Saturday, May 23, 2009

Chief Wiggum – Norwegian American?

Today we've got another post from Colin, this time discussing Norwegian names, The Simpsons and speculation on Clancy Wiggum's heritage. Have a great weekend everyone!

We’ve already written about Sunday’s Simpsons episode marking Syttende Mai – click here to read it if you missed it – and that reminded us of my own (unproven, highly speculative) theory about the ethnic background of Springfield’s police chief. Namely, I think that Police Chief Clancy Wiggum is a Norwegian-American.

Here’s why. I read somewhere that Matt Groening, the creator of the Simpsons, is half-Norwegian. If that’s true, it must be on his mother’s side, since Groening doesn’t look like a Norwegian name to me. According to this article from the Oregonian, Chief Wiggum is named for Groening’s mother, whose maiden name was Wiggum. That name looks more Norwegian to me, (because of the “wig“ part, more on that later) but then again last names change a lot when people immigrate, so it could come from anywhere. According to Statistics Norway’s database of Norwegian names, there isn’t anyone in Norway today with the last name “Wiggum” with two “g”s, but I see in my dictionary of Norwegian last names that there’s a similar surname with just one “g.” When I look up “Wigum” in Statistics Norway’s database and, the online phone catalog, I get over 120 hits.

So, if Matt Groening’s mother is of Norwegian descent and her last name is Norwegian, then I think we can safely conclude that Chief Wiggum is a Norwegian-American.

And now that we’ve established that, let’s not tell anyone, okay? If they actually portrayed Wiggum as a Norwegian-American on the show, we’d never live it down.

In an effort to make this post a little more educational, let’s get back to why “Wiggum” looked Norwegian to me. The first part, “wig-“ is an old spelling of the modern Norwegian word “vik” meaning “bay” or “inlet.” Because of the many changes Norwegian has gone through in the last couple hundred years, Norwegian names use lots of ways to spell “vik” (Vig, Viig, Wig, Wiig, Viik, Wik, Wiik). Many Norwegians take their last names from the farms where they or their ancestors lived, and given that Norway has so much coastline the “vik” element (in various forms) is extremely common in surnames.


Stephen said...

With all due respect, I don't think Chief Wiggum is Norwegian-American. We mustn't take this stuff too literally. I think `Simpsons` creator Matt Groening and his cartooning crew just decided to use his mother's Norwegian maiden name because to the Anglophone ear it sounds funny. It even sounds rather piggy, like the word `wiggle` -- and the Chief is nothing if not piggy (just as sure as there are doughnuts in Springfield). Also, it occurred to me that the verb `wig 'em` means `scold them` or `punish them`. ~Stephen Quinn~

Mike Orr said...

There's a business in the old Norwegian district of Seattle called Wiggen or Wiggan. The ending is different but clearly related. As for the double 'g', many European names were modified in America. Especially a name like that, where a single 'g' would cause English speakers to pronounce the 'i' long.

Stephen said...

Yes, that's very true about the double g. In fact, we may well surmise that a Norwegian immigrant family in North America would have been especially punctilious in doubling the g to spell Wiggum : this forestalled others from saying `WY-gum` and furthermore served to distinguish their name from the German surname Weigum/Weikum, which was already present in many of the territories where Norwegians were arriving : North Dakota, Montana, the Pacific Northwest and California. ~Stephen Quinn~

Øyvind said...

Groening sounds like an 'Americanization' of Grønning to me, which is an established surname in Norway.

Matilda Samuelsson said...

In one episode of season 20 they went to Ireland, there it was implied that Cheif Wiggum is actually irish.
The name Groening is probably Norwegian, since there is no ö or ø in english, people often write it as oe. So yeah; Wiggum - Irish, Groening - Norwegian. Oh, and I'm Swedish!

Ingrid said...

I read that Matt Groening is actually half Norwegian, half German, Groening being the last name of his German father. So it is not Norwegian. As for the double g´s in Wiggum, it is unlikely the changed it to avoid people pronouncing the i long, as that is how it would have been pronounced in Norwegian. To avoid people pronouncing it Wygum, on the other hand, is more likely.

jalexander said...

I am a second cousin of Matt Groening's on his mom's side and the Chief Wiggum is based upon my grandfather, Arnold Wiggum, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. Wiggum was the name of their farm, pronounced VAEG'hume in Norway.