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Understanding surnames and given names can help you find and identify your ancestors in the records.

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Surnames

Before record keeping began, most people had only one name, such as Johan. As the population increased, it became necessary to distinguish between individuals with the same name. The problem was usually solved by adding descriptive information. Johan became Johan the smith, Johan the son of Erik, Johan the short, or Johan from Borås. At first, such "surnames" applied only to one person and not to the whole family. After a few generations, these names were passed from father to children.

Surnames developed from four major sources:

  • Patronymic, based on the father's name, such as Johan Nilsson (son of Nils).
  • Nicknames, based on a person's characteristics, such as Pehr Fager (the fair).
  • Geographical, based on a person's place of birth or residence, such as Olof Grankulla.
  • Occupational, based on the person's trade, such as Lars Smed (Smith).

Surnames were first used by nobility and wealthy land owners. Later the custom was followed by merchants and townspeople and eventually by the rural population.

Most Swedish surnames are patronymic. Patronymic surnames changed with each generation. For example, Lars Pettersson was the son of a man named Petter. If Lars had a son named Hans, the son would be known as Hans Larsson (son of Lars). His brothers would be called Larsson, while a sister would be known as Larsdotter (daughter of Lars). When people used patronymics, a woman did not change her name at marriage.

When a young man went into the military he was given a new surname. This name could be based on his characteristics, such as Stark (strong) or Modig (brave), or the place where he was stationed. If the place was called Lillebäck, he may have been called Lillebäck or Bäck. Before the late 1800s, a military surname seldom became a family name. The son of a soldier, Petter Lillebäck, would likely have been known as Pettersson unless he became a soldier and took his father's post. Soldiers were alloted a house and piece of land which came with their post.  In some cases a soldier would take the soldier-name of the the soldier who had previously held his post. Later, when family names were more common and sometimes when people emigrated from Sweden, the military name became the family surname.

When a young man became an apprentice to learn a trade, he would choose an additional surname, generally after reaching journeyman status.

The clergy and other learned men often "Latinized" their names. Thus Eric Karlsson became Ericus Caroli.

In 1901 a law required people to adopt permanent surnames to be passed onto successive generations.

100 Most Common Surnames in Sweden

Rank

Name

Rank

Name

Rank

Name

1
Johansson
35
Henriksson
69
Sandström
2
Andersson
36
Håkansson
70
Holmgren
3
Karlsson
37
Sjöberg
71
Sundberg
4
Nilsson
38
Forsberg
72
Ekström
5
Eriksson
39
Lindqvist
73
Åberg
6
Larsson
40
Danielsson
74
Hedlund
7
Olsson
41
Engström
75
Sjögren
8
Persson
42
Lundin
76
Månsson
9
Svensson
43
Fransson
77
Martinsson
10
Gustafsson
44
Eklund
78
Öberg
11
Pettersson
45
Lind
89
Jonasson
12
Jonsson
46
Johnsson
80
Andreasson
13
Jansson
47
Samuelsson
81
Abrahamsson
14
Hansson
48
Gunnarsson
82
Dahlberg
15
Bengtsson
49
Holm
83
Hellström
16
Jönsson
50
Bergman
84
Strömberg
17
Petersson
51
Nyström
85
Blomqvist
18
Carlsson
52
Holmberg
86
Norberg
19
Gustavsson
53
Lundqvist
87
Åkesson
20
Magnusson
54
Arvidsson
88
Blom
21
Lindberg
55
Mårtensson
89
Göransson
22
Olofsson
56
Isaksson
90
Sundström
23
Lindström
57
Nyberg
91
Åström
24
Axelsson
58
Söderberg
92
Söderström
25
Lindgren
59
Björk
93
Ivarsson
26
Jakobsson
60
Nordström
94
Löfgren
27
Lundberg
61
Lundström
95
Ek
28
Bergström
62
Eliasson
96
Bergqvist
29
Lundgren
63
Wallin
97
Lindholm
30
Berglund
64
Berggren
98
Lund
31
Berg
65
Björklund
99
Nyman
32
Fredriksson
66
Ström
100
Josefsson
33
Mattsson
67
Hermansson
34
Sandberg
68
Nordin

Given Names

The earliest known Swedish names appear about 55 A. D. on some 2000 Runic stones scattered around the kingdom. Usually the given names were given to describe a quality or characteristic, or resemble an occurrence or occasion that was desired in the life of the born babe, such as Ragnvald, which means, “He who is mighty with power.”

At the turn of the first millennium of the Christian era, all of Sweden was Christianized, and a conscious effort was undertaken by the clergy to substitute the names of the Christian saints for the old Swedish names. Thus the apostolic names of Peter, Andrew, John, and Paul took on their present day form of:

Petrus, Peter, Pehr, Per
Andreas, Anders
Johannes, Johan, Jön, Jon, Jean,
Paulus, Paul, Pål, Påhl

Interchangeable First Names

These name variants above are indicative of an important principle about names. In Sweden, it is not uncommon to call a person by an affectionate form of the given name. William, for example, in English-speaking countries is often know as Bill. This can be confusing in research, where for example someone may be called Kjerstin in the birth record, but later is called Stina in another record. Most names also have variant spellings. It really is not much of a problem, once you have learned to recognize these names. Some of the more common names and variants are listed below:

