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
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!
... 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.
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.
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
Here are some nature words,
which you might recognize in your own name:
Name changes of
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.
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.
immigrants translated their names into English, so that the
name Sjöstrand became Seashore and others took entirely new
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.