Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - July 8, 2005

What's in a name?

After I established contact with my mother's Mostrom relatives in Sweden last January, I noticed that they spelled the name with an umlaut - two dots - over the second "o" - Moström. That made me realize that I have no idea what the name means.

Last names didn't come into their own in most places in Europe and the British Isles until about 500 years ago. When communities were small and people moved about less than they do now, everyone knew how their neighbors were related and family names weren't really needed. But once people became more mobile and record keeping began, surnames became an easy way of giving a clue as to who belonged to whom.

Most surnames fall into four categories: where someone came from, what his or her job was, some descriptive feature or who his or her parents were.

German general Paul von Hindenburg literally meant Paul from Hindenburg. Often the "from" connector "von" was dropped when Germans with this type of name came to America.

Names such as Farmer and Knight are common examples of ones that arose from trades. They are equivalent to the German Bauer and Ritter.

Art's last name - Vaughan - is some Englishman's attempt to render the Welsh word fechan, which means small or junior.

Scandinavians are probably the most famous for their surnames declaring parentage such as Ericsson and Olafsdotter.

The Freeland name appears to have a number of possible origins, but the most obvious implies that somewhere in the distant past, some free land was involved. But where the Mostrom name arose is not obvious to me.

The name doesn't show a relationship and there doesn't appear to be any place in Sweden with that name, so that rules out two of the primary categories. If it was related to a trade, I'd expect the name to be pretty common, but it's not.

That leaves just the descriptive category.

Hmm. Maybe it means distractable. There's a trait that my mother, sister and I have in boatloads. Trying to talk with any of us about something important when there is anything else going on in the immediate area is a task that can try any man's patience. Art recalls that when Mariya was very young, it was normal for our attention in the early evening to focus on her. But after she went to bed, we could talk about the events of the day or anything else that interested us.

As she grew older and stayed up later, he began to notice that our ability to discuss anything important waned as my attention was repeatedly drawn to whatever Mariya was doing or saying. This is normal to some degree for all moms, but I have it in abundance. Over the years, Art compensated by shifting our discussions to either bed time or when we met for lunch.

My mom and sister are just as bad - maybe worse. It's so bad it even strains my patience if I am trying to make plans with one of them. I usually have to find some time and place that is completely quiet or my efforts quickly become hopeless.

Art suggested the name might also mean worrier, but I doubt that. My Grandpa Mostrom's words to live by were, "Dat be alright."

Art has also said Mostrom might mean happy. It is true that even though we seem to worry about things, we always seem to meet new situations with a positive attitude.

"Social" is also a possibility. We do like to connect with people.

"Easily amused" would probably be Katie's candidate. As we were traveling through Britain last month and I'd point out some little flower or unusual bug or laugh at any number of little jokes one of the family would make, she'd shake her head and say, "Mom, you're so easily amused."

I realize pondering over the name has no real effect today as the source is connected to the distant past. In fact, now that I think of it, I guess it's just one more example of how easily amused I can be! So, that must be it. Moström is Swedish for "easily amused."

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