Difference between revisions of "Norway Personal Names"

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== Introduction ==
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==Introduction==
Considerable confusion exists among many people with Norwegian ancestry regarding how names are used in Norway and how they should be recorded. This document attempts to give background into the historical practices, legislation, and recommended best practices for recording Norwegian personal and place names.
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Varying opinions and points of view exists among people with Norwegian ancestry regarding how names have been used in Norway through history and how they should be recorded. This document attempts to give background into the historical practices, legislation, and recommended best practices for recording Norwegian personal names.
=== Things To Know ===
+
 
*During the end of the 19th century people began adopting fixed surnames
+
A basic principle to keep in mind through this discussion is that styles of names as used and as recorded changed according to the need to identify individuals. Likewise, since the purpose of family history research is to identify ancestors, names should be recorded in ways that most clearly and unambiguously identify ancestors and relatives in historically accurate ways.  
*The first law in Norway regarding names was passed in 1923
+
===Things To Know===
*Most of the population used patronymic surnames which are derived from the father's given name and a suffix to identify the child's gender, ''-sen'', ''-datter''
+
 
*Surnames were frequently abbreviated in records
+
*As  early as the 1600s certain classes of people had fixed surnames.<ref name=":0">Stoa, Nils Johan and Per-Øiving Sandberg. ''Våre Røtter: Håndbok i slektsgransking for nybgynnere og videredomme.'' J. W. Cappelens Forlag A. S., 1992, page 32.</ref>
**The suffix ''-datter'' was frequently abbreviated as '''d.''', '''dr.''', '''dtr.''', etc.
+
*During the end of the 19th century the general population began adopting fixed surnames.
 +
*The first law in Norway regarding names was passed in 1923.
 +
*Patronymic surnames are derived from the father's given name and a suffix to identify the child's gender.
 +
**The suffix for males can be found as -sen, -ssen, -son, -sson, -szen, -ssøn, -søn and other forms. Since most priests were Danish or had Danish education, the Danish -sen and -ssen are most common in the older parish registers. This male suffix is often abbreviated as just -s.
 +
**The suffix for females can be found as -sdatter and -sdotter. Again, due to Danish influence, the -sdatter form is seen most commonly in written records. This female suffix is often abbreviated as -sd., -sdr., -sdtr., etc.
 
*Spelling was not standardized in Norway until 1917
 
*Spelling was not standardized in Norway until 1917
  
=== Best Practices For Recording Names ===
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===Best Practices For Recording Names===
 +
 
 
*Surnames which are abbreviated in the records should be recorded fully spelled out
 
*Surnames which are abbreviated in the records should be recorded fully spelled out
*Farm names indicate residence, and should be recorded as part of the event locality - not as a surname
+
*Naming styles varied between parts of the country, between urban and rural areas, and between social classes.
 +
*To determine the correct name style for an individual, it is important to know where he or she lived, when he or she lived, and his or her social status.
  
== Legislative Changes ==
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==Legislative Changes==
=== Language and Spelling Reforms ===
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===Language and Spelling Reforms===
 
Reforms to the written form of Norwegian started in 1862. This legislation began the standardization of the language by substituting ''k'' for ''c'', ''q'', and ''ch''; the use of double vowels to indicate length was discontinued; ''ph'' was replaced in words by ''f'', and silent ''e'''s were dropped from words. Even with these reforms in place, people continued to write information in the manner they were accustomed to, so Olaf Christophersen may appear as Olav Kristofersson in a separate document.  
 
Reforms to the written form of Norwegian started in 1862. This legislation began the standardization of the language by substituting ''k'' for ''c'', ''q'', and ''ch''; the use of double vowels to indicate length was discontinued; ''ph'' was replaced in words by ''f'', and silent ''e'''s were dropped from words. Even with these reforms in place, people continued to write information in the manner they were accustomed to, so Olaf Christophersen may appear as Olav Kristofersson in a separate document.  
  
 
In 1917 the first reforms were enacted which affected both of Norway's [[Norway Languages|official languages]], ''riksmål'' and ''landsmål''. Since 1929 ''landsmål'' has been called ''[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nynorsk Nynorsk]''. The change to the [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norwegian_orthography orthography] introduced the letter ''Å'' from the Swedish writing system with the lowercase version ''å'' to replace ''Aa'' and ''aa''. These were accompanied by changes to the names and spellings of 188 municipalities, followed the next year by changes to the names of several counties. In the 1920s several cities were renamed; Kristiania became Oslo, Fredrikshald became Halden, Sandviken was changed to Sandvika, and others.
 
