A primer on Danish names


Danish is said to be the trickiest of the main Scandinavian languages to learn. Like French, spelling doesn’t always match pronunciation. It’s mutually intelligible with Norwegian and Swedish, though Norwegians tend to understand the other languages much better than Danes or Swedes understand one another. Danes and Swedes also understand Norwegian better than one another’s languages.

My character Elżbieta (later Elizabeth) Robleńska is smuggled into the Jutland peninsula of Denmark in late 1943, at age thirteen, travelling on the passport of her unlikely rescuer’s dead daughter Ernestine. Her hero, Rudolf Schaller, saved her younger friend Malchen (Amalia) von Hinderburg at Majdanek because Malchen was with Elizabeth and her sister Jadwiga, and Elizabeth was a dead ringer for his daughter who’d recently died of scarlet fever.

In Denmark, her relationship with Hr. Schaller takes a very taboo turn, with extremely complicated consequences. After a few months, Hr. Schaller reports back to his superiors with a story about a mental breakdown, and Elizabeth goes to join her younger siblings in Sweden, again using the dead Ernestine’s passport.


Danish uses the Roman alphabet, with additional letters Å, Ø, and Æ æ. An accent aigu may be used to stress the importance of a word, or differentiate stresses in a pair of homographs (words with the same spelling but different meanings).


Like other Scandinavian surnames, Danish names are by and large patronymical in origin, with the suffix -sen. Examples include Antonsen, Frederiksen, Davidsen, Kjeldsen, Jørgensen, Nielsen, Ottosen, Robertsen, Sørensen, and Thorsen. Other surnames are derived from professions (e.g., Schmidt, Møller, Fisker) or nature (e.g., Holt [woods], Hjort [deer], Dahl [valley], Lund [grove of trees], Stenberg [stone mountain]).

Sampling of common names and their diminutives:


Abelone (Lone) (Apollonia)
Agnete, Agnethe (Agnes)
Anna (Anika, Ane)
Annelise (Annelie)
Antonia (Nina)
Astrid (Asta)

Benedikte, Bente
Birgitta, Birgitte, Birgit, Berit (Birte, Birthe, Brita, Britta, Britt, Gitte)
Bodil (Battle remedy)

Cecilie, Cecilia (Cille, Silje, Sille)
Charlotte (Lotte)
Dorothea, Dorete, Dorte, Dorthe (Ditte, Dorit, Tea, Thea)

Edith (Ditte)
Eleonora, Ellinor (Nora)
Elin (Eli, Ella)
Elisabet (Eli, Elise, Else, Ella, Lis, Lisa, Lise, Lissi, Lisbet)
Elva (Elf)
Embla (may mean “elm”)
Erna (Ernestine; also a separate name meaning “hale, vigourous, brisk”)

Frederikke (Rikke)

Gerda, Gerd (Enclosure)
Gry (Dawn)
Gudrun (God’s secret lore)
Gunhild, Gunnhild (Gunda, Gunna) (War battle)
Gunvor (Gunna) (Cautious in war)
Gyda (Beautiful goddess)

Hanna, Hanne
Helena (Lene, Lena)
Helga, Hella, Helle, Laila (Hege)
Hildegard (Battle enclosure)
Hjørdis (Sword goddess)
Hulda (Secrecy, hiding)

Inga, Inge
Ingebjørg, Ingeborg (Inga, Inge)
Ingegerd, Inger
Ingrid, Inger

Jacobine (Bine)
Johanne (Hanne, Janne, Jannicke, Jannike, Jonna)
Julie, Julia

Kamilla (Milla)
Karoline (Line)
Katarina, Kathrine, Katrine (Kaja, Karen, Karina, Trine)
Kirsten, Kirstine, Kristin, Kristina, Kristine (Stine, Stina, Tine)

Lærke (Lark)
Liselotte (Lotte)
Lovise (Louisa)
Lykke (Happiness, good fortune)

Magdalena (Magda, Malene)
Maren (Marna) (Marina)
Margarethe, Margareta, Margrethe, Margit, Merete (Grete, Grethe, Meta, Mette, Rita)
Maria (Maiken, Majken, Maja, Mia)
Mathilde (Tilde)
Mikaela, Mikkeline
Monika (Mona)

