Monday, March 30, 2009

When Greta Gustafsson changed her name

While trawling the internet I recently stumbled on a brilliant Garbo site. The site is hosted by two German guys and is called Garbo Forever. At the site the visitor finds just about everything concerning Greta Garbo, her life and times. All together a splendid site. The site also contains scans of some very interesting official documents. I found this document particularly interesting since its an old Swedish document and there is no full interpretation of it on the Garbo Forever site.

The document concerns Greta Gustafsson's change of last name to Garbo.


In 1923, when Greta Gustafsson was a budding Swedish film star, ready to meet the masses in her first major film The Saga Of Gösta Berling. the director of the film Mauritz Stiller who also was her mentor (and lover) at this time thought that a name change would be appropriate for the release of the film.

Greta Gustafsson wasn't exactly a glamorous name as it sounded very common and was a name held by thousands of girls only in Stockholm. Early in 1923 she had allready made a small change in her last name omitting an "s" in Gustafsson. It looked slightly more international but was still not uncommon. This minor change wasn't enough for Stiller who thought of something far more exotic. He was a fan of names with alitteration like "Charlie Chaplin" so he came up with the Hungarian sounding "Gabór". Rumor has it that it was Greta's friend Mimi Pollack who then switched the letters making up "Garbo".

Greta liked Garbo better than Gabór and presented Mimmi's idea to Stiller who approved. Thus, a name petition was made and sent to the Swedish authoroties in mid November '23. This is the document shown above. Let's take a closer look at it.
The text reads like this:

To the Governor General.

I, undersigned humbly ask permission to let my unmarried daughter, miss Greta Gustafsson change her family name to Garbo.
Birth certificate enclosed.

Stockholm, November 9th, 1923.
Anna Gustafsson
Witnessed by: Monica Mårtensson - Ragnar Ek

My mother's petition is approved by me,
Stockholm, November 9th, 1923.
Greta Gustafson
Witnessed by: Monica Mårtensson - Ragnar Ek

If we look further in the details we can see that neither Greta or her mother Anna have written the petition themselves. Probably they let a family solicitor or a lawyer write it for them. It's written in a quite sloppy fashion so it's clearly done by someone who is very used to write such things. The signatures of both Greta and her mother tells us that neither of them was particularly used to write in ink. One can see that they have written their names quite slowly. Another interesting detail is that Greta's mother spellt Gustafsson with two s for both herself and her daughter. The document was clearly written in advance and the two women probably had an appointement with the solicitor just to sign the document. The two witnesses are probably people working for the solicitor. The solicitor then sent the document to the Govenor General.

It is stamped by the Governor General's office the 13th November 1923. It's filed as the 223rd dossier that year. It tells us that The Governor General's office made a research on the name and came to the conclusion that the name was free to use. There was no one with the name of Garbo in Sweden. A scribbling tells that there is one family called "Garbom" though.

The Govenor General then sent the document to the Department of Justice for final approval. A stamp tells us that it arrived there December 4th 1923.
The Department of Justice found nothing strange with it and finally approved the "birth" of Greta Garbo December 21, 1923.

7 comments:

Raquelle said...

Professor Jonas digs up a Garbo artifact and gives his followers and amazing analysis of the document. Kudos to Professor Jonas!

Robby Cress said...

I thinks it's always fun coming across old written documents with interesting stories. As much as I love technology it's sad that there will be fewer and fewer hard copy records of such info. Of course, a name change is different - I don't think they'll ever not have a hard copy of such a record - but I mean generally. Thanks for sharing the evolution of Garbo's name :)

Lolita said...

Great! How wonderful of you to translate the document. I could of course write in Swedish to you, I realise now... Jobba på Jonas! Superbra med sådana här specialiserade inlägg!

Jonas Nordin said...

Raquelle,
Gee! Swell! Thanks!

Robby, You'll see we'll be back to papers, fountain pens and stuff sooner than we think :)

Lolita, Det är i detaljerna sanningen finns! (The truth is in the details!)

Princess Fire and Music said...

Thanks for the translation! I find things like this fascinating.

Raquelle said...

When is Professor Jonas coming back for the latest installment? His fans want more!

Jonas Nordin said...

Raquelle,
Let's say research takes time... :)
Patience my dear fans, patience...

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