In 1917 the first reforms were enacted which affected both of Norway's [[Norway Languages|official languages]], ''riksmål'' and ''landsmål''. Since 1929 ''landsmål'' has been called ''[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nynorsk Nynorsk]''. The change to the [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norwegian_orthography orthography] introduced the letter ''Å'' from the Swedish writing system with the lowercase version ''å'' to replace ''Aa'' and ''aa''. These were accompanied by changes to the names and spellings of 188 municipalities, followed the next year by changes to the names of several counties. In the 1920s several cities were renamed; Kristiania became Oslo, Fredrikshald became Halden, Sandviken was changed to Sandvika, and others.
  
=== 1923 Law on Personal Names ===
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===1923 Law on Personal Names===
 
The first regulation on personal names in Norway, ''[http://www.hoelseth.com/acts/act19230209-002.html Lov om personnavn]'', was enacted on 9 February 1923. Among other points, this stipulated the following regarding surnames:
 
The first regulation on personal names in Norway, ''[http://www.hoelseth.com/acts/act19230209-002.html Lov om personnavn]'', was enacted on 9 February 1923. Among other points, this stipulated the following regarding surnames:
 +
 
*Only surnames legally acquired by ancestry, marriage, or other means could be used
 
*Only surnames legally acquired by ancestry, marriage, or other means could be used
 
*Surnames based on the father's given name with an suffix identifying gender (sønn, son, sen for males; datter or dotter for females)
 
*Surnames based on the father's given name with an suffix identifying gender (sønn, son, sen for males; datter or dotter for females)
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Additional legislation has been passed since then. Most notable is the law of 29 May 1964, which allowed women to retain their surname. This act also allowed men to adopt their wife's surname at marriage. The most recent legislation was passed in [https://lovdata.no/dokument/NL/lov/2002-06-07-19 2002].
 
Additional legislation has been passed since then. Most notable is the law of 29 May 1964, which allowed women to retain their surname. This act also allowed men to adopt their wife's surname at marriage. The most recent legislation was passed in [https://lovdata.no/dokument/NL/lov/2002-06-07-19 2002].
  
== Given Names ==
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==Given Names==
 
The number of unique given names in Norway is generally rather small. However, regional variations abound. In some parts of the country people have only one name as their given name, in other parts multiple names are the norm. In the 1900s hyphenated names became more common.  
 
The number of unique given names in Norway is generally rather small. However, regional variations abound. In some parts of the country people have only one name as their given name, in other parts multiple names are the norm. In the 1900s hyphenated names became more common.  
  
 
Culturally, a person has only one given name (or forename), but it may consist of multiple names, such as ''Kathinka Ovidia Isabella''. In this case most English speakers would consider this to be three given names, but in Norway it would be viewed as the person’s entire, single given name (forename).  
 
Culturally, a person has only one given name (or forename), but it may consist of multiple names, such as ''Kathinka Ovidia Isabella''. In this case most English speakers would consider this to be three given names, but in Norway it would be viewed as the person’s entire, single given name (forename).  
  
=== Naming Patterns ===
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===Naming Patterns===
A specific naming pattern was very common in Norway and in other parts of Europe until about 1900. Although not always followed strictly, the following pattern may be helpful in researching family groups and determining the parents of the mother and father:  
+
A specific naming pattern was very common in Norway and in other parts of Europe until about 1900. Although not always followed strictly, the following pattern may be helpful in researching family groups and determining the parents of the mother and father<ref name=":0" /><ref name=":1">Seland, Per. ''[http://www.nagcnl.org/naming-patterns/ Naming Customs In Older And Newer Times.]'' Translation of a reprint from ''Genealogiska Föeninge. 1933-1983'', Stockholm, 1983.</ref><ref>Hadeland Lag of America. ''[https://www.hadelandlag.org/resources/resbasics.htm Hadeland Research Basics: Norwegian names and places, Hadeland research sources.]'' </ref>:
*The first male child was usually named for the father's father.  
+
 
*The second boy was named for the mother's father.  
+
* If the couple were living on the husband’s family farm:
*The first female child was named for the mother's mother.  
+
** The first boy was named for the husband’s father.
*The second girl was named for the father's mother.  
+
** The second boy was named for the wife’s father.
*Additional children were often named for the parents' grandparents.  
+
** The first girl was usually named for the husband’s mother but may be named for the wife’s mother.
 +
** The second girl was named for the other grandmother.
 +
 
 +
* If the couple were living on the wife’s family farm:
 +
** The first boy was named for the wife’s father.
 +
** The second boy was named for the husband’s father.
 +
** The first girl was usually named for the wife’s mother but may be named for the husband’s mother.
 +
** The second girl was named for the other grandmother.
 +
 
 +
*Additional children were often named for the parents' grandparents.
 
*If a spouse died, and the surviving spouse remarried, the first child by the same sex was named after the deceased spouse.
 
