Sweden Personal Names

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

Considerable confusion exists among many people with Swedish ancestry regarding how names are used in Sweden and how they should be recorded. This document attempts to give background into the historical practices, legislation, and recommended best practices for recording Swedish personal and place names. A handout from the Family History Library class, Swedish Naming Customs, is available for download.

Things To Know[edit | edit source]

  • During the 19th century people began adopting fixed surnames
  • The first law in Sweden concerning surnames was passed in 1901
  • Most of the population used patronymic surnames which are derived from the father's given name and a suffix to identify the child's gender, -son, -dotter
  • Surnames were frequently abbreviated in records
    • The suffix -dotter was frequently abbreviated as d., dr., dtr., etc.
  • Farm names (gårdsnamn) are common in Dalarna (Kopparberg County), and are generally written before the person's given name

Best Practices For Recording Names[edit | edit source]

  • Surnames which are abbreviated in the records should be recorded fully spelled out
  • Farm names (gårdsnamn) indicate residence and are not part of a person's name

Legislative Changes[edit | edit source]

Language and Spelling Reforms[edit | edit source]

Swedish is a North Germanic language closely related to Danish, Icelandic and Norwegian. In 1786 the Swedish Academy (Svenska Academien) commissioned Carl Gustaf Leopold to create rules for modern Swedish with uniform spelling. This was published in 1801 as Afhandling om Svenska stafsättet. Additional changes were recommended in 1869 during the Rättstavningsmötet (Spelling Meeting), as well as in 1886 and 1899. 1874 saw the publication of Ordlista öfver Svenska Språket (Dictionary of the Swedish Language) which incorporated the proposed reforms. The Stavningsreform (Spelling reform) of 1906 made additional changes to the orthography.

A summary of the changes include:

  • "E" to "Ä" in some words such as järn (iron)
  • "W" replaced by "V"
  • "Qv" replaced by "Kv"
  • "Th" replaced by by "T", Götheborg to Göteborg
  • "Fv", "fw", and "hw" replaced by "V"
  • "Dt" replaced by "T" or "tt"
  • "C" replaced by "K", but not in all instances

A more complete list can be found at Sweden Languages - Spelling. For documentary examples of Swedish handwriting see Sweden Handwriting. To help English language speakers Linköping University has produced an introduction to Swedish grammar.

1901 Names Act[edit | edit source]

On 5 December 1901 Sweden passed the first law regulating personal names. This law required all persons who do not already have a fixed surname to adopt the masculine form of their father's surname as their own. Several changes to this law have been made since then, the latest being Lag (2016:1013) om personnamn which went into effect 1 July 2017 and placed responsibility for registering changes of names under the Tax Authority (Skatteverket). The 1901 law did not address the question of surnames for married or divorced women, or adopted children. Rules for these cases were pending before the courts and were determined separately.[1]

Given Names[edit | edit source]

The number of unique given names in Sweden is generally rather small. However, variations abound and some names are more common than others in different regions. Culturally, a person has only one given name (or forename), but it may consist of multiple names, such as Carl Oscar. In this case most English speakers would consider this to be two given names, but in Sweden it would be viewed as the person’s entire, single given name (forename). Given names consisting of multiple names became more common in the late 1800s.

Interchangeable First Names[edit | edit source]

Many given names have variant forms, such as William and Bill in English speaking countries. As you search records from Sweden, you will see there are variant forms of given names for the same individual. There are multiple reasons why this happens in the records, such as:

  • The records were created by the authorities i.e. the pastor, a clerk, or a book keeper, not the person that the name belonged to.
  • Historically, each person in Sweden had their name recorded in a birth and christening record. Sometimes the name in the birth record is not the same variation that the person used throughout their life, e.g. a birth record lists Magnus and yet the same person is listed as Måns in a marriage record, or in some household examination records.
  • A person might have had a personal preference, e.g. Kjerstin who preferred to be called Stina which family and friends honored and the record keeper did not.

Many names have variant spellings. It really is not much of a problem, once you have learned to recognize these names. Some of the more common names and variants are listed below:

Male Names

Andreas, Anders, Andres, Andors
Jeppe, Ib
Johannes, Johan, Jan, Jän, Jaen, Janne, Jean, Jön, Jon, Jöns, Jonas, Jens, Joen, John,
Hans, Hasse
Laurentius, Lars, Lasse
Magnus, Måns, Mons
Mattias, Mathias, Mattes, Mattis, Matthias, Mats, Matts
Nicolaus, Nils, Niklas,
Olaus, Ola, Olof, Oluf, Olle, Olav,
Paulus, Paul, Pål, Påhl, Påfvel, Påfwel, Pofwel, Povel
Petrus, Peter, Peder, Pehr, Pär, Per, Petter, Peter,  Pelle, Päder, Pähr

