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In the Scandinavian Countries, naming practices make it difficult to just search for people with the same last name. Therefore, you usually find the area that your family is from and use the parish records to trace your family.

In our case we have family from Norway and Sweden. In Norway we have family from Sogn og Fjordane, mostly in the Balestrand area and Nordland around Stamnæs in Alstahaug. Also, in Sweden my ancestors are from Skåne from many parishes, but mostly from Vollsjö, Öved, Svensköp and Östraby

Naming Practices

Before the time of more regular church records (early 18th century) most "common" people were referred to by their first name and - if necessary - by a reference to the village or farm where they lived. Sometimes adding an occupation title or a personal characteristic as suffix. Example: "Edvin i Elovsbyn" = Edvin who lives in the village named Elovsbyn, "Christina i Åsen" = Christine living on the farm Åsen. This practice was common in many countries in Europe. Adding an occupation as a suffix has been used at least since the time of the Bible, e.g. John the Fisherman and in Sweden e.g. Birger Jarl. Many kings, vikings and widely known people were referred to by their first name and a characteristic like Harald Blåtand (H blue tooth), Erik den Helige (E the Holy) not to forget "Erik läspe och halte" (E the lisping and limping one)

In Sweden, laws about names mainly aim to protect the right to existing family names and to guard against "offensive" names. In early times the only law protection that existed were a few rules protecting names of the royal house and the nobility. Also a soldier was not allowed to change his name while enrolled (but often had to change when he joined). In general people could take on any surname as long as it was registered in the church records.

In 1901 the first law about surnames was passed. In effect it outlawed the earlier custom using patronymics:

  1. The norm became to use the father's surname for all children regardless of the child's gender.
  2. A child born in wedlock receives the father's surname.
  3. A child born out of wedlock receives the mother's surname. The father, or a man (later) married to the mother, can allow the child to use his surname.
  4. Adopted children receive the surname of the adopting person. By court permission an adopted child may use his/her surname at birth alone or in conjunction with the surname of the adopting parent. The legislation regarding names has been revised / extended many times after 1901, notably major, coordinated revision in 1963.

Patronymics (from Greek pater =father and onoma =name). Naming practice common in the Nordic rural society from very early ages. It is known in the Nordic countries at least since the Edda tales (the younger Edda from abt 1220 by Snorre Sturlason). The use is diminishing in the 2nd half of the 19th century until outlawed in 1901. The practice created problems since many people had identical names but it solved the ancient problem from the times when people did not have surnames at all.

It was not as common in urban areas, among craftsmen or in the middle class.

Construction: Father's given name +genitive "s" +"son" for a son or "dotter" for a daughter. The genitive "s" is sometimes left out. The "dotter" was often abridged to "dtr" or "dr". Examples: Eriksson =son of Erik; Johansson =son of Johan; Jonsson =son of Jon/Jonas/(Johan); Olsson or Olofsson =son of Olof, Persdotter (or Persdr or Persdtr) =daughter of Per. Changes: After emigration to an English speaking country the possessive "s" was often dropped and the whole name anglicised, often changing the spelling to sound like the old name when pronounced as were it an English name. Umlauts were often replaced by the same letter without umlaut (like "ö" becomes "o") OR replaced by a "sound-like" combination. You must take these possible changes into consideration when deciding what name to search for in Swedish records. Remember to restore the special Swedish characters (å, ä and ö). (more guidance here) Examples: e.g. Jönsson / Jonsson / Johansson -> Johnson; Eriksson -> Erickson. Effect of the 1901 "name law": The literal meaning of a patronymic surname is lost. Karin, daughter of Karl Svensson, would be named Karin Karlsdotter if born before 1901 but Karin Svensson if born after 1901. This is important for genealogists. It is often useful to create a patronymic surname from the father's first name or deduct the father's first name from a known patronymic surname of a child born before the end of the 19th century but almost always leads you wrong regarding children born after 1901. In the latter case you should look for a father with the same surname as the child.

Differentiate from other Nordic countries: If you find a male patronymic surname ending in "-sen" instead of "-son" then suspect he could be from Norway or Denmark. The same goes for a female name ending in "-datter" instead of "-dotter".