*If a spouse died, and the surviving spouse remarried, the first child by the same sex was named after the deceased spouse.
 +
*If the wife's parents were deceased, her parents may have priority in the naming.
  
If the wife's parents were deceased, or the couple were living on the wife's parents farm, her parents may have priority in the naming.
+
Additional naming patterns and rules can be found in ''Naming Customs In Older And Newer Times.''<ref name=":1" />
  
=== Children in the Family With the Same Name ===
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===Children in the Family With the Same Name===
 
Sometimes two or more children within a family were given the same name. In some cases it was done because an older child died and the next child of the same gender was given the name. However, two or more children by the same given name could also have lived to adulthood. Do not presume that the first child with that same given name died unless the actual death record is found.
 
Sometimes two or more children within a family were given the same name. In some cases it was done because an older child died and the next child of the same gender was given the name. However, two or more children by the same given name could also have lived to adulthood. Do not presume that the first child with that same given name died unless the actual death record is found.
  
=== Regional Variation ===
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===Regional Variation===
 
Some caution must be exercised regarding the form of names found in the records. In many cases records were created by a person educated in Denmark or taught to write by a person educated in Denmark. As in many cases we have no record of what a person called themselves, we are forced to rely on the records which tell us what the recorder considered was the correct form of a person’s name.
 
Some caution must be exercised regarding the form of names found in the records. In many cases records were created by a person educated in Denmark or taught to write by a person educated in Denmark. As in many cases we have no record of what a person called themselves, we are forced to rely on the records which tell us what the recorder considered was the correct form of a person’s name.
  
 
Consider, for example, the following:
 
Consider, for example, the following:
 +
 
*In 1853 a daughter is born in eastern Norway to Hans Hansen and his wife, Else Hansdatter. The child’s name at baptism is recorded as ''Imbjør''.
 
*In 1853 a daughter is born in eastern Norway to Hans Hansen and his wife, Else Hansdatter. The child’s name at baptism is recorded as ''Imbjør''.
 
*When she is confirmed in a parish in another county on the west coast, her name is recorded as ''Ingebjør''.
 
*When she is confirmed in a parish in another county on the west coast, her name is recorded as ''Ingebjør''.
Line 65: Line 84:
 
*In an account of the family published in 1950 in the parish where she was born, her name is given as ''Ymbjørg''.
 
*In an account of the family published in 1950 in the parish where she was born, her name is given as ''Ymbjørg''.
  
== Surnames ==
+
==Surnames==
 
It is clear from the oldest known records that names have been used to identify individuals throughout history. Surnames, as they are understood by many English-speaking cultures today, first began to be used before the end of the first millennium, C.E.  Surnames were first introduced in Europe by the Normans, who were French-speaking descendants of Viking settlers. This may indicate that people living in Scandinavia were among the earliest adopters of some type of surname.  
 
It is clear from the oldest known records that names have been used to identify individuals throughout history. Surnames, as they are understood by many English-speaking cultures today, first began to be used before the end of the first millennium, C.E.  Surnames were first introduced in Europe by the Normans, who were French-speaking descendants of Viking settlers. This may indicate that people living in Scandinavia were among the earliest adopters of some type of surname.  
  
Line 71: Line 90:
  
 
Surnames can be identified as having originated from one of three ways:   
 
Surnames can be identified as having originated from one of three ways:   
*Patronymic - based on the father’s given name, such as Jensen (son of Jens)  
+
 
 +
*Patronymic - based on the father’s given name, such as Jensen (son of Jens)
 
*Geographical - based on the name of farm or house where they lived, such as Mundal
 
*Geographical - based on the name of farm or house where they lived, such as Mundal
 
*Occupational - based on the person's trade, such as Smed (Smith)
 
*Occupational - based on the person's trade, such as Smed (Smith)
  
=== Patronymics ===
+
===Patronymics===
 
[[File:Norway Patronymic Surnames.jpg|200px|right|thumb|Illustration of the derivation of Norwegian patronymic surnames]]
 
[[File:Norway Patronymic Surnames.jpg|200px|right|thumb|Illustration of the derivation of Norwegian patronymic surnames]]
 
The predominant type of surname in Norway is patronymic. Such names are based on the father's given name. This surname changed with each generation. For example, Jon Arnesen was the son of a man named Arne. If Jon had a son named Arne, the son would be known as Arne Jonsen (Arne son of Jon) and his brothers would be surnamed Jonsen, while his sisters would be known as Jonsdatter (daughter of Jon). In some of the earliest church records a person may be recorded with a ''matronymic'' surname, based on the person's mother's given name. Cases like this are very unusual, and always indicate the person was illegitimate.
 
