Some Notes on Swedish Names
By Nils William Olsson, Ph.D., F.A.S.G. 2006-02-09
In the beginning every person had but one name, the given name. If you look at the Bible and study the first chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew or the third chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke you will find that the genealogy of Jesus consists of single male names, with an occasonal mention of a female. As time went on it became necessary to differentiate between two persons with the same given name, thus we find John, the Baptist and John, the Evangelist.
In most cultures, where confusion might exist between two persons with the same given name, the father's name was used to separate the two individuals. The Latin name for son, filius, thus becomes fils in French, fitz in Norman French, and vich, witz in the Slavic languages. In Ireland, the prefix O' signifies the son of, as Mac or Mc in Scottish names.
In northern Europe the patronymic was indicated by adding the father's given name to -son and -dotter in Sweden, -son and -datter in Danish and Norwegian. The extra s in Swedish patronymics denotes the possessive case, thus Anders' son, Johan's son, Carl's daughter etc., the extra s being sloughed off when the immigrant arrived in the U.S.
In families where the wife had a position superior to that of the husband, in that she came from a more powerful clan, the children occasionally used the matronymic. Thus in my own family, that of Natt och Dag (so called because the escutcheon was divided into two flelds, dark blue and gold, popularly referred to as Night and Day), supposedly one of my earliest ancestors was Nils Sigridsson, the son of an important woman named Sigrid in the 13th century.
Even though the Scandinavian cultures show many similarities, there are some distinct differences. In Norway, in addition to the patronymic, the Norwegian often added the name of the farm or village where he resided as his surname. Often several families, not related, would assume the same surname, based upon their domiciles.
In my wife's Norwegian ancestry the surname was Stumo, taken from their ancestral home in western Norway. The fact that other families adopted the same surname does not mean that they were related.
It is only quite recently that Swedish families have followed suit, in taking the name of the family farmstead as a surname.
In Denmark, the Danes often followed the Norwegians in adopting place names as surnames. but sometimes used forms that would be impossible in Sweden, as for instance Kirkegaard, meaning cemetery.
The use of patronymics in Sweden was' so common that it was not until approximately a century ago, that the practice was dropped and the patronymic stabilized into a surname. Thus my grandfather was Nils Olsson, the son of Ola Persson, but his son, my father, born in 1878, chose to stay by Olsson,which thus has become our family name.
In Iceland the custom of using patronymics is prescribed by law, so that every generation must follow the old custom. Thus the most important name of an Icelander is his given or baptismal name and he or she is listed by this name in the telephone book, the patronymic coming last.
Because patronymics were the rule in Sweden, even as late as the 16th century, the Swedish King, Gustaf Vasa, was known as Gustaf Eriksson. The name of Vasa was added later and has to do with the coat of arms, which has a bunch of fasces as the symbol (vasakärve).
Important as the patronymics were in Swedish social history, particularly in the rural areas, the system began to break down with the emergence of social classes - nobility, clergy, the military, the influx of foreigners, the development of town guilds and the advent of the industrial age. Let us look at each of these groups.
The nobility in Sweden was created along the same lines as in continental Europe. A special privileged class which served the ruler and aided him in conflicts by equipping a number of soldiers as well as cavalry. In return he was free of taxation and was known as frälse. Usually they were given a patent of nobility by the king as well as a coat of arms, on which was emblazoned heraldic symbols. From these symbols the family name slowly evolved. A good example is the earlier mentioned Natt och Dag family. The Uggla family had an uggla (owl) on its escutcheon. Hammarskjöld has two hammare (hammers) on its shield; the Gedda family has a gädda (northern pike); Falkenberg has two falcons in its coat of arms, and in my family Gyllensting (now extinct) there is a stiletto piercing a heart (sting).
Except for an occasonal stray immigrant, the Swedish clergy was recruited mostly from within Sweden, which at this time also included Finland. Candidates for holy orders came mainly from the nobility although as time went on, more and more students had their origins in rural Sweden. Early in the Catholic era the clergyman used only his given name preceded by Herr (Sir), thus Herr Johannes, Herr Mikael, Herr Petrus and Herr Wilhelmus. But it soon became necessary to differentiate between two clerics having the same given name and then the patronymic was added, but Latinized, thus:
Abraham Andersson = Abrahamus Andrex
Björn Bengtsson = Bero Benedicti
Anders Danielsson = Andreas Danielis
Bengt Eriksson = Benedictus Erici
Johan Henriksson = Johannes Henrici
Nils Håkansson = Nicolaus Haquini
Gabriel Johansson = Gabriel Johannis
Erik Larsson = Ericus Laurentii
Matthias Olofsson = Matthias Olai
Henrik Simonsson = Henricus Simonis
Lars Steffansson Laurentius Stephani
Göran Svensson Georgius Svenonis
But as time went on these Latinized forms were not sufficient to correctly identify the clergy, thus when they enrolled at the University of Uppsala or at the University of Åbo [Turku] in Finland it became necessary to add an identifier, usually the Latinized form of their birth place. If we examine the clergy of the Diocese of Västerås during the 17th century, we find a few of these names:
Olaus Andreæ Arosiensis from Västerås
Bartholdus Petri Cuprimontanus from Kopparberg Parish
Matthias Erici Dalekarlus from the province of Dalarna
Ericus Petri Dingtunensis from Dingtuna Parish
Laurentius Andreæ Gevaliensis from Gävle
Andreas Pauli Helsingus from Hälsingland
Petrus Jonæ Kolbeckius from Kolbäck Parish
Andreas Andreæ Norxmontanus from Norberg Parish
Gudmundus Petri Rettvikensis from Rättvik Parish
Nicolaus Erici Segerstadius from Segerstad Parish
Johannes Danielis Tunensis from Tuna Parish
If the father of the cleric had a surname, he might Latinize that name as for instance: Johannes Laurentius Betulius, whose father was named Björk (Swedish = birch).
