Surnames

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Surnames in the Nordic Countries

Nordic Names focuses on first names, so this is just a short (and incomplete) summary of information about surnames in the Nordic countries:

Patronyms/Matronyms

The old Nordic tradition of patronymic/matronymic names is still in use in Iceland and by some people in the Faroe Islands. This means that surnames are not fixed and cannot be inherited from the preceding generation. To build a surname, one adds a suffix to the first name of one of the parents, usually the father. Surnames like these are called patronymic or matronymic names. Patronyms are names based on the first name of the father, matronyms are based on the first name of the mother.

New name laws introduced in Denmark in 1828, in Sweden in 1901 and in Norway in 1922 forced the citizens to have inheritable surnames, so real patronyms/matronyms were forbidden in those countries.

Example (Sweden)

Gunnar Eriksson and Elsa Magnusdotter have a son (Arne) and a daughter (Astrid).

Their children's surnames would have been Arne Gunnarsson (= Arne, son of Gunnar) and Astrid Gunnarsdotter (= Astrid, daughter of Gunnar) in patronymic times.

From 1901 onwards, this tradition has been forbidden and children have had to inherit their fathers' surnames. Our example children would become Arne Eriksson and Astrid Eriksson, even though Arne is not the son of Erik and even though Astrid is not a "son" at all.

Nowadays, it is possible again to use real patronyms/matronyms, as the name laws have changed again.

Patronymic/Matronymic suffixes

To create a Nordic patronymic or matronymic name, the following suffixes are usually added to the genitive form, sometimes (often in Danish) to the nominative form of the first name of the father or mother:

Denmark Danish:
-sen (= son) or -datter (= daughter)
Examples:
Patronyms: Ole -> Ol(e)sen / Oledatter
Matronyms: Karen -> Karensen / Karensdatter

Faroe Islands Faroese:
-son (= son) or -dóttir (= daughter)
Examples:
Patronyms: Sigurd -> Sigurdarson / Sigurdardóttir
Matronyms: Sigrun -> Sigrunarson / Sigrunardóttir

Finland Finnish:
-poika (= son) or -tytär (= daughter)
Examples:
Patronyms: Jukka -> Jukanpoika / Jukantytär
Matronyms: Satu -> Sadunpoika / Saduntytär

Iceland Icelandic:
-son (= son) or -dóttir (= daughter)
Examples:
Patronyms: Arni -> Arnason / Arnadóttir
Matronyms: Anna -> Önnuson / Önnudóttir

Norway Norwegian:
-sen / -son / -søn (= son) or -datter / -dotter (= daughter)
Examples:
Patronyms: Anders -> Andersen/Andersson / Andersdatter/Andersdotter
Matronyms: Ingeborg -> Ingeborgsen/Ingeborgson / Ingeborgdatter/Ingeborgsdotter

Sweden Swedish:
-son (= son) or -dotter (= daughter)
Examples:
Patronyms: Erik -> Eriksson / Eriksdotter
Matronyms: Ida -> Idasson / Idasdotter

Place Names

Many people in Sweden, Norway and Denmark decided not to freeze their patronymic names and chose to use the names of their farms or other place names in the area instead. In Norway and Denmark "real" place names are used, which means a man named Eirik from a place named Kjærstad could use Kjærstad as a surname: Eirik Kjærstad. In Sweden people created ornamental names instead, with only one part from the farm or place name they came from. Erik from Ekby would pick a surname like Eklund, Ekman, Ekdahl, but not Ekby. In Finland, the suffixes -la/-lä or -nen could be added to a place name or to a personal name to create a surname.

Soldier Names

In Sweden, soldiers used special soldier names, which some of them decided to keep as a surname when they left the army. These names were usually made from words describing the personality or the appearance of the person, e. g. Rask (= quick, fast), Stål (= steel).

Combination Surnames

Besides patronymic names, the second most common form of surnames in Sweden are combination names, always consisting out of elements (see list below). Often the terms used in names resemble nature elements such as hills, mountains, different sorts of trees, lakes, etc. Even newly created surnames - many people in Sweden change their common patronymic name into a more individual surname - often follow this scheme

The most common Swedish combination surnames are:

  • Lindberg
  • Lindström
  • Lindqvist
  • Lindgren
  • Lundberg
  • Bergström
  • Lundgren
  • Lundqvist
  • Berglund
  • Sandberg
  • Forsberg
  • Sjöberg
  • Engström
  • Eklund
  • Bergman
  • Wikström
  • Bergqvist
  • Nyström
  • Holmberg
  • Löfgren


Common Surname Elements

A  B  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  V/W  Å/Aa  Ä/Æ;  Ø/Ö

