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The Secret Name

Byfuglien.  When I learned that you pronounce this “Bufflin,” I wondered if it was a Welsh name.  Welsh names have crazy spelling contradictions like that, with silent letters and syllables like some kind of spy code.  This is consistent with at least one moment in long ago history when the Welsh provided a number of mercenaries for the Normans.  Those mercenaries left their homes to lend a hand with an invasion.  They resettled in the invaded land only to be incorporated into that culture under a new, simpler name.  Eventually they were called native to that place, their old names lost with the particulars of their origins.  But Byfuglien is not Welsh, it is Norwegian.  I am not surprised.  I am terrible at “placing” names.

I do not know how the Norwegians got on with the Normans.  But they do have a fascinating name history.  It may not be unique among Scandinavian cultures.  The surnames in old Norwegian culture were a combination of local identifiers (“Bakken” would mean someone lived in a place called Bakken) and paternal names.   The last part is not so original except that daughters and sons did not have the same name and daughters did not take their husbands’ names.  So a man would be called “Jon’s son” but his sister would be called “Jon’s daughter” and his wife might be called “Ander’s daughter.”   As a result many people had a few names: one first name, one father’s name, and one place name.  Logically, a person’s name would change if they moved, but not if they married.

That changed when they came to the US, or much of it did.  As with so many, Norwegian names were simplified and made consistent with the Western European system of naming.  So they are a people with a history shaded, not unlike the Welsh mercenaries of the Norman times.

But the name “Byfuglien” still doesn’t have “son” or “datr” in it.  And I can’t find it in any list of surnames with an identifiable geographic origin.  It does appear in one place as the third name of someone involved in a St. Olaf’s Day celebration.  That looked like a Norwegian site.  So maybe it refers to a place.  Not being able to find out more is irksome.

Since so many reporters have to ask silly questions why doesn’t someone ask Dustin Byfuglien about the meaning of his name?  He might know and it would be interesting.  It would be better than “how important is it for you to do what you set out to do in a game?”  This is essentially the question players get asked a lot.  “How important is it to get in front of the goal crease?”  I am waiting for someone to answer “not very, I just like the view, and chatting with the goalies,” or “the A/C works better down there.”

Questions like “what does your name mean?” border on celeb trivia like favorite ice cream flavor.  The NHL is  a little leery of going down that road.  Also, most Americans do not know what their names mean so it might be embarrasing.  I don’t know how much celeb trivia is good for a sports franchise.  Oh, wait, yes I do: LOTS.    If you are selling tickets you better be prepared to treat your performers like they are on stage, not just in an arena.  I don’t personally care what kind of music anyone listens to, and I really did not need to know that at least one player shoots ducks, or ever did so, for sport.  Yeah yeah, a lot of perfectly nice people shoot things. I don’t want to hear it.  YUCK!

I do want to know what “Byfuglien” means.  All those silent syllables make me think there is a lot of unaccounted for space in there.  I don’t think it means “spy” from Byf, or Glien.  I do not think Byfuglien would make a good spy.  It is difficult to be sneaky when you are very large.  But it is easier to keep secrets in a larger space than in a small one.  Byfuglien’s hockey career is as spacious as he is.  He is not a flashy newcomer.  He has pursued his place in the NHL with determination and focus for a long time, in hockey years.  He goes where he needs to go.  In the last game, that was not so much in front of Nabby.  That is good.  I am tired of seeing big players in front of Nabby.  Since Byfuglien scored away from the goal crease, perhaps he will not be so attached to that spot in the future.  Perhaps.  Maybe he just hasn’t gotten there yet, has been detained on the way.  Or maybe the Shark Tank has uniquely well-dispersed A/C.

The Finnish name “Niemi” is far less inscrutable.  It means “cape,” as in a protuberant land mass near a lake or the sea.  That was easy.  May the player be so simple to solve.



  1. Diane says:

    Wow! I thought I was the only one curious! So I googled and found so many of us!!! I’m not a creeper! Or one of many ! lol it would be cool to find out if he knows. D.

  2. Diane says:

    After more creeping this is what I found. follow this link http://www.vancouversun.com/mobile/iphone/story.html?id=2995741

  3. petshark says:

    Thanks for the link. I suspect that Byfuglien is just a non-rural name from Norway, since really only the rural names followed the “-son” and “-datr” pattern. I read somewhere that, even in the early times, families living in cities used names more like the rest of Europe. Which is also completely unhelpful since it still doesn’t tell me what the name means, other than “very large hockey player who likes to ruin my day.”

    • Foos says:

      Byfuglien do not say anything about were he is from. It`s just a common norwegian name. His name means “bird of the city” if you translate “Byfugl”. In the old days norwegians used they`re surname to tell where they came from. This is not common today. Bufflin is so far away the right prounonciation of the name that you can get! The proper way to say it is:

      Greetings from Norway

      • petshark says:

        THANK YOU! Oh my gosh, thank you so much! You are a linguistics hero! And thanks for the pronunciation, that is sort of how I keep hearing it in my head. And how very weird that he is sort of a city bird, being a Chicago Blackhawk.

  4. Alexander B says:

    While Foos is technically correct when he says “by” means city and “fugl” means bird (“lien” means hillside), it doesn’t make much sense that the name means “bird of the city”.. First of all the surname Byfuglien is a very rare name with a total of 147 people carrying it in Norway as of feb 22nd 2012. It’s origin has been traced back to the name of a specific farm in Etnedal (Valdres). Present day population is 1410, so if you take 500 years of that, you’ll be a location that is pretty much as rural as they come, even for Norway. In “Norske Gaardnavne” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norske_Gaardnavne), a 19 volume set of books discussing the origins of norwegian farm names throughout the years, which is also available online (http://www.dokpro.uio.no/perl/navnegransking/rygh_ng/rygh_bla.prl?enhid=79122&avid=18041&s=n), the professor (Oluf Rygh), after analyzing the various forms the name has taken throughout the years, specifically stated that the name is unlikely to have anything to do with birds. He states that he can not conclude with certainty it’s meaning, but goes on to suggest that the name is likely related to the word “byfogd”, an administrative official. The farm was likely owned or resided in by a person with that title at one point.

    The name shows up in various forms in his research:
    Byefoglien 1592. Byefogetlien 1595. Byefogllien 1604. Bifolie 1616. Byffuelien med Bache 1667. Byfuglien med Torshougen 1723.

    I realize Byfuglien now plays in Winnipeg so I don’t know if you care anymore, but I stumbled over this randomly and just couldn’t let it go uncommented.

    Regards from Norway. 😛

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