Norwegian Names—What Are They All About?

Happy adorable kid boy and cute baby girl sitting near window and looking outside on snow on Christmas day or morning

More and more people are naming their children according to what they find on their family trees. Names such as Sofie and Jakob have topped name lists in recent years for top Norwegian baby names; interestingly, those were also the most popular names at the turn of the century in the early 1900s.

Often, when you name your children with names of significance, it gives them confidence and joy knowing that they have something to strive and live up to—the honor of their ancestors.

Popular Norwegian names in the last two years include the following girl names:

  • Emma
  • Nora
  • Olivia
  • Sara
  • Emilie
  • Leah

These boy names were most popular:

  • Lucas
  • Filip
  • Oliver
  • Oskar
  • Emil
  • Noah 

If you have any Norwegian names in your family tree, you may have noticed an interesting nuance: surnames often change from person to person without an explanation. Much of the change is related to patronymics.

What Is a Patronymic Surname?

Patronymic surnames are usually created from the name of the father or other paternal ancestor by adding a prefix or suffix. This naming system was used in all of Scandinavia and the most common affixes are variations of -sen, -son, -sson, -søn, -datter, -dotter, or -dottir. Those affixes are most often added to the father’s name. In addition, Norwegian women often did not take their husband’s names when they married; instead, they would keep their patronymic surnames from birth to death.

a norwegian man drives his carriage into the city.

When Norwegians moved into a city after the 1850s, they also often used their farm names as a surname. Before the 1870s, some farmers would even change their names if they moved from one farm to another. Farm names are recognizable because they lack the patronymic prefix or suffix; these farm names include names such as Kleven, Melleby, and Storhaug.

By 1875, a law was passed in the countryside requiring people to stick with a set surname. Norwegian children born in or around 1875 could have been given their father’s patronymic surname, but the next generation could not change their last name.

Some people did go back to their farm surname when they got older though. Because of this practice, in many Norwegian records a surname is crossed through with another surname written after it in reference to the 1875law. These kinds of corrections proved to be quite confusing, so in 1905another law was passed to give more clarification.

Same Parents, Different Names

The unique thing about the name game in Norway is that siblings would sometimes pick different surnames, especially during immigration. Some would pick their patronymic name while others would adopt the family farm name. When immigrating to the United States, sometimes the spelling would also change from “-son” to “-sen.”

three norwegian girls.

Discovering Your Family’s Norwegian Names

As with all family research, start small, and don’t overthink it! Talk to living relatives who may have insights. Take good notes, perhaps even recording conversations so you don’t forget what was said. Census records, newspaper articles, and immigration records can also be priceless treasures. Many of these can be found by starting at FamilySearch.org. Family Bibles are also a great way to trace the proper spellings of names.

Check Your Family Tree for Norwegian Names

If you already know you have Norwegian ancestry and are looking for names for your children, take a few minutes and peruse your tree. You might be surprised at what you find!

Discovering Your Norwegian Heritage

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About the Author
Rachel loves family storytelling. She has been a professional writer for over 20 years. A graduate of Weber State University, she has had articles featured on LDSLiving.com, churchofjesuschrist.org, FamilySearch.org and Meridian Magazine. She has been a speaker at RootsTech, Weber State University Family History Conference, Conference on Family History at BYU and the Southern California Genealogy Jamboree.

Rachel also works with Evalogue.Life, where she writes and teaches professionally. She helps people tell and write their life stories and has written six life stories with several more in production. She and her husband Mat have six children, and she recently became a grandma! She and her family live on the East Bench in Ogden, Utah.