The predominant type of surname in Norway is patronymic. Such names are based on the father's given name. This surname changed with each generation. For example, Jon Arnesen was the son of a man named Arne. If Jon had a son named Arne, the son would be known as Arne Jonsen (Arne son of Jon) and his brothers would be surnamed Jonsen, while his sisters would be known as Jonsdatter (daughter of Jon). In some of the earliest church records a person may be recorded with a ''matronymic'' surname, based on the person's mother's given name. Cases like this are very unusual, and always indicate the person was illegitimate.
  
 
After about 1850, it became the custom in the cities to take permanent surnames. By 1900 most of Norway began doing so. By 1923, when the first law regarding surnames was passed, most people had already adopted the practice of using a permanent family name to be passed to successive generations. When this happened, many Norwegians chose to use the name of their farm (residence) as their surname.
 
After about 1850, it became the custom in the cities to take permanent surnames. By 1900 most of Norway began doing so. By 1923, when the first law regarding surnames was passed, most people had already adopted the practice of using a permanent family name to be passed to successive generations. When this happened, many Norwegians chose to use the name of their farm (residence) as their surname.
== Abbreviations ==
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==Abbreviations==
 
When recording surnames, it is important to remember that patronymics were frequently abbreviated in the records. The abbreviations '''dr.''', '''dtr.''', '''d.''', are all substitutes for ''datter''. Likewise, male patronymics are frequently shortened to '''s'''. In a parish where most of the population has a surname ending with ''datter'' or ''sen'', recording the name in full would be needlessly redundant.
 
When recording surnames, it is important to remember that patronymics were frequently abbreviated in the records. The abbreviations '''dr.''', '''dtr.''', '''d.''', are all substitutes for ''datter''. Likewise, male patronymics are frequently shortened to '''s'''. In a parish where most of the population has a surname ending with ''datter'' or ''sen'', recording the name in full would be needlessly redundant.
  
 
Abbreviations in the records are not limited to surnames. Some given names are frequently abbreviated as well. Perhaps the most commonly encountered abbreviation is in names containing the word ''Christ'', where it is written as ''X'', it being a modern siglum of the Greek ''Χρ'', representing the first two letters in the Greek spelling of Christ.
 
Abbreviations in the records are not limited to surnames. Some given names are frequently abbreviated as well. Perhaps the most commonly encountered abbreviation is in names containing the word ''Christ'', where it is written as ''X'', it being a modern siglum of the Greek ''Χρ'', representing the first two letters in the Greek spelling of Christ.
=== Name Frequency ===
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===Name Frequency===
 
A study of the 1865 census of Vågå, Norway identified 430 men (11% of the male population) with the given name of Hans. Of these 430, 22% were surnamed Olsen, 20% Hansen, 6% Johnsen, and 4% Knudsen. Because of the high numbers of people with the same given name and patronymic surname it was necessary to include a person’s residence (usually a farm, but it may also be a house) as part of their identification.
 
A study of the 1865 census of Vågå, Norway identified 430 men (11% of the male population) with the given name of Hans. Of these 430, 22% were surnamed Olsen, 20% Hansen, 6% Johnsen, and 4% Knudsen. Because of the high numbers of people with the same given name and patronymic surname it was necessary to include a person’s residence (usually a farm, but it may also be a house) as part of their identification.
  
== Farm Names ==
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==Farm Names==
 
It is believed the oldest place names in Norway are more than 2,000 years old. The practice of identifying a person in connection with their named residence (for example, ''Stein på Børve'' farm from a record in 1563) is easily that old. The earliest records we have from Norway generally identify people by their given name and residence. As these records are for the assessment of taxes, generally only landowners are identified. From other extant records, it is clear most of the population used a patronymic surname.  
 
It is believed the oldest place names in Norway are more than 2,000 years old. The practice of identifying a person in connection with their named residence (for example, ''Stein på Børve'' farm from a record in 1563) is easily that old. The earliest records we have from Norway generally identify people by their given name and residence. As these records are for the assessment of taxes, generally only landowners are identified. From other extant records, it is clear most of the population used a patronymic surname.  
  
 
Frequently people are identified in the records by their given name and residence; by their given name and patronymic surname; or by their given name, patronymic surname, and residence. For example:
 
Frequently people are identified in the records by their given name and residence; by their given name and patronymic surname; or by their given name, patronymic surname, and residence. For example:
 +
 
*John Folkedal
 
*John Folkedal
 
*John Aamundsen
 
*John Aamundsen
 
*John Aamundsen Folkedal
 
*John Aamundsen Folkedal
 +
 
All three are the same person.
 
All three are the same person.
  