Again as time passed clerical students used other methods to create names which were commensurate with their social station. One popular method was to add the Greek word ander (man) as the last syllable of a name: Alander, Arenander, Arosiander, Betulander, Björkander, Carlander Dalander, Delander, Dryander, Elander, Fornander, Gasslander, Gullander, Hållander, Insulander, Jullander, Karlander, Kilander, Kylander, Lysander, Mellander, Nylander, Olander, Pållander, Rollander, Svenander, Tennander, Ulander, Vikander, Wallander and Ylander.
The influx of foreigners
The movement of foreigners into Sweden has had some impact on Swedish surnames. In the Middle Ages quite a few Germans settled in Sweden, particularly Stockholm and the coastal cities. At the end of the 16th century and beginning of the 17th century there was an influx of Walloons from Belgium and France, most of them engaged in the iron industry. They have contributed much to the historically excellent quality of Swedish steel products. Some of the Walloon names still to be found in Sweden are - Allard, Anjou, Bouveng, Charpentier, Douhan, Galon, Gefvert (Gävert), Gille, Hybbinette, Lemon, Martin, Pousette, Quarfordt, Sporrong, Tolf and Touron.
At the end of the 17th century the military system of Sweden was completely reorganized and the system was to remain in effect for over 200 years. Simplified it specified that four farms (there were exceptions) were to join forces and equip a soldier and provide him with a house (soldattorp). The soldier was to attend military drills and in time of war was to report for duty, wherever that might be. Since he had a rural background he had a patronymic, which might be very common, such as Andersson, Eriksson, Olsson or Petersson. When he appeared before the military scribe he was given a soldier's name, which he kept during his service and which he often retained when he was pensioned or left the service. The name was usually short, consisting of only one syllable.They can be divided into various groups:
1. Military terms -
Granat = grenade
Pistol = pistol
Sabel = sabre
Kask = hat
Spjut = spear
Kula = shot
Svärd = sword
2. Personal characteristics
- Fast = steady Flink = fast From = pious Modig = courageous Stadig = sturdy Stark = strong Trofast = dependable Trogen =loyal
3. Nature names
- Al = alder Alm = elm Ek = oak Gran = pine Gren = branch Lind = linden Löf = leaf Lönn = maple Qvist = twig Sjö = lake
4. Names taken from place names
- Abborre from Abborberget Berg from Berghem Dahl from Dalsland Murberg from Murum Parish
Many lads of rural background left the farm to enter some kind of trade. Usually he started out as an apprentice, then became a journeyman, finally ending up as a master in some Swedish town. In the change from farm life to city life he also assumed a surname. These names were usually linked to some form of nature name or topographic locality.
1. Nature names -
Here imagination had full sway. Usually in two syllables, they were combinations of every imaginable tree coupled with some nature form or topographical entity. Let us try a sample. The linden tree is very popular in Sweden and has given rise to names like - Lind, Lindahl, Lindbeck, Lindberg, Lindberger, Lindblad, Lindblom, Lindbom, Linde, Lindeberg, Lindeblad, Lindeborg, Lindegård, Lindegren, Lindell, Lindekrantz,Lindenbaum, Lindenkrona, Lindenstrand, Linder, Linderholm, Linderoth, Lindfeldt, Lindfors, Lindgren, Lindhagen, Lindholm, Lindman, Lindmark, Lindmarker, Lindner, Lindörn, Lindorm, Lindquist, Lindroth, Lindsfeldt, Lindskog, Lindstam, Lindstedt, Lindståhl, Lindstrand, Lindström, and Lindvall.
The same pattern can be used with other trees - al, alm, björk, bok, ceder, ek, en, fur, gran, hägg, lönn, palm, and tall.
2. Topographical names
By fusing topographical syllables it was possible to create hundreds of new names - 'ås, bäck, berg, born, borg, brink by, dal, fält, fors, holm, hult, lund, mark, näs, sand, sjö, skog, strand, ström, vall and vik.
Some samples come to mind - Åsbrink, Backström, Bergström, Born, Borgström, Brink, Byström, Dahllöf, Åfäldt, Forsman, Holmquist, Hultgren, Lundberg, Lundmark, Näsbom, Sandberg, Sjöholm, Skoglund, Strandlund, Strömberg,Vallberg and Vikström.