Nanna (Daring, brave)
Paula, Pauline
Petronilla (Pernille)

Ragnhild (Ragna) (Battle advice)
Rakel (Rachel)
Randi (Beautiful advice)
Runa (Secret lore)

Signe, Signy (New victory)
Sigrid (Siri) (Beautiful victory)
Sigrun (Secret victory)
Silvie, Silvia
Siv, Sif (Bride)
Solvej (Sun strength)
Susanne (Sanne, Susann)

Terese, Teresa
Thora, Tora
Thyra, Tyra (Holy Thor or Strong Thor)
Torborg (Thor’s protection)
Tordis (Thor’s goddess)
Turid (Tove) (Beautiful Thor)

Ulrikke (Ulla)
Viktoria (Vivi)
Vita (Vivi)


Aksel (Axel)
Alexander (Sander)
Alf (Elf)
Anders (Andrew)
Ansgar, Asger (God’s spear)
Arvid (Eagle tree)
Asbjørn, Esben, Espen (Bear god)

Bendt, Bent (Benedict)
Bernhard, Bernt
Bertil (Bertolt)
Birger (Rescue, save, help)
Bjørn (Bjarke, Bjarne) (Bear)

Casper, Jesper, Kasper
Christian, Karsten, Carsten, Kresten, Kristen, Kristian (Christer)
Christoffer, Kristoffer
Clemens, Klemens

Dag (Day)
Daniel (Dan)

Eilert (Brave edge of a sword)
Einar (One warrior or Warrior alone)
Ejvind (Victor’s island or Victor’s good fortune)
Eluf (Always a descendant)
Erik, Jerrik
Erland, Erlend (Foreigner)
Erling (Descendant of the chieftain)

Filip, Philip
Frans (Francis)
Frej (Lord)
Fridtjof, Fritjof (Thief of peace)
Frode (Wise, learnèd)

Gudbrand, Gulbrand (God’s sword)
Gudmund (God’s protection)
Gunnar (War warrior)

Hagen (Haakon) (High descendant)
Henrik (Henning)
Hjalmar (Helmeted warrior)
Holger (Spear island)

Ingolf (Inge)
Ingvar (Inge)
Ivar (Warrior’s bow)

Jakob (Ib, Jeppe)
Jarl (Chieftain)
Joakim, Jokum (Kim)
Johannes, Jan, Jens, Johan, Jon (Hans, Hanne, Jannick, Jannik)
Jørgen (Jørg, Jørn)

Kåre (Curly, curved)
Karl, Carl
Keld, Kjeld (Kettle, cauldron)
Knud (Knot)

Lars, Lasse, Lauritz, Lorens (Lawrence)
Leif (Heir, descendant)
Lennart (Leonard)
Loke (Loki)
Ludvig (Louis)

Markus, Mark
Mathias, Matthias (Mads)
Maximilian (Max)
Mikael, Mikkel
Mogens, Magnus
Morten, Martin

Nels, Niels, Nils, Klaus, Claus (Nicholas)
Njord (Vigourous, strong)
Olaf, Olav, Olf, Oluf (Ancestor’s descendant)
Osvald (God’s power)

Paul, Poul (Palle)
Peder, Per, Peer, Peter
Preben (First battle)
Ragnar (Army advice)
Ragnvald (Ruler’s advice)
Rasmus (Erasmus) (Belovèd)
Rune (Secret lore)

Sigmund (Victory protector)
Sigurd (Victory guardian)
Søren (Severin)
Stefan, Steffen
Sten, Steen (Stone)
Stig (Path)
Svend (Boy)

Tarben, Thorben, Torben, Torbjørn (Thor’s bear)
Theodor, Teodor
Thor, Tor, Thore, Tore (Thunder)
Thorsten, Torsten (Thor’s stone)
Thorvald, Torvald (Thor’s ruler)
Troels (Thor’s shaft)
Trygve (Trustworthy)
Tyge (Tycho) (Hitting the mark)

Ulf, Uffe (Wolf)

Valdemar (“Famous rule” or a Scandinavian form of Vladimir)
Valter (Walter)
Verner (Werner)
Vidar (Wide warrior)
Vilmar (Famous desire)

Zofia Stirs Up Trouble (Zapf Elliptical)


Font: Zapf Elliptical 711 BT

Chapter: “Zofia Stirs Up Trouble”

Book: Newark Love Story

Written: 2007

File format: AppleWorks

Computer created on: 2004 eMac

Last year’s A to Z theme started with Allen and ended with Zofia, so it’s kind of fitting that this year’s theme is also bookended by them. Zofia is such an entitled, delusional, often mean-spirited bitch, like Anastasiya, but that’s part of what makes her so fun to write. I can predict exactly what she’s going to do, say, or think even before she does it.

