While most Swedes were using the common patronymic surnames, soldiers were known by very unique surnames. The patronymic surnames were formed by taking the first name of the father and adding “son” to male children and “dotter” to female children. Thus, the son and daughter of Lars Nilsson, named Anders and Britta respectively, would be Anders Larsson and Britta Larsdotter. Children of Anders Larson would be surnamed Andersson or Andersdotter.
Most soldiers had a rural background and had common patronymic surnames prior to military service. Many men in the same company would have the same patronymic surname. For this very practical reason, soldiers were assigned a new surname when entering the service. No two men in the same company could have the same surname. If a soldier moved into a company and someone already was using that surname, the soldier with the lowest rank or years of service had to change his surname.
The new surname was usually decided by the company commander. The names were usually short and would usually fall into one of the categories below:
- Military terms or weapons, such as Spjut (spear), Krut (gunpowder), or Ankare (anchor)
- Personal characteristics, such as Modig (courageous), Stark (strong) or Rask (quick)
- Nature names, such as Ek (oak), Gren (branch) or Granqvist (spruce branch)
- Animals, such as Björn (bear), Lo (lynx), or Järv (wolverine)
- Names taken from place names, such as soldier name Sundin from Sundby, or soldier name Dahl from Dalsland
Tips to remember about soldier names:
- When a soldier was discharged, the new soldier of the ward (rote) could be assigned the same soldier’s name as his predecessor.
- When a soldier was discharged, he often went back to his patronymic name.
- Same soldier surname is not proof of relationship.
- It was common that the children of a soldier kept their patronymic name.
- It became more common in the 1800’s that the children adopted their father’s soldier’s name.
- In the 1800’s it became more common for the soldiers to keep their soldier name when they were discharged from the military.
For further information on the Swedish military system and records, see the Sweden: Military Records article in the FamilySearch Research Wiki, and Hans Högman’s Swedish Genealogy and History website.