Line 101: Line 123:
  
 
Another problem with including farm names as part of someone’s surname is making the decision of which farm name to use. It is not uncommon for a person to live more than one place over the course of their lifetime. Would you use:
 
Another problem with including farm names as part of someone’s surname is making the decision of which farm name to use. It is not uncommon for a person to live more than one place over the course of their lifetime. Would you use:
 +
 
*The farm on which they were born
 
*The farm on which they were born
 
*The farm where they were living at the time of their confirmation
 
*The farm where they were living at the time of their confirmation
Line 108: Line 131:
 
*The farm where they died
 
*The farm where they died
  
=== Farm Names in Local Histories ===
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===Farm Names in Local Histories===
 
Many local histories (''[[Norway Farm Books|bygdebøker]]'') published in Norway appear to include farm names as part of a person's name. This use is frequently misunderstood by persons who are not familiar with the literature and incorrectly assume it is the person's surname.  
 
Many local histories (''[[Norway Farm Books|bygdebøker]]'') published in Norway appear to include farm names as part of a person's name. This use is frequently misunderstood by persons who are not familiar with the literature and incorrectly assume it is the person's surname.  
  
 
For example, this entry for Ljono farm from ''[https://www.familysearch.org/search/catalog/471492 Ulvik gards- og ættesoga]''. Under the entries for Gjele, a smaller part of Ljono farm, ''Jon Asbjørnsson Håheim'' is identified<ref>Ulvik gards- og ættesoga, volume 2, page 140.</ref>. Here ''Håheim'' is used to indicate which farm more information about him can be found, and does not mean ''Håheim'' is part of his name.
 
For example, this entry for Ljono farm from ''[https://www.familysearch.org/search/catalog/471492 Ulvik gards- og ættesoga]''. Under the entries for Gjele, a smaller part of Ljono farm, ''Jon Asbjørnsson Håheim'' is identified<ref>Ulvik gards- og ættesoga, volume 2, page 140.</ref>. Here ''Håheim'' is used to indicate which farm more information about him can be found, and does not mean ''Håheim'' is part of his name.
  
== Norwegian-American Name Changes ==
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==Norwegian-American Name Changes==
 
It is not unusual for members of the same family to use different surnames after their emigration. For example, consider this family:
 
It is not unusual for members of the same family to use different surnames after their emigration. For example, consider this family:
  
 
Anders Halvorsen of Stordahl farm marries Kari Knutsdatter and has the following children:
 
Anders Halvorsen of Stordahl farm marries Kari Knutsdatter and has the following children:
#Halvor Andersen, b. 1830  
+
 
#Anne Andersdatter, b. 1832  
+
#Halvor Andersen, b. 1830
#Knut Andersen, b. 1834  
+
#Anne Andersdatter, b. 1832
#Mari Andersdatter, b. 1836  
+
#Knut Andersen, b. 1834
#Erik Andersen, b. 1838  
+
#Mari Andersdatter, b. 1836
 +
#Erik Andersen, b. 1838
  
 
*Halvor Andersen lived at Bråten farm before emigrating to the United States in 1855.  He goes by the name ''Halvor A. Bratten.''
 
*Halvor Andersen lived at Bråten farm before emigrating to the United States in 1855.  He goes by the name ''Halvor A. Bratten.''
*Anne Andersdatter emigrates with her brother in 1855. She uses the name ''Anderson'' when married in 1857 in Minnesota.  
+
*Anne Andersdatter emigrates with her brother in 1855. She uses the name ''Anderson'' when married in 1857 in Minnesota.
 
*Knut Andersen emigrates in 1856. He uses the name ''Knut A. Stordahl.''
 
*Knut Andersen emigrates in 1856. He uses the name ''Knut A. Stordahl.''
 
*Mari remained in Norway and was known as ''Mari Andersdatter''.
 
*Mari remained in Norway and was known as ''Mari Andersdatter''.
 
*Anders Halvorsen and his wife Kari Knutsdatter emigrated with the two youngest children in 1862. They and the two children carry on with the name ''Halvorson'' in the US.
 
*Anders Halvorsen and his wife Kari Knutsdatter emigrated with the two youngest children in 1862. They and the two children carry on with the name ''Halvorson'' in the US.
  
== Online Resources ==
+
==Online Resources==
 +
 
 
*Knut Sprauten, ed. [https://www.nb.no/items/URN:NBN:no-nb_digibok_2013092608008 Å kallast med sitt rette namn : person- og stadnamn i lokalhistoria]. Oslo, Norway : Norsk lokalhistorisk institutt, 2002. FHL Book [https://www.familysearch.org/search/catalog/1112635 948.1 D4sk 2002].
 
*Knut Sprauten, ed. [https://www.nb.no/items/URN:NBN:no-nb_digibok_2013092608008 Å kallast med sitt rette namn : person- og stadnamn i lokalhistoria]. Oslo, Norway : Norsk lokalhistorisk institutt, 2002. FHL Book [https://www.familysearch.org/search/catalog/1112635 948.1 D4sk 2002].
 
