Friday, February 10, 2012

Swedish surnames and family names

Until quite recently, Sweden have not commonly used family surnames.
Instead we have had a patronymic tradition, which means that all children got their fathers first name as their surname, with the suffix -son (for men) or -dotter (for women).

So if a man named Lars Andersson had children, his sons would automatically had their surname as Larsson and his daughters would have Larsdotter as their surname.

It was first in the late 1800 and early 1900 that we stopped using patronymic surnames and changed them into family names.

About the same time women started to take their husbands surname as their own when getting married. Before this all women kept their surname their entire life, married or not.

When the change from patronymic surnames was completed all women that had their patronymic surname (ending with -dotter) to become the male version, ending with -son instead.
So Elisabeth Svensdotter suddenly was changed to Elisabeth Svensson. Quite boring I think.

That is the reason that we in Sweden have so many family names ending with -son (Andersson, Svensson, Larsson, Nilsson, Olsson, Johansson, Persson, Karlsson, Gustafsson, Eriksson, and so on...)

As you probably understand, there was literary hundreds of thousands of people living in Sweden that shared the exact same name during all periods of time.
But there was some of them that adapted a family name instead.

Sometimes just to avoid being mistaken to be someone else (since there often were maybe 10 Lars Larsson living in the same small village...), some started using a non-patronymic surname, sometimes this was passed on to their children, sometimes not.

Most common surnames (besides the patronymic ones) are very often connected to nature and names of places where people lived.
This gives quite many possible combinations, but also many of these surnames was adopted by many unrelated people in many different locations at the same time, making these family names not that unique and not very helpful to determine if people with the same family name were related or not...

Some very common words that are current in many Swedish surnames are to mention a few;

Berg (mountain), Gren, (branch on tree), Blad (leaf on tree), Kvist (twig on tree), Ström (stream in water), Lund (grove of trees), Ny (new), Söder (south), Nord (north), Väst (west), Öst (east), Sand (sand), Fors (rapids water), Sjö (lake)...

And often names of trees or animals are used, many times in combination with the above.
Some examples;

Flowers from a Linden tree
Lind (lime or linden), Ek, (oak), Gran (spruce, fir), Tall (pine), Hassel (hazel), Örn (eagle), Falk (falcon), Björk (birch), Asp (aspen), Äng (meadow), Lönn (maple)...

So by combining these we can generate almost all common surnames that is in top 100 here in Sweden...
My own surname Lindberg is a perfect example that is one of the most common surnames here.

Some people also got special names if they were soldiers. These soldier names was most of the times only used by the soldier himself and not passed on to his children, but sometimes they became family names also.
Most of these military names were either directly connected to the place the soldier served under or some classical ones like for example;

Trygg (confident, safe), Hård (hard), Stark (strong), Grym (cruel), Dunder (thunder), Stolt (proud)...

Also noblemen, priests, merchants and some craftsmen like smiths often used a family name as a surname.

The only family names that was protected was the one reserved for the noblemen. No one else outside the family could use a registered surname used by a noble family.

But besides that, no rules, so many people used the same surnames without being related at all.

But since early 1900 there is strict regulations and procedures when someone want to change or create a new surname.
Today the name must be unique or if it exists you must have a connection to this surname not so long ago in ones family.

In my family the Lindberg surname was first used by my great great grandfather, and he took it the year 1874 when he was 16 years of age. Before that his surname was Lindman, but that name came from the soldiers that served in Lindö In Vallentuna parish. (all soldiers there always was named Lindman).
So he could not use Lindman since he was not the soldier and he had to change.
Why he decided for Lindberg is not sure. But maybe he wanted to keep some of Lidman and since he lived at a farm that was named Berga, he maybe was influenced by that?

The boring part is that Lindberg is so very common here in Sweden, so sometimes I wish he would have had a little more fantasy when he made the change.

But of course I am very proud of my family name anyway!