Zofia is a young Shoah survivor, born in Warsaw in 1931, but that doesn’t give her carte blanche to do whatever she wants. Not everyone who survived was a saint. It would be beyond inaccurate to depict every single survivor as a good, moral, loving person. Zofia certainly didn’t earn her own survival. Her sister Maria saved her ass on more than one occasion.

It’s now February 1952, and the Roblensky siblings have come to Newark for third-born Jozef’s wedding to Svetlana Juric. Svetlana, who survived the brutal Croatian Ustashi camp Jasenovac with her mother and four sisters, was raped a number of times and later slept with a number of the sadistic overlords to save her family from deportation and to get them better rations. Jozef knows she was an innocent victim and did it to protect her loved ones, but Zofia is convinced Svetlana is a whore and is horrified Jozef is marrying her. In the wake of this discovery, Zofia is even more of a troublemaker than usual and acts up so much she’s eventually barred from the wedding.

Some highlights:

“This must be Zofia.” Mrs. Juric took a long hard look at the third-oldest Roblenska sister in her low-cut skintight blue blouse and a skirt coming up well past her knees.

Zofia would have no part in traipsing around a city she didn’t even know.  After fifteen minutes, she whined that her feet were tired and headed back to the empty apartment.  She went into Dalibor’s room, shut the door, picked up the latest issue of Life, and started reading.  An hour later she heard her brother and his fiancée coming into the apartment but didn’t give herself away.  When they went into another room and shut the door, she slipped off her high heels and skulked off to listen in at the door.

“Welcome to our family,” Elizabeth gushed. “We’re so glad to be adding another sister, particularly one who might soon be making us aunts and uncles.  And according to Jozek, you’re quite the intellectual.  I love a woman who isn’t afraid to be smart and who likes things like museums, art, and literature.”

“How can you marry this woman, Jozek?” Zofia began crying. “If only our parents knew their second-oldest son would grow up to marry a whore.”

“I listened at the door, Jozef.  You didn’t know I was in the house when you came in.  I’m so ashamed and embarrassed that you want to marry a whore, let alone a whore who willingly copulated with the enemy.”

Jozef slapped her so hard her jaw ached. “First of all, only God has the right to judge.  Second, this woman is going to be my wife and your sister-in-law, so you had better respect her.  Third, you had no right to be eavesdropping on our personal conversation.  I am your older brother and you need to respect me and my future wife.”

“How dare you strike me!” Zofia was in shock from anyone standing up to her with more than words. “And who are you to tell me what to do?  You no longer even live in our house, and you’re only two years my elder!  Hoch mir nicht ken chaynik!”

He slapped her even harder across the other side of her face. “Any more questions, you pathetic inhuman excuse for life?  I swear to God, Mania should’ve left you behind in the bunker!  Get out of this house right now unless you want me to do something even worse to you!”

“Don’t worry, whatever it is, I’ll accept your wife no matter what,” Elizabeth said. “As we all know, I’m not a virgin myself and don’t intend to keep that a secret from my eventual husband.”

“That’s just what she told me,” Maria nodded. “Don’t worry, we’ll accept them as our nieces and nephews.  We won’t have any doubt that Jozef is the father, though Zosia is welcome to live in a land of unreality.”

This afternoon she was dressed even more scandalously, in a mink-edged pink silk blouse showing more than cleavage, green suede heels even higher and spikier than her other pair, red fishnets, heavier makeup, and a black leather skirt well above her fingertips.

“Special as in modest, demure, and classy?  You dress like a prostitute most of the time anyway, so why should tomorrow night be any different?” Jadwiga asked.

Zofia stalked out of the room offended, still wearing her scandalous clothes.  Nobody else in their party would let her in their rooms either, so she resorted to sleeping on a pile of towels in the laundry room, uncaring she was putting clean towels onto the dirty floor.

