Bridge to Sweden

Newsletter no 35
March 2014

Summer in Småland

Photo: Marie Louise Bratt

 

 

Swedish names  
In this newsletter I will also discuss the important topic of naming practices, quite different from those used in most other countries. Not only that - but many of those who emigrated from Sweden changed their names, either before leaving Sweden, or when they arrived at the ship, or of course when they arrived in North America or in Australia or New Zealand. Upon arriving in this new country the emigrant realized that their Swedish names, which had dots and circles above some of the letters, such as Sjöström or Åberg, were foreign to their new neighbors. So they changed their names - and there we are, their grandchildren, lost and confused!

There was a time when, in small Swedish villages, everybody knew each other and a last name was simply not needed. Occasionally the name of the farm was added so that Anna was called Anna på Godegården (Anna on the Good Farm). You’ll sometimes encounter this custom even today, in rural areas. Also, Swedes, like people from other countries, often use nicknames, so don’t get confused if grandma Charlotta signed her letters Lotta. Here are a few common nicknames: Nisse (nickname for Nils), Olle (Olof), Kalle (Karl), Stina (Kristina) and Lasse (Lars). But there are many more!

 Patronymic naming system
... worked like this:  Anders Karlsson and Anna Pettersdotter gave birth to a daughter named Kristina. Kristina's last name was  Andersdotter, Anders from her father’s first name and dotter meaning daughter. They also had a son named Magnus Andersson, the son of Anders. Note that the women kept their names even after marriage. 

Late in the 1800’s the last name became fixed and both girls and boys increasingly used their father’s last name. Kristina Andersdotter, whom you met above, then used the name Kristina Karlsson. 

Name changes
Anders was a very common first name, so there were lots of Andersson children in Sweden. Petter, Johan, Erik and other names were also common, and so were therefore the names Pettersson, Johansson and Eriksson and many other names ending with -son. Swedish authorities then, in order to avoid confusion, encouraged people to change their names. Many people chose names taken from nature: trees, flowers etc (see below). 

These name changes, of course, might cause big problems for those of you who want to find your Swedish relatives. I once searched for my great-grandfather (mormorsfar) and assumed that his name would be the same as my grandmother’s, Landquist. Not so! On grandma’s birth certificate her father was Johan Magnusson (Magnus was his father's first name), his patronymic name that he later changed to Landquist. 

Names from nature
Swedes’ love of nature is reflected in names such as Ask (ash tree), Björk (birch tree), Berg (mountain) and composite names such as Sjöstrand (lake shore), Blomkvist (flower twig) and Ekström (oak stream). 

Here are some nature words, which you might recognize in your own name:

 Trees
Al 
alder
Ask 
ash
Asp
 
aspen
Björk 
birch
En 
juniper
Ek 
oak
Gran
 
spruce
Hassel  hazel 
Lind 
l
inden tree
Tall 
pine
Lund 
grove of tree
s 
Löv (löf)
  leaf
Rot
 
root  
Skog
forest 
Blad 
leaf
Kvist (quist or qvist) 
twig
Gren
branch 
Landscape etc. 
Berg
mountain
Bo 
nest
Dal (dahl) 
valley
Fält 
(feldt)
field
Hult
  hill
Kulle
hill
Land 
land
Mark 
ground
Mo 
heath  
Sten 
stone
Åker
 
field
Äng (eng)
 
meadow
Directions
Nord, norr
  north
Söder
south
Väster
 
west
Öster
 
east

Flowers
Blomma (Blom-) 
flower
Ros
rose
Lilja 
lily 
Ljung
  heather

 

Other nature words
Grund 
shallow
Grön  green
Järn (jern) 
iron
Malm  ore
Stjärna (stjerna)
 
star
Water
Bäck  brook
Flod 
river
Fors
rapids
Holme  small island
Källa  spring
Mosse  bog
Sjö 
lake
Ström  stream
Sund  sound, channel
Udde  point
Vik  bay 
Ö island 
 
Soldiers’ names  
Soldiers were often given new names, in part because of the risk of confusing one Johansson with another one. So the military gave names to the soldiers such as  Skjöld (shield), Tapper (courageous) and Hjelm (helmet), and also Dolk, Flink, Hurtig, Munter, Sträng. Even the soldier children often used these new names.  If you believe your name might be a soldier's name, and you have questions, just send me an email and I'll try to help. 

Name changes of emigrants
When Swedes emigrated to the U.S., Canada or Australia, many changed their names. Some of these changes were minor, e.g. the Swedish letters å, ä and ö lost their dots and circles and became a and o. This way the name Källström, for example, became Kallstrom. 

Sometimes the changes were greater and the name therefore more difficult to recognize. An example would be the name Holmgren, which might become Holmgrain. I have often seen the Swedish name Bengtsson change into Benson, or a variation of it, in the US or in Canada. 

Certain immigrants translated their names into English, so that the name Sjöstrand became Seashore and others took entirely new names. 

As you see, you'll often need great ingenuity in order to find the names used in Sweden. However, knowing the Swedish name is important for your continued research.

Marie Louise Bratt
marielouise.bratt@gmail.com