "public" life.

And, John, like Spenser, I too have to remind people my name is spelled with an "s", so I understand his problem.

July 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, does Harry ever explain why his parents called him Hieronymus rather than any of the domesticated versions that you suggested?

July 13, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"Does Harry ever explain why his parents called him Hieronymus rather than any of the domesticated versions that you suggested?"

Several times over the series Harry has occasion to relate that his mother, you know, the "party girl" / prostitute (Harry is what was, at the time he was born, referred to as illegitimate) was intrigued by the artist and, Harry extrapolates, saw her sometimes sordid life in L.A. as a reflection of the subjects of Bosch's paintings. Young Harry also inherits from mom a framed poster of the Garden of Earthly Delights which is damaged beyond repair in an earthquake.

July 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, so Harry himself is the offspring of degradation. That explains it.

July 13, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

OK, but I still agree with I.J. that the name could have been applied with a brush instead of a hammer.

Connelly on the subject from michaelconnelly.com:

Q: Why did you choose the name Hieronymus Bosch for your ongoing series character?
A: The main reason is that when I approached the creation of this character I didn't want to waste anything. I wanted all aspects of his character to be meaningful, if possible. This, of course, would include his name. I briefly studied the work of the real Hieronymus Bosch while in college. He was a 15th century painter who created richly detailed landscapes of debauchery and violence and human defilement. There is a "world gone mad" feel to many of his works, including one called Hell — of which a print hangs on the wall over the computer where I write. I thought this would be the perfect name for my character because I saw the metaphoric possibilities of juxtaposing contemporary Los Angeles with some of the Bosch paintings. In other words, I was planning to cast my Bosch adrift in a hellish landscape of present-day Los Angeles. I should point out that this is a fictional conceit. I do not consider Los Angeles to be hellish. It can be in certain places and under certain circumstances — and this is where I place Harry Bosch. But overall I love Los Angeles and love writing about it. In naming my character after a real historic figure I was to a small extent continuing literary tradition. Many writers, including Raymond Chandler, drew the names of their characters from literature and art.

July 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

This reminds me of another fictional Harry -- Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole. The first name may seem like one of those plain, everyday names that several commenters have mentioned. But to Norwegians, "Harry" signifies a certain social type.

July 13, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Or my Norse saga name would be
Elka the Inquisitive or
Elka the Questioner

July 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'd afraid I'd be mistaken for Erlend the Flabby.

July 13, 2011  
Blogger John McFetridge said...

Connelly's Echo Park also makes use of the paintings (or at least the one mentioned) in the story, but the book also has characters named Sarah Weinman and Duane Swierczynsky so anything goes, really.

July 13, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

As much as I like and respect Sarah and Duane, their names don't carry the cultural oomph that Hieronymus Bosch's does, at least not yet.

July 14, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

I'm laughing. How nice that someone finally agrees with me. And I do like "Elissa" very much. Pity I can't have any more daughters. :)

I've never cared much for the Bosch novels. I like Haller better. Crime novels are better off without dragged-in cultural allusions, and I don't see that Harry's illegitimate birth and the fact that his mother was a prostitute necessarily connect to a morally and spiritually corrupt L.A., or that a child like that would grow up burdened by a hellish world vision. In other words, it doesn't work for me.

July 14, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Elisabeth, I could search for the origin of the title, but it would be more fun to let you tell me!

July 14, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Haller has a good hook...a lawyer who works out of his car.

July 14, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"I could search for the origin of the title, but it would be more fun to let you tell me!"

Peter, to what "title" are you referring?

In the latest Mickey Haller, The Fifth Witness (which reminded me how much I loathe both written and filmed courtroom dramas... An oxymoron to me), Haller rents an office near the courthouse and hires an associate, using his Lincoln mostly as transportation. His days as a guy working out of his car really may be over if -- SPOILER ALERT -- he actually runs for L.A. DA as he plans to do at the end of the novel.

I.J., if authors "embed" cultural allusions in novels, I prefer the c.a.'s to be either smoothly incorporated into action or dialogue. Too often they seem like a footnote, which is jarring in fiction. If the reader is curious, he can look it up.

July 14, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"Hallgerd was outside. "There is blood on your axe," she said. "What have you done?"
"I have now arranged that you can be married a second time," replied Thjostolf."

Look, Olaf, how many times do I have to tell you... You do not mess with a Viking woman. Husband #1 slugged her--he had to die! And husband #2 was named Glum; an apt name for many a Scandinavian male.

July 14, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The answer is A Darkness More Than Night, 2001, (next test question: From where did Connelly borrow that title?).

That's the title I meant. I, too, never liked courtroom dramas, which is why I was surprised how much I liked "Anatomy of a Murder."

I admit that the idea of a lawyer so odd that he worked out of his car deciding to run for D.A. is interesting.

July 15, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Glum Glummson, hacked to his death by kinsmen who grew weary of his incessant wisecracking and pranks.

July 15, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Oh, that one!

It's from Raymond Chandler's intro to the 1950 compilation of some of his short stories, Trouble Is My Business.

On hard-boiled detectives who: "...lived in a world gone wrong, a world in which, long before the atom bomb, civilization had created the machinery for its own destruction, and was learning to use it with all the moronic delight of a gangster trying out his first machine gun. The law was something to be manipulated for profit and power. The streets were dark with something more than night."

Something More Than Night has been used as a title for a book of literary criticism on Chandler, a book on film noir, a couple of theses on hard-boiled crime fiction and an annotated bibliog of film noir, etc. etc.

July 15, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I can verify that! I have a copy of Trouble Is My Business.

July 15, 2011  

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