Swedish Naming Practices

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General Surnames Given Names Prefixes / Suffixes Example Name changes
General Laws Married Patronymics Matronymics Dalarna
Soldier Craftsmen Clergy Burghers Nobility  
General (1). Before the time of more regular church records (early 18th century) most "common" people were referred to by their first name and - if necessary - by a reference to the village or farm where they lived. Sometimes adding an occupation title or a personal characteristic as suffix.
Example: "Edvin i Elovsbyn" = Edvin who lives in the village named Elovsbyn, "Christina i Åsen" = Christine living on the farm Åsen. This practice was common in many countries in Europe.
Adding an occupation as a suffix has been used at least since the time of the Bible, e.g. John the Fisherman and in Sweden e.g. Birger Jarl or Brynte Smed
Many kings, vikings and widely known people were referred to by their first name and a characteristic like
Harald Blåtand (H blue tooth), Erik den Helige (E the Holy) not to forget "Erik läspe och halte" (E the lisping and limping one)
Laws about names Laws about names mainly aim to protect the right to existing family names and to guard against "offensive" names. In early times the only law protection that existed were a few rules protecting names of the royal house and the nobility. Also a soldier was not allowed to change his name while enrolled (but often had to change when he joined - see below).
In general people could take on any surname as long as it was registered in the church records.
In 1901 the first law about surnames was passed. In effect it outlawed the earlier custom using patronymics (see below).
(1) The norm became to use the father's surname for all children regardless of the child's gender.
(2) A child born in wedlock receives the father's surname.
(3) A child born out of wedlock receives the mother's surname. The father, or a man (later) married to the mother, can allow the child to use his surname.
(4) Adopted children receive the surname of the adopting person. By court permission an adopted child may use his/her surname at birth alone or in conjunction with the surname of the adopting parent.
The legislation regarding names has been revised / extended many times after 1901, notably the major, coordinated revision in 1963.
Genealogical consequences
the year 1901 makes a BIG difference - see below under "patronymics"
"Name as Married" Before early 1900's
The standard for a married woman was to keep her birth name, whether patronymic of family name proper. 
In "upper class" families (except nobility) the practice seems to have two major variations:
a/  If the woman had a family name proper before the marriage she would often keep that name.
b/  If the woman had a patronymic surname she was sometimes referred to by the husband's family name proper, which "upper class" / educated men almost always had.
In many cases the wives of men of certain professions also used the husband's title in female form.
Examples: Pastorska (wife of a pastor), doktorinna (wife of a doktor).
A widow in upper classes would often still use her husband's title as above but with the prefix enke- = widow, e.g. Enkepastorska, If she had not used her husband's title she would often use the title Enkefru = widow. This title was used only by "upper class" women, others would use Enka.
Early 1900's
Surname for married women was not regulated by law until early 20th century, then stating that:
(1) The wife normally takes the husband's surname. By simply sending a note to the parish office she can use both her maiden surname and the husband's name in conjunction.
(2) A divorced woman is allowed to revert to her maiden surname
These rules have been revised several times in the last 50 years and customs have changed as well.
Patronymics Patronymics (from Greek pater =father and onoma =name). Naming practice common in the Nordic rural society from very early ages. It is known in the Nordic countries at least since the Edda tales (the younger Edda from abt 1220 by Snorre Sturlason).
The use is diminishing in the 2nd half of the 19th century until outlawed in 1901.
The practice created problems since many people had identical names but it solved the ancient problem from the times when people did not have surnames at all.
It was not as common in urban areas, among craftsmen or in the middle class.

Construction: Father's given name +genitive "s" +"son" for a son or "dotter" for a daughter. The genitive "s" is sometimes left out. The "dotter" was often abridged to "dtr" or "dr".
: Eriksson =son of Erik; Johansdotter =daughter of Johan; Jonsson =son of Jon/Jonas/(Johan); Olsson or Olofsson =son of Olof, Persdotter (or Persdr or Persdtr) =daughter of Per.
: In my experience the patronymic surname of a child is a good lead to which of the father's given names he actually used (if he had > 1)

