New book takes an in depth-look at Greenlandic names
“Some of them can be over a thousand years old, which gives an amazing perspective”
In Greenland, if you are looking for a Greenlandic name for your child, you can now consult a new book that’s rich in suggestions — and history.
Kalaallit Aqqi, a new publication from Oqaasileriffik, Greenland’s language secretariat, looks at Greenlandic personal names, their meaning and their background.
Among these, a name — Quloqutsuk, which suggests a shared contact and history between early Inuit and First Nations people now living in British Columbia.
Names like Quloqutsuk offered a window back to the past for Oqaasileriffik linguist Nuka Møller, who compiled the book.
“I learned, among many things, that names were one of the oldest language forms still in existence, since some of them can be over a thousand years old, which gives an amazing perspective back in time,” Møller told Nunatsiaq News.
Kalaallit Aqqi, published last December in Greenlandic, Danish and English, contains a newly-revised list of registered Greenlandic names.
And “registered” is a key word here. That’s because Greenland law requires babies be named according to a set of guidelines from the Inuit Aqqinik Akuersisartut — the Personal Names Committee of the Oqaasileriffik, which, in 2009, received more than 300 inquiries about names.
“As the replies also increased, we felt obliged to share this material with the public,” Møller said.
“In the beginning we selected and translated certain articles into Danish, English or Greenlandic and made them available through our home page, but with the growing interest, we decided to edit the material and publish a selection in an encyclopedic form.”
This book’s first section looks at the meaning of 403 selected Greenlandic names: 124 for girls, 155 for boys, 97 unisex names and 30 last names.
The 360-page book’s second section looks at Greenlandic names, names of European origin adapted into Greenlandic, and Greenlandic last names approved by the Inuit Aqqinik Akuersisartut, up to and including June 2015.
Among the most interesting names cited by Møller includes that of Quloqutsuk, which Greenlandic scholar Robert Petersen first identified as dating back to the early Inuit of the Dorset culture, from 600 to 900 AD.
Quloqutsuk, a boy’s name which originates from west Greenland, may possibly have come, across time and a vast distance, from the Kwakiutl language spoken by the First Nations group, the Kwakiutl, on northern Vancouver Island.
In Kwakiutl, Quequtsa means “sparrow.”
Quloqutsuk was a figure in the legend about Aqissiaq, thought be a remnant from the Tuniit or Dorset people, because it’s only known in Greenland and not among other Inuit, Møller said, adding that, as well, the legend is structurally similar to First Nations legends.
And there’s another name with a long history and geographic spread: Kuuna, which was a Viking (Norse) word for woman — Kona.
“To my surprise, someone in Nunavut last year asked me if I knew anything about that name, since her uncle had used it for a name for his boat after an allegedly Inuktitut personal name,” Møller said.
Among the many other interesting bits of information contained in this book: many Greenlandic names originally were nicknames.
In the book, you’ll find 46 nicknames and 30 so-called babbling names, names directed at babies or names derived from the mispronunciation by toddlers of kinship terms. These names often stuck throughout childhood and many are now on Greenland’s official list of approved names.
These include names such as Aleqa (older sister to younger brother) and its “babbling form” — Aaqa.
Kinship terms remain “abundantly represented in the Greenlandic naming system,” the book notes.
These types of names, together with nicknames and babbling names, “survived the introduction of Christianity due to their neutral nature and lack of ‘heathen’ connotations and because of continued use in the private domain,” Møller says in the book’s introduction.
“The Lutheran Church in Greenland encouraged use of Biblical names to emphasize a shift from heathen to the Christian faith. Most people, however, retained their traditional nicknames in everyday life.”
But the formal use of old Greenlandic names decreased throughout the years, and many names were forgotten.
During his research, Møller discovered that shamans and laymen had used a special language, a spirit language, when naming people.
These names would be used as wishes for the bearer to be a good hunter or names for protection and survival.
Some examples: Angusinnaaq — Adept at Catching Sea Mammals; Inuujuk and Inuusuttoq — The One Who Lives / The One Who Wishes to Live; Neqissannooq — They say This Meat is for You, in which “they” must be helping spirits; and Maleraq — The One Chased, which in spirit language suggests a seal.
Not surprisingly, such names were often looked at as highly personal information by Greenlandic Inuit in the past — and Møller notes that, “missionaries and expedition crew members also often related in their diaries surprise and irritation over meeting Greenlanders in the dark outside, and upon enquiring about who it was, they always replied “Uanga” (It’s me) without mentioning their name.
You can order “Greenlandic personal names — their meaning and background” here.
360 pages, format: hardcover binding with pictures · Price: 280 DKK (CAN $55)