Swedish Names

Swedish names generally fall into a few categories. The first is the patronymic – the ‘son, names. There are a couple of interesting points about Swedish names. One is that in Sweden, all the names have two Ss. The first S is a possessive S. Here we would use an apostrophe s (‘s) to show possession. In Sweden, the name Lars Andersson means that Lars is the son of Anders. If we had names like this here, we would write them Lars Anders’ son. In Sweden, these names are still pronounced like two words – not run together as we do here in America. So, for example, Larsson sounds more like a phrase than a single word.

A second interesting fact about Swedish patronymics is that your last name – until the mid 1880s – typically derived from your father’s first name. As in true example above, Lars is the son of Anders. If his son was perhaps named Peter, Peter’s name would be Peter Larsson. (This was also true of daughters- and we also saw names like Larssdottir – literally meaning Lars’s daughters). By true late 19th century, however the patronymic system ran into some problems. One issue was with the two years of mandatory military service, things got confusing. To cope with this problem, you could take a military name like of the job you did or the position you held. Alternatively, your commander could issue you a name, either a military name or a nickname. You were not obliged to keep the name after your military duty, however, many men did. As a result, we see names like Bowman – which literally is a Navy name and refers to the man in the Bow of the boat. Gunnar is a popular first name, of which the origins are clear.

In the mid 1880s, the Swedish government declares an end to the handing down the father’s name as a last name. During a certain period of time, all people were given a choice of the last name they want for themselves. This is an extremely unique period in history, and ccreates a lot of headaches for genealogists. This is because within any given family, every person could choose a different name. For example, a family with 5 children could result in a wide range of names. One son may choose to maintain his father’s last name. So, Lars Andersson above may have a son Per, who kept the same last name as his father – thus he would be Per Andersson. The daughter Jenny would keep the tradition for one last generation, so she would be Jenny Larssdottir. A child could decide to keep a different family name, perhaps on the maternal side. In this case, he might become Bjorn (bear) Olsson (Olav’s son or Olof’s son). A different child may choose a place name. These are frequently two words made into a compound word. One well known name is Nordstrom, which means North Steam. It may be that the family lived near the north stream. Another name like this is Bjorklund – birch grove. Sometimes the names were more poetic – like Fogelsberg (bird’s mountain) or Tornquist (rose or thorn branch).
Ultimately, what is one genealogist’s nightmare, could be an interesting point for the sensibilities of an ancestor – at least at one point in time.

Incidentally, patronymics are wide spread and occur in many of the cultures in which the Vikings had a strong influence. In Spanish, the final -es or -ez denotes ‘son of’. Thus Martinez is Martin’s son. In Russian (and other Slavic languages)- vitch (or it’s permutations) is the patronymic. In Scottish, the patronymic is a prefix, Fitzpatrick means son of Patrick.