On August 15, we’ll be hosting an open house at the home Nels and Emma built in 1887. It made the National Register of Historic Places last year. More details on that are available here.
In honor of Sesquicentennial Plus One, I’m devoting the Speaking of Idaho blog to my family’s history during August
There has always been some confusion in the Just family about our surname. Nels Just’s father was named Peder (or Peter, in the English spelling) Anderson Just. Some argue that he actually went by Anderson. His father’s name was Anders Justsen, and HIS father’s name was Just Pedersen. What’s up with that? Is Just even a “real” name? Let me enlighten and confuse you.
A couple of centuries ago, Danish people did not have last names or surnames as we know them. They used a system called patronymics, instead. In this naming system, a male child’s patronymic or “efternavn” (English translation: “after name”) was formed from his father’s first name plus – sen (English translation – “son”). Since Just Pedersen’s boy was a “son of Just,” his name was recorded as Just’s sen thus “JUSTSEN.” This is why Anders Justsen had the JUSTSEN “after name.” He was Just’s son. A female child’s patronymic was formed from her father’s first name plus – datter (daughter) and so, a Just girl was “Just’s daughter,” her name was recorded as Ann JUSTDATTER. The Danes dropped the possessive in the patronymic, which is why there is only one “s” in Justsen and Pedersen.
To confuse things even further, the first two male children often received the paternal and maternal grandparents’ names, respectively, to honor their ancestors. If both grandfathers or both grandmothers had the same name (which was not unusual) and if at least two boys or two girls were born to the parents, the family would then have two sons or two daughters with
the same name, but different origins.
If a child with an honorary name died, the next child of that gender received the name of the dead child. That’s why my great grandfather Nels had two brothers named Peter. The first brother died. The second brother was known as Peter Just, II.
Around the beginning of the nineteenth century, the names had become so hybridized that only about two dozen were being used for first and for last names for both males and females. There could be half-a-dozen Ole Larsens or Karen Marie Jensens in the same parish, and in every parish across the country. The Danes were in a naming rut.
The Danish government decided to do something about this. In 1812 they passed a law requiring families to choose a fixed surname that future generations would continue to use. It took a while for everyone to comply. City dwellers followed the law first. Country dwellers were slower to adopt the new system. As people adhered to the law, fixating their name, most of them kept the name listed on the church books of the time.
So who fixated to the name Just? It seemed to begin in Nels’ father’s generation. He was born in 1816, shortly after the governmental edict went into effect. He was called Peder Andersen Just, yet he had three sisters carrying the name Andersdatter and a brother who went by Andersen. Nels himself had four brothers with the last name of Just, three with the last name of
Pedersen, and a sister with the last name of Pedersen. Several of them also had middle names that were referential to previous generations.
It could have been worse. Prior to the patronymic naming system, people had one name and a descriptor of some sort. Erik had red hair so he became “Erik the Red.” William was the last conqueror of England, so his descriptive name became “William the Conqueror.” If we still used that convention, I’d probably be known today as “Rick the Schnauzer Friend.”
One final note that will do absolutely no good, but which I cannot resist adding. For seventy plus years people I’m introduced to are delighted to discover, each for the first time, that in a roll call of names, I am Just Rick. Yes, it’s hilarious and, yes, I’ve heard it 27,314 times. Forgive me if I don’t roll on the floor with laughter. If you find me in a good mood, I’ll give you a tight little smile that hides most of my teeth.