Learn about Scandinavian naming patterns in this introductory guide. Get started finding your Scandinavian ancestors. #genealogy #ancestors #Scandinavian
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An Introductory Guide to Scandinavian Naming Patterns

Welcome Jenny Hansen of My Favorite Ancestor as a guest writer today!

One of the biggest challenges for research in Denmark, Norway and Sweden is understanding the Scandinavian naming patterns.  I have an experiment I like to conduct when I teach groups about Scandinavian research.  I ask, “Who here is related to Hans Jensen?”  Usually the majority of the room answers in the affirmative.  This question would be similar to asking if anyone is related to John Smith, except multiplied by about 100!

Scandinavian Naming Patterns

Our Scandinavian ancestors, like many other cultures, used patronymic surnames. The term patronymics refers to the practice of using the father’s given name as the surname while attaching –sen or –datter to the end.  For example, if I had an ancestor named Maren and her father’s name was Peder Christiansen, Maren’s full name would be Maren Pedersdatter.  All of her siblings would have the last name of Pedersdatter or Pedersen.  Peder Christiansen’s father would be named Christian, and all of Peder’s siblings would have the Christiansen or Christiansdatter surname.  While this is very different than our modern naming customs, it’s actually no more difficult than finding matching last names; it just requires changing the way your brain thinks.

Learn about Scandinavian naming patterns in this introductory guide. Get started finding your Scandinavian ancestors. #genealogy #ancestors #Scandinavia
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In Scandinavia there are only about ten given names for men and about the same amount for women.  These names are used in different combinations for generations.  Children were always named after a family member, so these names are found in every generation.  Mix in the practice of using patronymic surnames, and sometimes it feels like we are looking at a pot of only Peder, Maren, Jens, Hans, Anna and Christian.

Learn about Scandinavian naming patterns in this introductory guide. Get started finding your Scandinavian ancestors. #genealogy #ancestors #Scandinavia

The practice of changing surnames with each generation was generally phased out by the mid-1800s.  At that time, the patronymic surnames stayed the same from generation to generation. During the same time periods we also see the use of other identifying surnames, including place names and occupations.  In these situations a patronymic surname was given and the name of the farm where the family lived could be attached to the end.  One example of this would be a Swedish ancestor named Anders Jonson Liljenquist.  Jonson is the patronymic name and Liljenquist is the descriptive name of the farm where the family lived.  This was a helpful tool for everyone in the community to keep track of which Anders Jonson was which. 

There were some strict cultural rules for naming children, as well.  This pattern is consistent throughout Protestant Europe, not just the Nordic countries.

ChildNamed After
First-born sonPaternal grandfather
Second-born sonMaternal grandfather
First-born daughterMaternal grandmother
Second-born daughterPaternal grandmother
Subsequent childrenOther family members

               *The order of the grandparents may be switched.

It was also common practice to re-use the name of a child if that child died before adulthood.  Don’t panic if you find a few children with the same given name.  That’s just a good hint to look at the burial records for deceased children. 

One helpful naming custom is that women did not change their surname at the time of marriage.  This practice stayed in place until the 1900s.  When we are looking for our immigrant ancestors, we typically look in the years prior to 1900.  With patronymics, you already know the name of the woman’s father.

Learn about Scandinavian naming patterns in this introductory guide. Get started finding your Scandinavian ancestors. #genealogy #ancestors #Scandinavia

The following example provides the details about one of my ancestral families.  Peder Simonsen’s parents were Simon Pedersen and Mette Sorensdatter.  His wife was Maren Pedersdatter.  Their children were:

               Simon Pedersen, b. 1810

               Peder Pedersen, b. 1812

               Mette Pedersdatter, b. 1815-d. 1817

               Mette Pedersdatter, b. 1820

The child Simon (b. 1810) was named after Peder Simonsen’s father, Simon.  The next child, Peder (b. 1812) was named after Maren Pedersdatter’s father, Peder.  The daughters were both named after their grandmother, Mette.  Because the first daughter died very young, the next daughter was given the same name.  All of these children had the Pedersen/Pedersdatter surname because their father was Peder Simonsen.  The concept is not too tricky, but the repeating of names requires us as researchers to really pay attention.

While this serves as a very brief introduction, understanding some of these basic naming concepts will help you feel more comfortable as you start researching your ancestors in Scandinavia.

Watch the Facebook Live where Jenny and I talk about those naming patterns. (Pardon the glitches. Technology was a bit challenging the day we recorded.)

 

Scandinavian Genealogy Researcher Jenny HansenJenny Hansen has a B.A. in Family History and Genealogy.  She is accredited in Danish research and currently works as a professional researcher.  Follow her at www.MyFavoriteAncestor.com.

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8 Comments

  • Carol Kuse

    I understand the Swedes use/used the patronymic system, but my great grandparents are named: Andreas Hjort and Benta (Betty) Swanson/Swensdotter and her parents are: Olsen and Unk. Where to go from here?

    • Jenny Hansen

      Hi, Carol. HJORT is one of those surnames that falls into the “other” category. This is a type of descriptor for the family, either a place name, occupation, etc. In Swedish, HJORT means “deer.” When patronymics were phased out, this family kept the Hjort surname, rather than the patronymic surname. As you reach back in your research, you will find a patronymic surname as well.

      Changing surnames can be a challenge because it really is a different way of thinking. When I do my research, I always note the surname given at the time of birth, and I note any changes or additional names that the family used.

      The other line you mentioned seems to be one that needs more research to define. This would be a great starting place for research in the church records.

  • Philip Niel Randrup

    You will note that mine is a surname ending in “rup” as do many placenames in Denmark. I should mention that my grandparents brought their young family to New Zealand in the late nineteenth century (and had to learn a new language}. I was born here of course, and given my grandfather’s name of Niels, retaining the “i” before the “e”, but dropping the “s”. I would greatly interested, and appreciative, of your take on the “rup” suffix. I have formed the private conclusion that Randers may have figured as a place in our origins, as I have found in a Danish phone book some years ago, families spelling their name inclusive of the “e”, Randerup. Could the “rup” perhaps mean “adjacent to” or “coming from”?
    I await your reply with interest and great appreciation

    Philip Niel Randrup

  • Laurie

    My struggle is how to fit my ancestor’s 3 part names into the 2 name fields easily available on genealogy sites like Ancestry. Was my great grandmother Hannah Stinette / Olsdatter Sather, or Hannah Stinette Olsdatter / Sather?

    Thanks for a concise and useful article.

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