*National Library of Norway, [https://www.nb.no/items/URN:NBN:no-nb_digibok_2008120304033 Lov om personnavn : tradisjon, liberalisering og forenkling : utredning fra en arbeidsgruppe oppnevnt av Justis- og politidepartementet ved brev 22. april 1999 : avgitt 20. desember 2000] A report on the history of Norwegian name laws by the Norwegian Justice and Police Department.
 
*National Library of Norway, [https://www.nb.no/items/URN:NBN:no-nb_digibok_2008120304033 Lov om personnavn : tradisjon, liberalisering og forenkling : utredning fra en arbeidsgruppe oppnevnt av Justis- og politidepartementet ved brev 22. april 1999 : avgitt 20. desember 2000] A report on the history of Norwegian name laws by the Norwegian Justice and Police Department.
*Arvegods (blog) [http://arvegods.blogspot.com/2012/02/norwegian-names.html Norwegian Names]  
+
*Arvegods (blog) [http://arvegods.blogspot.com/2012/02/norwegian-names.html Norwegian Names]
  
== References ==
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==References==
<references/>
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<references />
  
 
[[Category:Norway]]  
 
[[Category:Norway]]  
[[Category:Personal Names]] [[Category:Personal Names]]
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[[Category:Personal Names]]  
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[[Category:Personal Names]]
 
  [[Category:Personal Names]]
 
  [[Category:Personal Names]]

Revision as of 20:17, 23 June 2021

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

Varying opinions and points of view exists among people with Norwegian ancestry regarding how names have been used in Norway through history and how they should be recorded. This document attempts to give background into the historical practices, legislation, and recommended best practices for recording Norwegian personal names.

A basic principle to keep in mind through this discussion is that styles of names as used and as recorded changed according to the need to identify individuals. Likewise, since the purpose of family history research is to identify ancestors, names should be recorded in ways that most clearly and unambiguously identify ancestors and relatives in historically accurate ways.

Things To Know[edit | edit source]

  • As early as the 1600s certain classes of people had fixed surnames.[1]
  • During the end of the 19th century the general population began adopting fixed surnames.
  • The first law in Norway regarding names was passed in 1923.
  • Patronymic surnames are derived from the father's given name and a suffix to identify the child's gender.
    • The suffix for males can be found as -sen, -ssen, -son, -sson, -szen, -ssøn, -søn and other forms. Since most priests were Danish or had Danish education, the Danish -sen and -ssen are most common in the older parish registers. This male suffix is often abbreviated as just -s.
    • The suffix for females can be found as -sdatter and -sdotter. Again, due to Danish influence, the -sdatter form is seen most commonly in written records. This female suffix is often abbreviated as -sd., -sdr., -sdtr., etc.
  • Spelling was not standardized in Norway until 1917

Best Practices For Recording Names[edit | edit source]

  • Surnames which are abbreviated in the records should be recorded fully spelled out
  • Naming styles varied between parts of the country, between urban and rural areas, and between social classes.
  • To determine the correct name style for an individual, it is important to know where he or she lived, when he or she lived, and his or her social status.

Legislative Changes[edit | edit source]

Language and Spelling Reforms[edit | edit source]

Reforms to the written form of Norwegian started in 1862. This legislation began the standardization of the language by substituting k for c, q, and ch; the use of double vowels to indicate length was discontinued; ph was replaced in words by f, and silent e's were dropped from words. Even with these reforms in place, people continued to write information in the manner they were accustomed to, so Olaf Christophersen may appear as Olav Kristofersson in a separate document.

In 1917 the first reforms were enacted which affected both of Norway's official languages, riksmål and landsmål. Since 1929 landsmål has been called Nynorsk. The change to the orthography introduced the letter Å from the Swedish writing system with the lowercase version å to replace Aa and aa. These were accompanied by changes to the names and spellings of 188 municipalities, followed the next year by changes to the names of several counties. In the 1920s several cities were renamed; Kristiania became Oslo, Fredrikshald became Halden, Sandviken was changed to Sandvika, and others.

1923 Law on Personal Names[edit | edit source]

The first regulation on personal names in Norway, Lov om personnavn, was enacted on 9 February 1923. Among other points, this stipulated the following regarding surnames:

  • Only surnames legally acquired by ancestry, marriage, or other means could be used
  • Surnames based on the father's given name with an suffix identifying gender (sønn, son, sen for males; datter or dotter for females)
  • The name of the farm or place of residence if the person, his parents, or grandparents were the owners
  • A child should receive the father's surname if the parents were married
  • If the parents were not married, the child would receive the mother's surname
  • Upon marriage a woman receives her husband's surname

Additional legislation has been passed since then. Most notable is the law of 29 May 1964, which allowed women to retain their surname. This act also allowed men to adopt their wife's surname at marriage. The most recent legislation was passed in 2002.