Effect of the 1901 "name law":
The literal meaning of a patronymic surname is lost. Karin, daughter of Karl Svensson, would be named Karin Karlsdotter if born before 1901 but Karin Svensson if born after 1901. This is important for genealogists. It is often useful to create a patronymic surname from the father's first name or deduct the father's first name from a known patronymic surname of a child born before the end of the 19th century but almost always leads you wrong regarding children born after 1901. In the latter case you should look for a father with the same surname as the child.
Other countries:
In Scotland the prefixes Mac, Mc, M' is used meaning "son (of)". Example: MacAdam / McDougal.
In Ireland the prefix O' is used with the same meaning, example: O'Malley.
In Britain the prefix "Fitz" (from Latin filius = son) is (was) used to the same effect - supposedly originally a custom from Normandy.
Differentiate from:
a) Other Nordic countries: If you find a male patronymic surname ending in "-sen" instead of "-son" then suspect he could be from Norway or Denmark. The same goes for a female name ending in "-datter" instead of "-dotter". "-dattir" is usually from Iceland.
b) The prefix "von" (in German) and "van" (in Dutch) have the meaning "from" and denote only the place where the individual was born or lives. In Germany (and some other countries, among those Sweden, Finland and Denmark) the "von" prefix has been commonly used by the nobility but is not a "proof" of noble status. In German the longer prefix "von und zu" (from and of) was used to mark noble status. The Dutch prefix "van" is not used to denote noble status.
Genealogical consequences: Since the patronymic surname was common practice and followed strict rules you will normally not see the surname registered for children in the church books, neither the birth records nor the HFL. You have to construct the name yourself from the father's given name. If the father is NOT named in the same note (unnamed father in a birth record OR father dead in a HFL record) the patronymic surname is usually specified in the registration. This is true also if the child is not a child of the father / head of household mentioned - this happens when the mother has been married before or the child is a foster child or adopted.
Matronymics Matronymics (from Latin mater = mother and Greek onoma =name. Also Metronymic from Greek meter =mother). Naming practice similar to patronymics. Used mostly for children born out of wedlock when father was unknown (or "unnamed"). It was also used in early ages (before abt the 14th century) if the head of household was a woman, e.g. Sigridsdotter, or if she had a family name proper to use that name. Later it was sometimes used if the social status of the mother was higher than that of the father or when the child was born after the death of the father.
It was however not uncommon to use (later change to) a patronymic name based on an older male relative's name to avoid announcing to the world that you were born out of wedlock.
Construction is as for patronymics but using mother's given name for the first part.
Examples: Elinsson =son of Elin; Annasdotter =daughter of Anna.
Dalarna (+) special In Dalarna (Dalecarlia province) they solved the problem of many identical names due to the frequent use of patronymics by prefixing the name with a "family name" derived from the name, nickname or profession of the original owner of the farm where they lived.
Example: Perers Abraham Jonsson = Abraham, son of Jon, living on the farm created by Per Eriksson ("-ers" =abbrev of Eriksson)
This practice was also used in provinces Hälsingland, Gästrikland and Västmanland.
Soldier names In the military the problems arising from many persons having identical names was obvious. If you give the order "Andersson, come here" maybe a dozen soldiers would show up. The remedy was simple. Each soldier with a common patronymic name was assigned a new name when enrolled. Those were mostly selected from military terms/objects, the person's character or stature or short nature names. To simplify military language they are mostly one-syllable words.
In many places the soldier name "belonged" to the position in the forces so it was used by the next soldier in that position. This is especially true for names that reflected what area (rote) was responsible for recruiting the soldier.
When they lived at home many of them used the double name, i.e. the original patronymic name plus the new military name like in "Per Andersson Kanon", but not necessarily so. The church records usually register both names, at least when he was recently recruited.
The name could be passed on to children as a family surname, but never to siblings.
(a)  Military terms: Kanon (cannon), Spjut (spear), Svärd (sword), Strid (battle),
(b)  Characteristics: Glad (happy), Stor (tall / large),
(c) General: Blom (flower, blossom), Dal (valley),
(d) Related to recruiting rote: Dalman (from Dalen rote), Strömmer (from Strömmer rote), Bönfelt (from Bön rote).
Genealogical consequences: Be extra thorough when checking relations since there may be persons in the same village having the same non-patronymic surname but totally unrelated. The only common thing for them is that they (or an ancestor) served as a soldier in the rote using that name. Always look for a patronymic name as well and register that one along with the soldier name in your records, like "Per Andersson Kanon". This will help you differentiate between unrelated soldiers carrying the same soldier name.
Craftsmen A very early practice among craftsmen (middle ages), especially those with an uncommon craft, was to use the name of the trade as a surname. This "profession title" was often combined with the traditional patronymic name resulting in two surnames. This was possible since in many trades there was only one or a few persons of each trade and often limited by the guilds.
Examples: Per Skomakare (Per shoemaker); Anders Nilsson Smed (Anders Nilsson blacksmith).

Much more common among craftsmen was using names as described for the burghers (since many (most?) of them actually were burghers or at least trained in cities).