At 6:30, Zofia was discovered.  She was outraged to be jerked awake by a bunch of angry maids and the hotel manager, who thought she was a prostitute, a thief, or someone who’d tried to be cute by staying overnight without paying.  In her exhausted huff, she gave Samuel’s name.

Samuel was irate when he was called down to the laundry room, before he could even get dressed or say the morning prayers with his little brothers, just to positively identity Zofia.

“Mania really should’ve left you for the Nazis to find and finish off.  I have nothing further to say to you.” Samuel dropped her onto the floor like a limp ragdoll and stalked away. “And don’t be surprised if, when we get home, you’re suddenly asked to move out.”

Renaming characters revisited


(This is the full length of the post I’d originally had scheduled for May.)

I’ve long been a name nerd, but before the advent of the Internet, I was pretty limited in the places I could find interesting, unique, lesser-used names. I also wasn’t helped by how my family’s encyclopedia were from 1965 and extremely out of date. Even the “updated” yearbooks we had with that set only went up to the very early Seventies. And factor in how I was the classic kid who read too much and understood too little.

Case in point: Since I’d read a lot about the Romanovs and the closely-related other Russian royals and nobility, I knew that many of them went by Western versions of their names. Thus, it followed that I believed it would be perfectly normal and historically and culturally accurate for some non-royal Russians to also prefer the Western versions of their own names. As such a passionate Russophile, I’m rather shocked it took me till last year to finally realize how silly that was. Even an upper-middle-class Russian who was fairly Westernized would still have had a normal Russian name, unless there were some extraordinary, compelling reason to use a foreign version of his or her name.

At first it was difficult, after my find/changes, to get used to seeing and thinking of my offending characters as Lyubov (Lyuba), Katariina (Katrin), Pyotr, and Eliisabet, instead of Amy, Catherine, Peter, and Elizabeth. Even Lyuba’s lovely aunt Margaret finally had her name changed to Margarita. In my earliest period of working on the book, in fact, I was even worse. Nikolas was called Nicholas (changed to Nickolas during the transitional period of writing supplemental stories in a notebook), Nikolay was Nikolai, Tatyana was Tatiana, Alya (Aleksandra) was Al, and Ivan’s mother (who becomes the mother-in-law from Hell in the sequel) was Anne.

Now I can’t think of them as anything but. The only characters who got to keep their non-Russian names were Nikolas and Lyuba’s cousin Ginny. Now it’s explained that Nikolas, a head in the clouds intellectual who prefers reading philosophy books to social events and sporting, has been going by the Greek form of his real name Nikolay since he was 12 years old and fell in love with the ancient Greek philosophers. (Yes, I know the real Greek form is actually Nikolaos, but even Nikolas isn’t that out of touch with reality!) And his nickname went from Nicky to Kolya. For Ginny, whose real name has always been Mikhail, it was explained that it was his childish mispronunciation of his parents’ baby nickname for him, Genie.

Other characters who changed their names were Malchen (Amalia) von Hinderburg, Julie Spirnak (now Laska), and Elizabeth Roblenska. The fourth-oldest Roblensky sibling is still called Elizabeth, and has been since she came to America in 1945, but in the scenes set in Europe during the war, I’m slowly changing her name to the real Polish form, Elzbieta. She’ll definitely be called Elzbieta and only Elzbieta during the book I’m going to write about her experiences during the war in Poland, Denmark, and Sweden, Righteous Unorthodoxy.

Malchen was originally called Honey, and her and Lazarus’s surname was Gray. Um, what? At least their friends the Brandts have the excuse of changing their surname to Small temporarily to avoid anti-German sentiments in their new country during wartime! And as I discovered while going through the miraculously resurrected file of the first part of the discontinued first draft of Adicia’s story, my sweet little Julie was originally called Karin. I didn’t even remember her having a name, or if I’d planned to use her after her initial, typically over the top, Grimm’s fairytale on acid-like scene. When I was renaming her and getting plans in my head to make her into an important secondary character, the name Julie just came to me. Names usually don’t just pop into my head and seem that perfect.