ager
see åker
ahl see al
al (ahl, al, or, aar, år)
alder tree
alm elm tree
apel see appel
appel (apel, appel)
apple
arn see örn
ask (ask, asken) ash tree
asp aspen tree
back (back, bakke bakken)
hillside, slope
bakke (bakke, bakken) see back
bech see bäck
beck see bäck
bek see bäck
berg (berg, bergh, berge, bergen, bjerge, bjerre, bjærg)
mountain
birch see björk
birk (birk, birke) see björk
bjerge (bjerge, bjerre) see berg
bjuv curved, bend
bjærg see berg
björk (birch, birk, birke, björk, bjørk)
birch tree
blad (blad, bladt) leaf
blom flower, blossom
blå (blå, blaa) blue
bo (bo, boe, bø)
estate, property
boe see bo
bonde (bonde, bund, bunde)
farmer
borg (borg, borgh) castle
bred broad
bro bridge
brun (brun, bruun) brown
bunde (bund, bunde) see bonde
by (by, bye) village, town
bäck (bech, beck, bek, bæk, bäck)
brook
bæk see bäck
see bo
cron see kron
dahl
see dal
dal (dahl, dal)
valley
dam (dam, damm) dam, pond
drup (drup, rup, trup)
village
eg (eg, ege)
see ek
ek (eg, ege, ek, eke)
oak tree
eng see äng
ey see ö
falk (falck, falk, falken)
falcon
feld (feld, feldt, felt) see fält
fjord fjord
flod river
fogel see fågel
fors (fors, foss, voss)
rapids, waterfall
foss
see fors or voss
fri free
fris (friis, fris, frisen, frises) Frisian
fågel (fogel, fugle, fågel)
bird
fält (feld, feldt, felt, fält)
field
gade (gad, gade)
street
gamle see gammel
gammel (gamle, gammel)
old
gard see gård
gran spruce
grav (grav, graw, graven, graver, graving, gravning, gravningen)
ditch, fosse
gren (green, gren) branch
grön (grön, grøn) green
guld gold
gyllen golden
gård (gard, gård, gaard)
yard
hall
see häll
hassel hazel
haug (haug, hauge) see hög
hed (hed, hede heden) moor, heath
hegg (heg, hæg, hægg, hägg)
bird cherry (tree)
heim see hem
hell see häll
hem (heim, hem, hjem)
home
hiort see hjort
hjort (hiort, hjort, hjorth)
deer
holm (holm, holme) small island
holt (holt, holte, hult, hulte)
forrest
hult (hult, hulte) see holt
hus (hus, huus) house
hägg, hæg, hægg see hegg
häll (hall, hell, häll)
flat rock
høeg see hög
hög (haug, hauge, høeg, hög, høg, høj, høy)
high
høj (høj, høy) see hög
is
ice
jern (jern, järn)
iron
järn see jern
kierke see kyrkje
kirch
see kyrkje
kirke (kirk, kirke) see kyrkje
kjer see kjær
kjær (kjer, kjær)
marsh
klit dune
kobber copper
kragh see krok
krog (krog, krogh) see krok
krok (kragh, krog, krog, krok)
bend turn
kron (cron, kron, krohn, kroon)
crown
kvist (kvist, quist qvist)
twig
kyrkje (kierke, kirch, kirk, kirke, kyrkje)
church
lager
laurel
land land
lang (lang, lange) see lång
lille (lil, lill, lille) little, small
lind (lind, linde, linden) lime/linden tree
ljung (ljung, lyng, lynge)
heather
lund (lund, lunde) grove
lykke luck
lyng (lyng, lynge) see ljung
lång (lang, lange, lång)
long
löf (löf, löv, løv)
leaf, leaves
löv (löv, løv) see löf
malm
ore
man (man, mand, mann) man
mark land, territory
mo (mo, moe, moen)
sandy ground
moe (moe, moen) see mo
mose (mos, mose, moss) moss
munch (munch, munck) see munk
munk (munch, munck, munk)
monk
myhr, myhre see myr
myr, myra (myr, myhre)
bog
møl (møl, mølle) mill
møller miller
mørch
see mørk
mørk (mørch, mørk, mørke) dark
neder (neder, neer, ner)
lower
ner (neer, ner) see neder
ness see näs
nord (nor, nord, norden, nør, nørre)
north, northern
ny new
näs (ness, näs, næs, næss)
spit (of land)
nør (nør, nørre) see nord
or (or, aar, år) see år
over
see över
pil (pihl, pil, pile)
arrow
quist
see kvist
qvist see kvist
rask
quick
ris (ries, riis, ris) twigs, sprigs
rose (ros, rose, rosen) rose
rud (rud, ruud) see ryd
ruden see ryd
rup see drup
ryd (rud, ruud, ryd)
clearing
rød red
sand (sand, sande)
sand
schov (schou, schov) see skog
see see sjö
silver (silver, sølv)
silver
sjö (see, sjö, sø, søe)
sea, lake
skog (schou, schov, skog, skou, skov)
forrest
skov (skou, skov) see skog
skær (skær, skär) clear, clean (water)
smed (smed, smede) smith
sol sun
stad see sted
sted (stad, sted, stedt)
town
stein see sten
sten (stein, steen, sten)
stone
stor big
strand beach
ström (ström, strøm) swiftly-flowing water
stål (stål, staal) steel
støl milking-pen for cows
sund sound
svärd sword
sæter (sæter, säter, sæther) meadow in a forrest
sø, søe see sjö
sølv see silver
sønder south southern
toft
village
trup see drup
tveit clearing
vagn
wagon
vall (vall, wall) bank / pasture
vand water
vang field
vass (vass, wass) see wetter
vester (vester, wester) west western
wetter (wetter, vass, wass)
water
vig see vik
vik (vig, vik, wik)
bay
vind (vind, wind) wind
vinter (vinter, winter) winter
voss (foss, voss)
fox (see also fors)
å (å, aa, or, aar, år)
stream, small river
åker (ager, åker)
field, arable land
år (or, aar, år)
black grouse (see also örn and al and å)
ås (ås, aas) ridge
äng (eng, äng)
meadow
ärn see örn
ö (ey, ö, ø, øy)
island
øl (øl, ølle) welling water
örn (arn, or, aar, år, ärn, örn, ørn)
eagle
øster east eastern
över (over, öfwer, över)
upper
øy see ö