Given Names[edit | edit source]

The number of unique given names in Norway is generally rather small. However, regional variations abound. In some parts of the country people have only one name as their given name, in other parts multiple names are the norm. In the 1900s hyphenated names became more common.

Culturally, a person has only one given name (or forename), but it may consist of multiple names, such as Kathinka Ovidia Isabella. In this case most English speakers would consider this to be three given names, but in Norway it would be viewed as the person’s entire, single given name (forename).

Naming Patterns[edit | edit source]

A specific naming pattern was very common in Norway and in other parts of Europe until about 1900. Although not always followed strictly, the following pattern may be helpful in researching family groups and determining the parents of the mother and father[1][2][3]:

  • If the couple were living on the husband’s family farm:
    • The first boy was named for the husband’s father.
    • The second boy was named for the wife’s father.
    • The first girl was usually named for the husband’s mother but may be named for the wife’s mother.
    • The second girl was named for the other grandmother.
  • If the couple were living on the wife’s family farm:
    • The first boy was named for the wife’s father.
    • The second boy was named for the husband’s father.
    • The first girl was usually named for the wife’s mother but may be named for the husband’s mother.
    • The second girl was named for the other grandmother.
  • Additional children were often named for the parents' grandparents.
  • If a spouse died, and the surviving spouse remarried, the first child by the same sex was named after the deceased spouse.
  • If the wife's parents were deceased, her parents may have priority in the naming.

Additional naming patterns and rules can be found in Naming Customs In Older And Newer Times.[2]

Children in the Family With the Same Name[edit | edit source]

Sometimes two or more children within a family were given the same name. In some cases it was done because an older child died and the next child of the same gender was given the name. However, two or more children by the same given name could also have lived to adulthood. Do not presume that the first child with that same given name died unless the actual death record is found.

Regional Variation[edit | edit source]

Some caution must be exercised regarding the form of names found in the records. In many cases records were created by a person educated in Denmark or taught to write by a person educated in Denmark. As in many cases we have no record of what a person called themselves, we are forced to rely on the records which tell us what the recorder considered was the correct form of a person’s name.

Consider, for example, the following:

  • In 1853 a daughter is born in eastern Norway to Hans Hansen and his wife, Else Hansdatter. The child’s name at baptism is recorded as Imbjør.
  • When she is confirmed in a parish in another county on the west coast, her name is recorded as Ingebjør.
  • On the 1875 census, in yet another parish in the north, she is recorded as Ingeborg.
  • In an account of the family published in 1950 in the parish where she was born, her name is given as Ymbjørg.

Surnames[edit | edit source]

It is clear from the oldest known records that names have been used to identify individuals throughout history. Surnames, as they are understood by many English-speaking cultures today, first began to be used before the end of the first millennium, C.E. Surnames were first introduced in Europe by the Normans, who were French-speaking descendants of Viking settlers. This may indicate that people living in Scandinavia were among the earliest adopters of some type of surname.

As the population increased, it became necessary to distinguish between individuals with the same name. The problem was usually solved by adding descriptive information such as who a person’s father was, residence, occupation, or characteristic. Now, Hans could be known as Hans the son of John (Johnsen), Hans of Nordgaard farm, Hans the tailor (skredder), or Vesle (young) Hans.

Surnames can be identified as having originated from one of three ways:

  • Patronymic - based on the father’s given name, such as Jensen (son of Jens)
  • Geographical - based on the name of farm or house where they lived, such as Mundal
  • Occupational - based on the person's trade, such as Smed (Smith)

Patronymics[edit | edit source]

Illustration of the derivation of Norwegian patronymic surnames

The predominant type of surname in Norway is patronymic. Such names are based on the father's given name. This surname changed with each generation. For example, Jon Arnesen was the son of a man named Arne. If Jon had a son named Arne, the son would be known as Arne Jonsen (Arne son of Jon) and his brothers would be surnamed Jonsen, while his sisters would be known as Jonsdatter (daughter of Jon). In some of the earliest church records a person may be recorded with a matronymic surname, based on the person's mother's given name. Cases like this are very unusual, and always indicate the person was illegitimate.

After about 1850, it became the custom in the cities to take permanent surnames. By 1900 most of Norway began doing so. By 1923, when the first law regarding surnames was passed, most people had already adopted the practice of using a permanent family name to be passed to successive generations. When this happened, many Norwegians chose to use the name of their farm (residence) as their surname.

Abbreviations[edit | edit source]

When recording surnames, it is important to remember that patronymics were frequently abbreviated in the records. The abbreviations dr., dtr., d., are all substitutes for datter. Likewise, male patronymics are frequently shortened to s. In a parish where most of the population has a surname ending with datter or sen, recording the name in full would be needlessly redundant.