And in my future third Russian novel and the as-yet-mostly-unplotted fourth volume, the names of some of Tatyana and Nikolay’s children will have to change. Back in ’93, I wrote some scene set in 1991, of a very elderly Lyuba and Ivan coming back home and seeing a young couple who remind them of themselves during the Civil War. It’s mentioned that Tatyana and Nikolay have 7 kids, Yelena, Vera, Shura, Vova, Valya, Iosif, and Nadezhda.

Now I can’t use Yelena, Vera, and Nadezhda, since those are two of Lyuba’s dear stepsisters and her dear stepcousin. Their family also has a dear friend who lives in Toronto named Lena. I don’t like duplicating names within the same family. Way too confusing. I of course wrote that long before those characters were a gleam in my eye. But it’s a lovely tribute to older/deceased relatives to use the names Shura, Vova, and Iosif. Tatyana’s biological paternal grandma is named Aleksandriya and called Shura, Lyuba’s maternal grandfather was Iosif, and Nikolay’s paternal grandfather was Vladimir (Vova).

Have you ever renamed your characters?


Words on Paper

Wednesdays in the Blog Me MAYbe Blogfest are themed “May I ask you a question?” This week my question is “Have you ever renamed your characters?” I had a longer version of this post prepared (somewhat over 800 words), but decided to publish that at a later date and just write the basics today.

Characters who have undergone name changes:

Lyubov Ilyinichna Koneva (Lyuba), originally Amy Leonovna Zhukova. After Lyuba finally marries Ivan and becomes a Koneva, she also changes her patronymic from Leontiyevna to Ilyinichna, in honor of her wonderful stepfather.

Katariina Kaarelovna Kalvik-Nikonova (Katrin), originally Catherine Kaarelovna Nikona and sometimes called Cath or Cathie by Anastasiya.

Pyotr Stepanovich Litvinov, originally Peter.

Eliisabet Martovna Kutuzova, originally Elizabeth and sometimes called Liz or Lizzy.

Margarita Iosifovna Herzena (Lyuba’s aunt), originally Margaret.

Amalia (Malchen) von Hinderburg, originally Honey Gray. (Whatever.)

Julie Claire Spirnak (now Laska), originally called Karin.

Elizabeth Roblenska is kind of a special case. Her name has legally been Elizabeth since she came to America in June of 1945, but in her European scenes and the book I’m going to write focused only on her, her name is Elzbieta.

In my future third Russian novel and the as-yet-mostly-unplotted fourth volume, the names of some of Tatyana and Nikolay’s children will have to change from Yelena, Vera, and Nadezhda, since those are two of Lyuba’s dear stepsisters and her dear stepcousin. Their family also has a dear friend who lives in Toronto named Lena. I don’t like duplicating names within the same family. Way too confusing. The new names will be Kira, Lidiya, and Serafima.



Name: Zofia Roblenska Kohl

Date of birth: 1931

Place of birth: Warsaw, Poland

Year I created her: 1995

Role: Secondary main character, antagonist

My dear Zofia, how I love to hate you. She’s a different type of Shoah survivor than my belovèd Grumpy Bear Kálmán. Zofia is completely unchanged by her experience, and remains superficial, stuck-up, selfish, and mean-spirited. Even now that she’s in her sixties, she’s still a bitch, superficial, and dressing inappropriately. Most recently, she had her ass handed to her for her odious behavior and comments at her great-niece Morgana’s bat mitzvah, and she and her equally-repellent husband Kurt just went back to their hotel and sulked at the indoor pool, instead of feeling any sense of remorse.

Zofia is kind of like Anastasiya in my Russian novels—sure she’s an antagonist, but she’s not an evil type of antagonist, and she’s fun to write because of how predictable her behavior is. And don’t we all know stuck-up mean girls like that, who think the Sun shines out of their asses while hypocritically trying to condemn other people for things she only half-understands? And since I have quite a few Shoah characters, it’s nice to have a number of different types of people among them.

Zofia is always rotten to the core, no matter what happens to her. Not every Shoah survivor can be a saint, after all. It would be intellectually dishonest to make all my Shoah characters as sweet as Marie or as daring as Lazarus.

Here are some typical Zofia scenes and lines:

“I don’t understand why we have to take the boys with us,” Zofia began whining in German. “Girls are always more useful during wartime.  They’re not going to get drafted or be suspected of being circumcised or just get in the way.  Why can’t we just leave these three behind in the train station and let them fend for themselves?”