Female Names

Anna, Anika, Annicka, Aina, Ann, Anne, Anette, Annie
Britta, Birgit, Birgitta, Brigitta, Brit, Brita
Catharina, Catrina, Katrina, Trina, Cajsa, Kajsa, Cari, Carin, Kari, Karin, Karna, Katarina, Katinka, Katrin
Cecelia, Ceselia, Cidza, Cissa, Citza, Sesla, Sessa, Siccla, Sidsa Sidse, Sidsela, Sidtse Sidtze, Sidtzela, Sissa, Sitza, Zidtza, Zissa, Zissela, Zitze 
Charlotta, Lotta, Lotten
Christina, Kristina, Cherstin, Christin, Christine, Kerstin, Kirsti, Kjerstin, Kjersti, Kristin, Kristine, Christa, Stina,
Elisabetha, Elisabet, Elisa, Elise, Elsa, Else, Lisbet, Lisa, Lisken, Betty,
Johanna, Hanna
Helena, Elena, Ellen, Eljena, Elin, Lena
Karin see Catharina above
Louisa, Lovisa
Magdalena, Lena 
Maria, Maja, Maj, Mariana, Marianne, Marie, Marika, Marja, Mary, Mia, Majken
Margareta, Margreta, Margit, Greta, Mareta, Maggie, Maret,

Naming Patterns[edit | edit source]

When baptized, children were usually given one name. Prominent or well-to-do families sometime gave their children two names or even three. The name may be that of a parent or other relative. A traditional way of naming children was as shown below, but it is important to know that this pattern was not always followed and was less common in some areas of Sweden.

  • The first son was named after the father's father.
  • The second son was named after the mother's father.
  • The third son was named after the father.
  • The fourth son was named after the fathers eldest brother.
  • The first daughter was named after the mother's mother.
  • The second daughter was named after the father's mother.
  • The third daughter was named after the mother.
  • The fourth daughter was named after the mothers eldest sister.

Children in the Family With the Same Name[edit | edit source]

Sometimes two or more children within a family were given the same name. In some cases it was done because an older child died and the next child of the same gender was given the name. However, two or more children by the same given name could also have lived to adulthood. Do not presume that the first child with that same given name died unless the actual death record is found.

Surnames[edit | edit source]

It is clear from the oldest known records that names have been used to identify individuals throughout history. Surnames, as they are understood by many English-speaking cultures today, first began to be used before the end of the first millennium, C.E. Surnames were first introduced in Europe by the Normans, who were French-speaking descendants of Viking settlers. This may indicate that people living in Scandinavia were among the earliest adopters of some type of surname.

Surnames developed from four major sources:

  • Patronymic, based on the father's name, such as Johan Nilsson (son of Nils)
  • Nature, based on one or two words taken from nature, or a word from nature with another ending
  • Nicknames, based on a person's characteristics, such as Pehr Fager (the fair)
  • Geographical, based on a person's place of birth or residence, such as Olof Grankulla. These were less common in Sweden.

Surnames were first used by nobility and wealthy land owners. Later the custom was adopted by the clergy, merchants, citizens and eventually by the rural population.

Patronymics[edit | edit source]

Illustration of the derivation of Swedish patronymic surnames

The predominant type of surname in Sweden is patronymic. These surames are based on the father's given name and changed with each generation. For example, Lars Pettersson was the son of Petter. If Lars had a son named Hans, the son would be known as Hans Larsson (son of Lars). His brothers would be called Larsson, while any sisters would be known as Larsdotter (daughter of Lars).

Nature Names[edit | edit source]

Surnames derived from nature followed the following patterns:

  • Two "nature words", for example: Lindgren (linden + branch), Berggren (hill + branch), Bladberg (leaf + hill), Sjöblad (lake + leaf), etc.
  • One "nature word" plus a Greek/Latin ending like -ander/-andra, -ius/-ia, -us/-a, -er, -en, -in, -ell, for example: Lindén, Linder, Lindell, Bergander, Bergius, Melander, etc.

Soldier Names[edit | edit source]

When a young man went into the military he was given a new surname. This was necessary to avoid the confusion of having multiple men serving together by the exact same name. For example, how would a man named Olof Olofsson know when his name was called when there are five others in the company by the same name?

This name could be based on his characteristics, such as Stark (strong) or Modig (brave), or the parish where he lived. If the place was called Lillebäck, he may have been called Lillebäck or Bäck. In other cases you will find the soldier name is associated to the name of the soldier farm. Many names were formed from place names in the area, such as a soldier from the parish Tillberga, could easily get the name Tillberg or the soldier from Sundby named Sundin. Some soldier names were taken from nature such as: such as Ek (oak), Gren (branch) or Granqvist (spruce branch) and others from animal life such as: Björn (bear), Lo (lynx), or Järv (wolverine).

