What’s in a name? Hello from new Managing Editor Emily C. Skaftun

Emily C. Skaftun with a small Cuban crocodile on her shoulders.

Photo: Jeremy Goodman
Your new editor makes a friend on her recent trip to Cuba. The endemic Cuban crocodile is highly endangered and highly dangerous. Emily, in contrast, is only one of these things.

Mine is Emily C. Skaftun, and for much of my life I thought this surname, with its troublesome vowels and tricky consonants a curse.

My family has always pronounced it as skŏf • tŭn. Scoff ton, as in I scoff at you, all the time. The rest of the world, perhaps unimpressed with my scoffing, has always taken that “a” at face value, pronouncing it like craft. It got so I stopped correcting people, and before long I realized that some of my closest friends were saying my name wrong.

Growing up I thought I’d change it as soon as I could. Norwegian heritage didn’t mean much to me then, though I did grow up marching in Ballard’s Syttende Mai parade in my bunad. Embarrassing photographic evidence exists somewhere.

As I grew up (and out of my little girl’s bunad), I became a writer. These days I write primarily science fiction and fantasy, and if you’re so inclined you can find a link to many of my stories on www.eskaftun.com.

It didn’t take me long, as a writer in the age of the Internet, to discover the benefits of a unique name.

As far as I can tell, the only other Skaftuns in the world are fairly close relatives. I don’t think there are more than six or seven of us in the United States (but feel free to prove me wrong, dear readers!). This means that even with my incredibly common given name, I remain very searchable. Those google hits are me.

Yes, all of them.

I met many of those Norwegian Skaftuns for the first time last summer, on my first trip to Norway for our family reunion. I was thrilled to discover that, like the country itself, my Norwegian relatives are friendly, quirky, and fabulous.

I could write a book about our trip, and not cover all the things we saw: From Bergen all the way up to Kirkenes (where, as Sarah Palin might have said, we could see Russia) on the Hurtigruten, then down to Oslo for a one-day whirwind (you wouldn’t believe how much Husband and I managed to see in a day!). Into Trollfjorden under the midnight sun, over and through the mountains between Oslo and Bergen on the world’s most intermittently beautiful train ride (sorry, but the insides of tunnels, while impressive, do not strike me as particularly scenic), up the narrow stairs to the top of Nidaros cathedral in Trondheim, on an inflatable boat in Saltstraumen, the “strongest tidal current in the world,” and all the way to Nordkapp, which claims to be the northernmost point in continental Europe.


Photo: Emily C. Skaftun
The view into the fjord from near my father’s childhood home in Odda, Norway.

I love to travel. You will certainly hear more from me on this topic.

As much as I’d never really thought too hard about my heritage, it was incredible to go out to the farm on Osterøy where my grandfather grew up, and to Odda, where my father lived his first years during World War II. It was a joy to eat heart-shaped wafflen with lingenberry jam, and sample rømmegrøt and soup made from dried cod.

One of the interesting things about that trip, and about my new team here at the Norwegian American Weekly, is that I never had to tell anyone how to pronounce the “a” in Skaftun. It’s the little things that make a place feel like home.

The joke’s on me, though. Scoff tune, native speakers of Norsk call me, as if I’m someone who scoffs at them, in a pleasing melody. It turns out I’ve been pronouncing my own name wrong all these years.

Shh. Don’t tell anyone. I’m not going to change.

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 17, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.