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Naming patterns #1


At the beginning (a really long time ago) most people were not listed with a last name. If any distinction had to be made a farm name or a trade would be added, or a personal trait if there was something that stood out (Think of the Viking Erik Blåtann – Erik Bluetooth). The women were often referred to as the daughter of or wife of so and so. As the population grew and it became more confusing to distinguish between the different Oles and Lars’, it became more common to add a father’s name – hence the #patronymic order was created.


The patronymic # pattern was used all over #Scandinavia. Patronymic means that the birthfather’s first name became the basis of the child’s last name. Then son/søn/sen (for the men) or datter/dotter (for women) would be added. So Lars Johannessen is literally Lars, the son of Johannes, and Anna Amundsdatter is Anna, the daughter of Amund.


Since some names are very common in Scandinavia, like Lars, Per, Jens, Ole, you will often find several Jens Olsen within a small geographical area. One of the biggest clues to separate the different Jens Olsens is to look at the #farm name. In some cases, the farm name would be added to the last name, or it might replace the last name completely.

The women would keep their #maiden name after marriage. So generally, if the husband and wife have the same last name it’s because their fathers have the same first name.


In #Denmark, the patronymic system was in use until mid-1860, though Copenhagen discontinued as early as 1828, and many major cities from the 1850s. After that, the children will generally still have a last name ending in -sen, but it will be the same last name as their father and their father’s father. In some cases though, the last name was replaced with a farm name, especially if one moved from a farm into a city.


In #Sweden, the patronymic system began to phase out in the 1860s to 1870s. Swedes were a lot less consistent in choosing a farm name to replace the patronymic name if the moved into the city, and would often use a father’s soldier’s name, a trade, a mentor’s name or simply just pick one out of thin air.


In #Norway. The patronymic order was in full use until the 1850s in the bigger cities, and closer to 1900, or even into the 1900s in more rural areas. (In 1923 a law was passed that a permanent last name had to be chosen.) Often a farm name was added to distinguish the different families, and many chose to completely replace their patronymic name by a farm name.


Next week’s lesson will focus on naming patterns within the family. It is quite the system so stay posted!

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