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Published: October 29th 2012
On our way
Ever since I was a little girl I have associated myself as being Icelandic. Yes it is my heritage, but I was born and raised in Canada and I am also proud of being Canadian. For some reason though, I have always gravitated towards my heritage and identified with it more than I did with anything that was around me. Perhaps because it was so different and the other kids in school were decedents from people who emigrated from the UK, France, Germany or India. I loved the fact that I was unique in that way and I also preferred my Icelandic name to my Canadian name. My mother was going to give me the Icelandic name as my first name but her mind was changed because she was concerned that people would have difficulty to pronounce it. As I got older I changed my name to what it was supposed to be.
The difficult thing was, it was a country few people knew about and my family never identified themselves as much about their heritage and family history as I had. Our family coming from Iceland was just a fact and not associated with their identity, like it was
mine. I wanted to know what my Icelandic name meant, but no one knew, they just knew it sounded pretty and it was a name that existed in my family for many generations. After being isolated in northern BC and being away from other Icelandic families, they were Canadians who happened to have Icelandic heritage and as time passed they knew very little of what their heritage really meant. They knew the Canadian version of names or of how our family chose ‘Hoff’ as a surname from the Icelandic patronymic. As time passed the stories became limited and changed over time as stories usually do.
So in my late teens and early 20’s the internet made information more accessible and it was through technology that I discovered a piece of myself. I was able to research my heritage, family history and the country of Iceland. From here I learned my name was initially spelled Sæunnand that it meant ‘love of the sea’. I also learned that it goes back six generations in my family and it is not a common Icelandic name anymore. I learned that not only was Iceland a small country (320,000) but that all
My son on his way to Iceland
Icelanders were related in some way and were all ultimate descendants of Eric the Red and Leif the Lucky. I knew Iceland was small but then I discovered why and more about the incredible hardships that my forefathers bared through generations was truly incredible. My family escaped a country where people were starving and after another natural disaster (volcano eruption) decimated Iceland’s population to less than 50,000 people and they sought a better life of opportunity. It was not the first natural disaster and it would not be the last. The Iceland they left was in ashes and emulated what the middle ages would have looked like but it was the 19th
My family’s story is that when they came to America they could not get their mail due to the other Icelanders and Swedes around them, so they changed their surnames from Jonsson, Jonsdottir and Johansdottir to ‘Hoff’ – so that they would stand out and ultimately get their mail. Hoff was derived from Hofsjökull (Glacier and volcano) which still connected them to their country of orgin.
Since the time my family left, they would not know the incredible achievements such a small country could make. They would not know that Iceland would become a leader in geothermal energy and ultimately become one of the greenest countries in the world, or that Iceland would have one of the highest literacy rates and longest lifespans in the world. What about having the first elected female president, be the leader in women’s rights, free speech, green energy and free education. Despite being identified as conformists they have a strong presence in the arts and freedom of speech. With art anything goes, whether it be visual, dramatic, written or musical. After the financial crisis of 2008 Iceland was one of the hardest hit and they literally lost everything. Yet, they have fought back and are demanding change and with just 320,000 people they are making it happen.
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