Special Crafts Some special crafts formed close bonds in guilds and the like developing special customs for naming as well. Examples of such groups are
(a) the Walloons Craftsmen in the iron industries who immigrated from French speaking Belgium. They brought their surnames and those were inherited long before that became common practice. You can find lists of known Walloon family names on the Internet. There are special Genealogical Societies for research about the Walloon families.
(b) the (iron) smiths in general. There are special Genealogical Societies for research about the smiths families. Search the net for "smeder" or "smedsläkt"
Various guilds have been formed too and some records from those may be available at the Landsarkiv (State regional archives)
(c) other smiths - like goldsmiths, coppersmiths etc - often resided in towns/cities and used burgher type of names (below).
The Clergy The earliest custom to signify a priest was to put "Herr" (Eng Mr) before the given name. This is NOT a "proof" of clergymen since other "upper class" people shared the same title. Later a patronymic surname was added but Latinised (e.g. Henrici = son of Henrik; Petri = son of Peter). Sometimes the place of origin was added as a second surname but still Latinised (Johannes Danielis Tunensis = Johannes, son of Daniel from Tuna parish.) or only the place name Latinized.
A common practice was also to add the Greek word for man = "ander" to their original surname in Swedish, e.g. Björk -> Björkander; A patronymic surname like Svensson could then become Svenander.
The Burghers The burghers (middle class town people) abandoned the patronymic practice early, beginning already in the 17th century. Their favourite names were often built in two parts from words with a meaning like nouns from nature.
Examples: Bergström (hill + stream), Sjöberg (lake + hill), Lindholm (linden tree + (small) island), Vallgren ((earth) wall or meadow + branch)
Noble names The "noble" name was given along with the privileges by the king. There is almost always a link between the coat of arms and the noble name. The person who first received the privileges often used his patronymic name as well, e.g. the king Gustav Eriksson Wasa ("son of Erik" plus name linked to the coat of arms - a vase (fasces of wheat). In later generations the patronymic was often dropped and only the noble name used as a surname. This sometimes creates confusion since a small selection of given names was used in a family - sometimes a son and a father shared the same given name. To differentiate between the two a suffix was added: "d.ä." = "den äldre" = "the elder" AND "d.y." = "den yngre" = "the younger".
The noble names are the first inherited surnames in Sweden but note that not all noble titles were inherited and in these cases the noble surname was not passed on.
To recognize a noble name you will have to know the Swedish history very well or consult the "Adelskalendern" - the register of noble families.
  Given names (brief overview)
Basics Until the second half of the 19th century it was less common for the rural families to give their children more than one Christian name.
The selection was fairly limited until the influence from other countries became stronger. The same names were often reused within a family, sometimes even in adjacent generations (e.g. father and son having the same given name.). I have one example where the name Anders was given to a son for 5 consecutive generations.
There are several lists on the Internet listing and explaining the origin of given names.

More than one given name
was common among the nobility all over Europe in very early times - just check kings and queens for example. In Sweden children in rural areas (i.e. most of Sweden) were given only one "first name" until the 2nd half of the 19th century. Some groups, like town people, craftsmen, clergy etc (upper and middle classes) used multiple given names earlier. My guess (I have not studied the statistics for Sweden) is that in a rural population only some 10-15 % of the children had more than one first name before mid 1800's - the above special groups excluded. 
I scanned our database for Töcksmark and Östervallskog parishes in western Värmland province, totalling 16 500 people in a rural area with one iron industry and found 
1  Among children born before 1840 less than 10 people of total abt 6 300 (0.2 %) had more than one name excluding the priests and smiths families. Those - on the other hand - almost always give their children 2 or 3 first names and they "always" use a family name. 
2  Children born after 1840 increasingly get more than one given name also among the farmer families and in the 20th century it is a rule.
The custom follows the pattern of using family names instead of only a patronymic both regarding groups and time periods.

I would think that most of the people having several given names commonly used only one of them. Indications of this you may see in signatures and letters. To find out which of several given names was actually used you usually have to find personal letters. Occasionally (mostly late 19th century) you can deduct this from the patronymic surname used by his children.

Double - "combo" - names, like Lars-Göran, Ann-Louise etc come into fashion only in the 20th century.
  Prefixes / Suffixes to Distinguish like named persons
  With a limited number of "popular" given names we inevitably end up with several people living at the same time in the same place having identical names.
To distinguish two Anders Andersson from different villages you simply added the name of the village like Anders Andersson i Elovsbyn and Anders Andersson i Töresbyn.
Two Anders Andersson in the same village were sometimes named after the farm, like Anders i Åsen and Anders i Skompehytta.
In church registers it seems more common to prefix the name telling relative age like 
Anders Andersson
(the young AA) and 
Anders Andersson
(the old AA). 
= the youngest and
äldste = the eldest
were also used when  needed.
Abbrev: u. = unge, g.OR gl. = gamle, Yngste is seldom abridged since a simple y could be misinterpreted. I have seen it as yste

These pre-/suffixes were commonly used when talking about people, as in records, but never as part of their registered name. One exception: see above under Noble names. (d.ä. / d.y.)

Viking origin Gunnar, Ragnar, Harald, Ingeborg, Elisabet (Lisa, Lisken), Birgit (Berit, Böret)
  Example how to split a name in parts
  The name 
Carl Johan Leander Andersson Strömqvist
can be split into these parts

1 Carl Johan Leander = given names 
to recognize given names from surnames usually depends on knowledge of use of given names in Sweden but the position in the complete name is usually a good indicator. 
In this case "Leander" could have been a surname but the position BEFORE the "Andersson" name practically excludes that possibility in this case. Also 3 surnames is very rare but did occur in very old times.

2 Andersson is the patronymic 
and it is almost always safe to assume that the father's first name was Anders. 
The only exception may be when a foster child assumes the surname of the foster father but this is common only from late 19th century in my experience. After the name law of 1901 this patronymic part was commonly dropped.

3 Strömqvist is the family name "proper" 
This person may have this after his father named Strömqvist OR may have taken the name himself. Always check records for the father. 
In some cases a family name has been inherited from the mother's side of the ancestry, especially if she belonged to a family of higher social status.
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Last updated by F Hae 2005-07-09 22:12 © Fredrik Haeffner, 2001-5