“Why is he so special?  We all went through the same thing!  All we had to do was be smart.  The stupid, uneducated, depressed types were the ones who didn’t survive.”


“This must be Zofia.” Mrs. Juric took a long, hard look at the third-oldest Roblenska sister in her low-cut skintight blue blouse and a skirt coming up well past her knees.

“Yes, don’t I look like a model?  All my dates complement me on my gorgeous body.  May I have some breakfast?”

“We just ate on the train,” Samuel warned her.

“I can always eat again.  Is the wedding going to be held here?  An apartment is no place for a wedding.”

“Jozek told us it would be at his new shul.  Don’t you ever pay attention?”

“I know it’s not very nice weather yet, but maybe you’d like to walk around the neighborhood.  By the time you come back here, Jozef and Svetlana will also be back, and you can meet your new sister-in-law.  I have errands to run, so you might as well meet back here in two hours.”

Zofia would have no part in traipsing around a city she didn’t even know.  After fifteen minutes, she whined that her feet were tired and headed back to the empty apartment.  She went into Dalibor’s room, shut the door, picked up the latest issue of Life, and started reading.  An hour later she heard her brother and his fiancée coming in but didn’t give herself away.  When they went into another room and shut the door, she slipped off her high heels and skulked off to listen in at the door.


Zofia had run out into the street, hobbling along in her high heels, which she’d insisted on bringing in lieu of more sensible shoes.  Everyone on the street was staring at her scandalous outfit and heavy makeup.  It seemed as though a thousand years had passed before she found Samuel standing outside Jozef’s apartment.

“Samueleh, you go back to that woman’s apartment and you inform Jozek that he’s no right to slap me not once but twice and presume to tell me he can tell me what to do when he’s only two years my senior!  He hit me so hard, across both sides of my face, that I’m surprised he didn’t break my jaws or dislocate any teeth!”

“Someone as mild-mannered as Jozek hit you?  Wow, you must’ve been even worse than usual and done something extraordinary to provoke him.”

“I asked him why he was marrying a whore who bedded down with the enemy and told him I’d found this out by eavesdropping on them.  I went back to the apartment, but they didn’t know I was there.  And he still wants to marry this prostitute.  Unbelievable.”

“You dared to say such a base mean thing to my dearest brother and his betrothed?  You’ve sunk to a new low.”

“Just ask him.  He’ll confirm she was a whore.”

“Look how you’re dressed, idiot.  You look like a call girl.  I’ll probably go back and be told by Jozef that you badly misinterpreted something like only your diseased mind is capable of doing.  Why in the name of God did you of all people get to survive, while good people like our mother and Tante Mila were slaughtered?”


Elizabeth watched Zofia very closely as Morgana reached down the lectern for the pages of her speech. Her one-year-younger sister, as plump as ever, was wearing a tight low-cut black satin top, a short orange skirt, red hose, green spike heels, and heavy green eyemakeup and berry lipstick. The outfit looked as horrible on her 67-year-old self as it had when she’d worn those trashy outfits as a younger woman. A surly and bored expression was on her face, making her look even more unattractive. Kurt, three years her senior, looked just as bored and obnoxious. Elizabeth wished both of them could be divorced out of the family as easily as Raphaela had been.


Zofia was almost falling asleep as the rabbi praised Morgana’s speech and gave her the standard bat mitzvah gifts. She read a fashion magazine during the remainder of the service and then bolted to the bathroom as soon as the end finally came.

She was redoing her makeup as more women started coming in and forming a line. With Elizabeth at the head of the line, she jumped at the chance to express her disgust with her older sister.

“So, Elza, how does it feel knowing your own granddaughter publicly exposed you as a whore and your real firstborn child as a mamzer?”

Elizabeth grabbed her arm, turning her sharply around, and used her other hand to slap her so hard Zofia thought she’d popped a blood vessel.


Zofia picked herself up and brushed past her brothers in the hallway, fuming and humiliated. Kurt rushed over to join her and gave his in-laws annoyed looks as they walked out. Once on the street, Zofia was catcalled by several men and felt proud of herself for still attracting male attention. She planned to put on her yellow string bikini and go to the indoor pool as soon as they got back to the hotel.