Norway Personal Names

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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.
    • The suffix for females can be found as -datter and -dotter. Again, due to Danish influence, the -datter form is seen most commonly in written records.
  • Spelling was not standardized in Norway until 1917

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 and -dotter. 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 name.

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)

Four types of surnames have been used from early on in Norway:[1][4]

  • Patronymics
  • Fixed Patronymics
  • Family Names
  • Farm Names

Each will be discussed in the following sections.

Patronymics[edit | edit source]

Illustration of the derivation of Norwegian patronymic surnames

Patronymic surnames 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 (or Jonsson, etc), that is, Arne son of Jon and his brothers would be surnamed Jonsen (or Jonsøn, etc.), while his sisters would be known as Jonsdatter (or Jonsdotter), that is, 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.

Fixed Patronymics[edit | edit source]

Fixed Patronymic surnames look like regular patronymics however there are two distinct differences. Firstly, they did not change from generation to generation but instead remained the same. Secondly, they always had the -sen or -son suffix for both males and females. This type of surname was primarily found in cities and used by merchants, tradesmen, and others of similar social class. Examples of these can be found in the 1801 census such as the children of Niels Andersen and Elen Christina Iversdatter. He is a “gesel” in Bergen and their three children, all daughters, are listed as Alida Andersen, Martha Malena Andersen, and Sophia Andrea Andersen.

In 1923, when the first law regarding surnames was passed, many people that had just a patronymic surname chose to turn that patronymic into a fixed patronymic for their surname.

Family Names[edit | edit source]

Family name surnames are fixed surnames passed from a father to all his children that are not based on patronymics. Some families in the upper classes of Norwegian society adopted this type of surname as early as the 1600s.[1] Some famous examples of family names are Collett, Leuch, Hagerup, and Wergeland. Examples of these can be found in the 1801 census such as the family of Peter Collet and his wife Ellatine Bendiks. He is an “Assessor i stifte retten” in Kristiansand and their two children are listed as Elisabeth Collet and Peter Collet.

In christening records, mothers who had family name surnames will often be seen recorded as, for example, Elisabeth Kristine f. Schelderup which stands for Elisabeth Kristine født Schelderup (Elisabeth Kristine born Schelderup).

Centuries before the naming laws of 1923 some people had already adopted the practice of using a permanent family name to be passed to successive generations. The 1923 law continued the previously established law that certain family names were protected and could only be adopted by individuals who could show proper inheritance of the name or by the unanimous consent of all others who bore the name.[5]

Farm Names[edit | edit source]

Farm names are surnames which are the name of the farm where a person lives or where his family used to live. These are found primarily in rural area. The use of farm names did vary between the different regions of Norway. They were primarily used by landowners and their descendants. Tennent farmers and crofters whose families had never owned farms did not usually use 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.

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

  • John Folkedal
  • John Aamundsen
  • John Aamundsen Folkedal

All three are the same person.

When farm names are given in a record in a manner that shows they are clearly being used as a surname, they provide potentially critical information for uniquely identifying an individual and should be recorded as the person’s surname.

Because farm names were derived from where a person was living, the person’s surname would change each time he or she moved. People's surnames may be recorded differently depending on the time a record was written. It might be:

  • 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

Because these changing surnames are important for correctly identifying individuals in records, all of these names should be recorded as alternate names for individuals.

Farm Names in Local Histories[edit | edit source]

Many local histories (bygdebøker) published in Norway include farm names as part of a person's name. This shows that farm names were viewed as surnames and illustrates the importance of including them.

For example, Ulvik gards- og ættesoga has under the entries for Gjele, a smaller part of Ljono farm, a Jon Asbjørnsson Håheim[6]. Here Håheim is used to indicate his previous farm name and at which farm more information about him can be found.

Surnames Alone Do Not Prove Relationships[edit | edit source]

None of the four types of surnames can in and of themselves be used to prove relationships. In the same way that two people named Smith living next door to each other cannot be assumed to be related to each other, two people with the same fixed patronymic or the same family name cannot be assumed to be related without actual evidence of that relationship.

This is also true of patronymics. If two men with the patronymic Hansson are living on the same farm, all that is known is that they both have fathers by the name of Hans. It cannot be assumed that their two fathers are the same Hans and that they are brothers. Their relationship must be demonstrated by birth records, census records or some other type of record.

Likewise, farm name surnames alone cannot be used to establish relationships. As stated by Yngve Nedrebø, Director of the Regional Archive in Bergen, “In addition, a third name was often used. This was usually a farm name.This ‘surname’ did 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." Because farms were divided into separate sections and these could each be owned by a different family, several families who were not related to each other at all could be living on the same farm and have the same farm 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.

Recording Norwegian Names In Family Tree[edit | edit source]

Following usual genealogical practice, an individual’s name at the time of his or her birth should be entered in the Vitals section of Family Tree. Exceptions to this general rule can be found. For example, if a family moved from one farm to another when a child was just a few years old and all other children in the family were born at the second farm, it sometimes makes sense for clarity to enter the first child with the same farm name as his or her siblings. All additional names a person used through life whether due to moving from one farm to another, moving from a rural to an urban area, or emigrating should be recorded in the Other Information section of Family Tree as Alternate Names.

Given Names[edit | edit source]

Enter all first names in the First Names field. Because of the wide variation in spelling used for names which sometimes differs even between the Ministerialbok christening record and the Klokkerbok copy of the same record, the decision of which spelling to use can be challenging.

Surnames, excluding patronymics[edit | edit source]

Enter any fixed patronymic, family, or farm name surname in the Last Names field. Fixed patronymics use the -sen suffix for both men and women. Family names will usually have a standard spelling for the particular family that can be used. Farm name spelling varied through the years just like given names. They can be entered either with the spelling current at the time of an individual's birth or with the modern spelling of the farm.

Patronymic Surnames[edit | edit source]

For individuals with only a patronymic surname, enter it in the Last Names field. Since the patronymic is usually abbreviated, it is often impossible to know which spelling was used for the suffix. Some people choose to exclusively use -sen and -datter no matter what the records contains. Some people choose to use the form used in the records when present. Some people choose to use -sson and -datter to distinguish regular patronymics from fixed patronymics.

Individuals with fixed patronymic surnames usually did not use a regular patronymic with their surname.

Individuals with family names sometimes used a patronymic in addition, but often did not.

Individuals with farm name surnames almost always used a patronymic along with their surname.

If used along with a second type of surname, a person’s patronymic can be entered either at the end of the First Names field or at the beginning of the Last Names field. The position of the patronymic will affect search results.

If an individual had a fixed patronymic, a family name, or a farm name, one should always enter the strictly patronymic form of his or her name as an Alternate Name in the Other Information section of Family Tree with the first name in the First Names field and only the patronymic in the Last Names field. This helps the Find and Hint routines work most effectively.

Online Resources[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  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. 2.02.1 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., Introduksjon til Geni - norsk.
  5. National Library of Norway, 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, page 71.
  6. Kolltveit, Olav, Johannes Kvestad, and Torbjørn Kvestad. Ulvik: gards- og ættesoga, 2: Gards- og ættesoga Syse-Vallavik. Ulvik bygdeboknemd, 1987. Page 140.