Abbreviations in the records are not limited to surnames. Some given names are frequently abbreviated as well. Perhaps the most commonly encountered abbreviation is in names containing the word Christ, where it is written as X, it being a modern siglum of the Greek Χρ, representing the first two letters in the Greek spelling of Christ.

Name Frequency[edit | edit source]

A study of the 1865 census of Vågå, Norway identified 430 men (11% of the male population) with the given name of Hans. Of these 430, 22% were surnamed Olsen, 20% Hansen, 6% Johnsen, and 4% Knudsen. Because of the high numbers of people with the same given name and patronymic surname it was necessary to include a person’s residence (usually a farm, but it may also be a house) as part of their identification.

Farm Names[edit | edit source]

It is believed the oldest place names in Norway are more than 2,000 years old. The practice of identifying a person in connection with their named residence (for example, Stein på Børve farm from a record in 1563) is easily that old. The earliest records we have from Norway generally identify people by their given name and residence. As these records are for the assessment of taxes, generally only landowners are identified. From other extant records, it is clear most of the population used a patronymic surname.

Frequently people are identified in the records by their given name and residence; by their given name and patronymic surname; or by their given name, patronymic surname, and residence. For example:

  • John Folkedal
  • John Aamundsen
  • John Aamundsen Folkedal

All three are the same person.

When farm names are given in a record, they provide residence information and are not part of the person’s surname. As such, they should be added as part of the locality information and NOT a part of the person's name. An illustration would be a person named Mary Smith. Her name alone is not that unique, but if you were to refer to her as Mary Smith of Battle Lake, Minnesota, she is identified with much higher precision.

According to Yngve Nedrebø, Director of the Regional Archive in Bergen, "[farm names do] not necessarily identify a family or a relationship; it signified a place of residence. If farmer Ole Olsen Li moved from Li to another farm, such as Dal, he would then be known as Ole Olsen Dal. A farm laborer could be named in the same way, even though he was not related to the farmer."[4]

Another problem with including farm names as part of someone’s surname is making the decision of which farm name to use. It is not uncommon for a person to live more than one place over the course of their lifetime. Would you use:

  • The farm on which they were born
  • The farm where they were living at the time of their confirmation
  • Where they lived when the census was taken
  • The farm they lived on when they were married
  • The farm where their children were born
  • The farm where they died

Farm Names in Local Histories[edit | edit source]

Many local histories (bygdebøker) published in Norway appear to include farm names as part of a person's name. This use is frequently misunderstood by persons who are not familiar with the literature and incorrectly assume it is the person's surname.

For example, this entry for Ljono farm from Ulvik gards- og ættesoga. Under the entries for Gjele, a smaller part of Ljono farm, Jon Asbjørnsson Håheim is identified[5]. Here Håheim is used to indicate which farm more information about him can be found, and does not mean Håheim is part of his name.

Norwegian-American Name Changes[edit | edit source]

It is not unusual for members of the same family to use different surnames after their emigration. For example, consider this family:

Anders Halvorsen of Stordahl farm marries Kari Knutsdatter and has the following children:

  1. Halvor Andersen, b. 1830
  2. Anne Andersdatter, b. 1832
  3. Knut Andersen, b. 1834
  4. Mari Andersdatter, b. 1836
  5. Erik Andersen, b. 1838
  • Halvor Andersen lived at Bråten farm before emigrating to the United States in 1855. He goes by the name Halvor A. Bratten.
  • Anne Andersdatter emigrates with her brother in 1855. She uses the name Anderson when married in 1857 in Minnesota.
  • Knut Andersen emigrates in 1856. He uses the name Knut A. Stordahl.
  • Mari remained in Norway and was known as Mari Andersdatter.
  • Anders Halvorsen and his wife Kari Knutsdatter emigrated with the two youngest children in 1862. They and the two children carry on with the name Halvorson in the US.

Online Resources[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 Stoa, Nils Johan and Per-Øiving Sandberg. Våre Røtter: Håndbok i slektsgransking for nybgynnere og videredomme. J. W. Cappelens Forlag A. S., 1992, page 32.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Seland, Per. Naming Customs In Older And Newer Times. Translation of a reprint from Genealogiska Föeninge. 1933-1983, Stockholm, 1983.
  3. Hadeland Lag of America. Hadeland Research Basics: Norwegian names and places, Hadeland research sources.
  4. Nedrebø, Yngve, How to trace your ancestors in Norway. Oslo, Norway : Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1989. FHL Book 948.1 D27o 1989. Also available online at Digital Archives, How to trace your ancestors in Norway.
  5. Ulvik gards- og ættesoga, volume 2, page 140.