Many of the early settlers that immigrated to settle in Sanpete County came from the Scandinavian countries. As such, there were many who had the same names and so to avoid confusion, nicknames were used instead.
The old timers around the valley will tell visitors that Ephraim has the longest list of nicknames in the known world. It isn’t clear who did the counting or why they counted or exactly what counts as a nickname. The Guinness Book of World Records seems to ignore this important accomplishment.
In fact, it isn’t even exactly clear what “nick” has to do with “name.” A nick off the ol’ name could be something like a chip off the ol’ block, in which case it has gone on for so long that most of those descended from the founding Ephraim Danes are barely slivers or one-syllable ciphers.
It is probably some Scandinavian thing because the Prince of Denmark himself, Hamlet, used the term. When he is sending Ophelia to a nunnery he blasts her with a list of accusations like being two-faced and having a speech impediment:
“God has given you one face and you make yourselves another: you jig, you amble, and you lisp, and nickname God’s creatures, and make your wantonness your ignorance.”
Notice the Danish Prince (not to be confused with the artist formerly known as Prince) was not saying that nicknaming is a good thing to do. Shakespeare’s Hamlet equated nicknaming with being two-faced.
But remember, an Englishman, Shakespeare, is putting the words in the Dane’s mouth. It may be the English who think nicknaming is two-faced because for Danes it is necessary.
The fact is that nicknames were necessary among the early Scandinavians of Ephraim because they all had the same name in the first place and were a “son” or “sen” of someone else. I learned about the limited name choices a quarter century ago when a third generation local Dane confronted me with the facts of life in Ephraim: “There are only three kinds of people here: Sens, Sons, and SOBs. Which are you,” he asked.
I suppose the questioner was really trying to discover my heritage even though the name usually gives it away. Danish heritage counts for something here off the Wasatch.
Sanpete County’s Danish born residents made up 24 percent of its population in 1870. The only other Utah town that rivals this number was Mantua in Cache County.
Think of the problems without nicknames to separate out the same names. The bishop announces that Peter Petersen will give the closing prayer and a dozen people begin to make their way to the pulpit.
The bishop sees the rush and quickly says that he meant Pete not Peter, and half the men sit down while another bunch stand up. Now standing are all the Peter Hansens, Peter Christiansens, Peter Nielsons and Peter Andersons.
With more clarification, “I meant Pete Peterson,” almost a dozen are still standing. These include “Lead Pencil” Peterson, “Belly Briggs” Peterson, “Pete Bishop” Peterson, “Pete Davy” Peterson, “Yens Peter” Peterson, “Pete Friday” Peterson, “Pat (Parley)” Peterson, “Little Pete” Peterson and, with a possible point to make for women’s equal rights, “Sarah Fat” Peterson.
And once again “Oluf Coffee Pot” Thursby would have been passed over for a public Sabbath prayer.
The actual list contains at least 200 nicknames for early citizens of Ephraim. And that’s just the list of “prominent” citizens!
Because so many early Ephraim residents had similar Scandinavian names, nicknames were used to identify people.
Andrew “Kinikinik” Olsen; Andrew “Ah-Haw” Anderson; Otto “By-yingo” Anderson; “Chris Cellar” Jensen; “Oluf Coffee Pot” Thursby; “Pete Woodenhead” Hansen; “Tossy Pete” Christensen; “Brazilian Blacksmith” Jensen; “Whiskey Larsen”; “Red Whiskers” Olsen; “Bailer Pete” Hansen; and “Mormon Preacher” Nielsen.
“Copper Pete” Hansen; “Shingle Pete” Hansen; “Scottie Water-Eye” Louis Christensen; “Bulldog Anderson”; “Absolutely” Mortenson; “Johnnie Buttermilk” Johnson; “Peg Leg Shoemaker”; “Chinaman” Nielsen; and “Soren Chickenheart” Anderson.