Many times soldier names were assigned to reflect personal traits such as: Modig (courageous), Tapper (brave), Frimodig (fearless, frank), and Stark (strong). Some names refer to weaponry, Svärd (sword), Skjöld (shield), Spjut (spear), and Lans (lance) or military equipment Krut, (gunpowder), and Lod (cannonball) while the sailor could get a name as Ankare (anchor). "Most often it was the company commander who "christened" the soldiers and it was his preference that ruled in the name selection. Some names were passed on for generations while other company commanders came up with new names."[2]

The son of the soldier, Petter Lillebäck, would likely have been known as Pettersson unless he became a soldier and took his father's position. As part of their compensation for military service men were alloted a house and piece of land which came with their post. In some cases a soldier would be assigned the soldier name of the the soldier he is replacing. When he was discharged, he would move off the soldier farm and resume use of his patronymic surname. In the late 1800s when family names were more common, and sometimes when people emigrated, the soldier name was adopted as the family surname.

Children of a soldier may or may not have taken their father’s military surname. For example, the children of a soldier named Anders Ljungström may have used either the Ljungström surname or chosen instead to be known as Andersson or Andersdotter. Many chose to use their patronymic surname, based upon their father’s given name instead. Before the mid-1800s it was more common for children to use the patronymic surname rather than the military surname. Also about this time it became more common for the soldiers to keep their soldier name when they were discharged, and children adopted their father’s soldier name.

"It is easy to believe that soldier names deal with relationship, where a son succeeds his father in the same service or rote. But soldier names are never proof of relationship. The name belonged to the rote and was often given to the next soldier regardless of whether or not he was related to the previous soldier. On the other hand, however, it was not uncommon that soldier dynasties were built where the son followed the father for several generations. But the name itself is no indication of such a relationship because it requires further verification."[3]

Here are some examples of Swedish soldier names:

  • Ahlström
  • Back
  • Blixt
  • Dahl
  • Eld
  • Fogel
  • Grahn
  • Hasselstrand
  • Häger
  • Högström
  • Kock
  • Lidberg
  • Ljungqvist
  • Lång
  • Malmsten
  • Möller
  • Norberg
  • Orm
  • Påhlman
  • Rask
  • Sedig
  • Sundqvist
  • Svärd
  • Trana
  • Tjäder
  • Uggla
  • Valbom
  • Ål
  • Älg
  • Öman

Professionals and Occupations[edit | edit source]

Many professionals elected to assume a new surname marking a milestone in their life or suiting their occupation. When a young man became an apprentice to learn a trade, he would choose an additional surname, generally after reaching journeyman status. Some student adopted an new surname when attending university, and then may change it again at graduation when they begin their professional career.

The clergy and other learned men often "Latinized" their names, Eric Karlsson became Ericus Caroli.

Farm Names in Dalarna and Gotland[edit | edit source]

In the province of Dalarna people were frequently recorded with a farm name (gårdsnamn) which were always written before their given name. An example of this would be Knis Anders Ersson, who may also be recorded as Knis Anders. These farm names should not be recorded as part of the person's name but should be included as part of the locality. These names usually do not appear in the church record until 1800.[4] In Gotland if a person was a farm hand the name of the farm names was written before the person's name, and after if the person was the owner of the farm.[5]

Abbreviations[edit | edit source]

When recording surnames, it is important to remember that patronymics were frequently abbreviated in the records. The abbreviations d., dr., dtr., are all substitutes for dotter. Likewise, male patronymics are frequently shortened to s or ss. In a parish where most of the population has a surname ending with -dotter or -sson, recording the name in full would be needlessly redundant.

Abbreviations in the records are not limited to surnames. Some given names are frequently abbreviated as well. Perhaps the most commonly encountered abbreviation is in names containing the word Christ, where it is written as X, it being a modern siglum of the Greek Χρ, representing the first two letters in the Greek spelling of Christ.

Name Frequency[edit | edit source]

A study of male births in a parish in Norrbotten during the 1750s revealed that over half the males born had one of four given names: Anders (24%), Lars (12%), Jon (8%) and Olaf/Olav (8%). Among the female births during the same period five names were used move than half the time: Karin/Karen (18%), Margaret (14%), Kerstin/Christina (20%), Gunilla (7%), and Ingrid (7%). While this is a specific to a single parish, it is representative of name frequencies across the entire country.

Swedish-American Name Changes[edit | edit source]

It is not unusual for people to use different surnames after their emigration. For example, Anders Peter Ersson (Ericsson) married Christina (Stina) Catharina Ersdotter in 1856. In 1860 Anders Peter Ersson joined the navy and was given the sailor name Holmgren. When their son, Anders Gustaf Andersson, moved to the United States in 1911 he went by the name Anders Gustaf Holmgren.

Online Resources[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Om Namnbyten och Namnlagar i Sverige (PDF)
  2. Wolke, Lars Ericson, "Begrepp och namn i soldatforskningen," SLÄKT Historiskt Forum 4 (2010):37.
  3. Wolke, Lars Ericson, "Den Svenska Soldaten, Fallgropar for soldatforskaren," SLÄKT Historiskt Forum 4 (2010):33.
  4. Elisabeth Thorsell. The Farm Names of Dalarna. Accessed 8 June 2020.
  5. Kjöllerström, Per August, Svensk Namnbok : Dopnamn, Ättenamn, Ortnamn, p. 125.