Male Names

Andreas, Anders, Andres, Andors
Johannes, Johan, Jan, Jän, Jaen, Janne, Jean, Jön, Jon, Jöns, Jonas, Jens, Joen, John,
Hans, Hasse
Laurentius, Lars, Lasse
Magnus, Måns, Mons
Mattias, Mathias, Mattes, Mattis, Matthias, Mats, Matts
Nicolaus, Nils, Niklas,
Olaus, Ola, Olof, Oluf, Olle, Olav,
Paulus, Paul, Pål, Påhl, Påfvel, Påfwel, Pofwel, Povel
Petrus, Peter, Peder, Pehr, Pär, Per, Petter, Peter,  Pelle, Päder, Pähr

Female Names

Anna, Anika, Annicka, Aina, Ann, Anne, Anette, Annie
Britta, Birgit, Birgitta, Brigitta, Brit, Brita
Catharina, Catrina, Katrina, Trina, Cajsa, Kajsa, Cari, Carin, Kari, Karin, Karna, Katarina, Katinka, Katrin
Cecelia, Ceselia, Cidza, Cissa, Citza, Sesla, Sessa, Siccla, Sidsa Sidse, Sidsela, Sidtse Sidtze, Sidtzela, Sissa, Sitza, Zidtza, Zissa, Zissela, Zitze 
Charlotta, Lotta, Lotten
Christina, Kristina, Cherstin, Christin, Christine, Kerstin, Kirsti, Kjerstin, Kjersti, Kristin, Kristine, Christa, Stina,
Elisabetha, Elisabet, Elisa, Elise, Elsa, Else, Lisbet, Lisa, Lisken, Betty,
Johanna, Hanna
Helena, Elena, Ellen, Eljena, Elin, Lena
Karin see Catharina above
Louisa, Lovisa
Magdalena, Lena 
Maria, Maja, Maj, Mariana, Marianne, Marie, Marika, Marja, Mary, Mia, Majken
Margareta, Margreta, Margit, Greta, Mareta, Maggie, Maret,

When baptized, children were usually given one name. Prominant or well-to-do families sometime gave their chidren two names or even three. The name may be that of a parent or other relative. A traditional way of naming children was as shown below, but it is important to know that this pattern was not always followed and was less common in some areas of Sweden.

  • The first son was named after the father's father.
  • The second son was named after the mother's father.
  • The third son was named after the father.
  • The fourth son was named after the fathers eldest brother.
  • The first daughter was named after the mother's mother.
  • The second daughter was named after the father's mother.
  • The third daughter was named after the mother.
  • The fourth daughter was named after the mothers eldest sister.

Some of the more common given names used in Sweden during the last four centuries are listed below:

Male Names

Alf
Algot
Ambjörn
Amund
Anders
Andreas
Arne
Arnvald
Arvi
Asmund
Assar
Astrad
Axel
Bengt
Björn
Björnvid
Bo
Bodel
Bror
Bryngel
Börje
Christer
Carl
Enevald
Erik
Ernst

Esbjörn
Eskil
Frenne
Fridmund
Germund
Gudmund
Gumme
Gunnar
Gunne
Gustaf
Göran
Gösta
Halvar
Hans
Harald
Helge
Henning
Hemming
Håkan
Inge
Ingemar
Isak
Ivar
Jeppe
Johan
Jöns

Jörgen
Jan
Karl
Klas
Knut
Lars
Lennart
Magnus
Matts
Matthias
Måns
Mårten
Nicolaus
Niklas
Nils
Olaus
Ola
Olof
Oscar
Otto
Paul
Per
Peter
Petrus
Povel
Pål

Påvel
Pär
Sibbe
Sigmund
Sjunne
Sone
Staffan
Stefan
Sten
Sture
Sune
Svante
Sven
Svenning
Sören
Tomas
Tore
Torkil
Torsten
Trued
Tue
Tuve
Truls
Wollmar
Åke
Östen


Female Names

Anna
Bengta
Birgitta
Bodil
Boel
Brita
Borta
Cecilia
Christina
Cissela
Dordi
Dorotea
Elena
Elisabet
Ella

Elna
Elsa
Gertrud
Greta
Gunnil
Gunnela
Hanna
Helena
Ingeborg
Ingegerd
Inger
Ingrid
Johanna
Karin
Karna

Katarina
Kerstin
Kristina
Lisa
Lisken
Lotta
Lotten
Lovisa
Maja
Malena
Margareta
Margit
Marit
Marna
Marta

Mathilda
Metta
Märeta
Nilla
Olu
Olug
Pernilla
Petronella
Rangela
Sigrid
Sissa
Sissela
Sofia
Stina
Troen

Some good books on names are:

  • Kjöllerström, P. A. (Per August). Svenska dopnamn och släktnamn (Swedish Given Names and Surnames). Stockholm, Sweden: Wahlström & Widstrand, 1913. (FHL films 1440226 item 14.)
  • Otterbjörk, Roland. Svenska förnamn: krotfattat namnlexikon (Swedish Given Names: A Brief Dictionary of Names). Stockholm, Sweden: Esselte Studium, 1979. (FHL book 948.5 D4o.)

For Swedish Naming Practices click here

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  • This page was last modified on 1 December 2012, at 05:17.
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