A few months after I moved to Norway, a Norwegian colleague asked me if I was related to Jose Andersen. The person knew that I had lived most of my life in Oklahoma and Texas and that I was a quarter Danish. I just thought he was asking about some person he knew who had both Hispanic and Danish blood.
Since my grandfather emigrated from Denmark back in 1912 and all of the American Andersens that I’m related to trace back to him, there aren’t very many of us. So, without really giving the question any further thought, I answered that I wasn’t related to Jose.
A few weeks later, another Norwegian who knew my background asked the same question. I answered “No” immediately, but later began wondering why everyone knew this famous Mexican-American Jose Andersen except me.
Sure enough, I was asked again. I replied with a question of my own.
“Who is Jose Andersen?”
Jon Erik—the Norwegian who asked me the lucky third time—looked at me in confusion. His look said that I must have been raised on a deserted island somewhere, not to know Jose. His answer began with a stammer.
“Uh … he’s a … writer. Very famous. And he’s Danish. He wrote in the 19th Century? You know? Children’s stories, like the Little Mermaid. Jose Andersen.”
It took me a moment to put what he said together with my rudimentary Norwegian lessons. We were both speaking English, which most Norwegians speak impeccably. Unfortunately, he—like the other two who had asked before—was saying the person’s name the way Norwegians do.
The man that Americans refer to as Hans Christian Andersen is referred to by Scandinavians by his initials: H. C. Andersen. But in Norwegian, the letter ‘H’ is pronounced “ho” with a long ‘o’ and the letter ‘C’ is pronounced like the English word “say.” What Jan Erik said was “Ho” “Say” Andersen, but what I heard, being raised in the land of Tex-Mex, was Jose.
Ain’t communication wonderful?
The famous Danish writer was born in Odense while my family hailed from the north of Jutland. Besides, in Denmark my family spelled the name Andreasen. My grandfather simplified it when he came through Ellis Island: Andersen is a much more common Danish name than Andreasen.
So it is highly unlikely that I am related to Hans Christian Andersen. I do admit to being an admirer of fairy tales, and long ago I devoured Bruno Bettelheim’s book The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. As a writer, I can appreciate the significant symbolism of a young girl who becomes lost in the woods, being pursued by a wild beast, and waiting for the handsome axman to lead her out of the woods and into adulthood.Email This Post