Scandinavian family name etymology

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Heritable family names were generally adopted rather late within Scandinavia. Nobility were the first to take names that would be passed on from one generation to the next. Later, clergy, artisans and merchants in cities took heritable names. Family names (surnames) were still used together with primary patronyms (father's name plus an affix denoting relationship), which were used by all social classes. This meant that most families until modern times did not have surnames. Scandinavian patronyms were generally derived from the father's given name with the addition of a suffix meaning 'son' or 'daughter' or by occupation like Møller - ( Miller ) naming tradition remained commonly used throughout the Scandinavian countries during the time of surname formation.[1] Forms of the patronymic suffixes include: -son, -sen, -fen, -søn, -ler, -zen, -zon/zoon, and -sson .


The most common Danish family name surnames are patronymic and end in -sen; for example Rasmussen, originally meaning "son of Rasmus" (Rasmus' son). Descendants of Danish or Norwegian immigrants to the United States frequently have similar names ending in the suffix "-sen" or have changed the spelling to "-son". Approximately one-third of the Danish population bear one of the ten most common surnames. More than two-thirds have a patronym ending in -sen in their full name. Many of these patronymics are, however, very rare, local or testimony of unusual descent, e.g. Heilesen from Northern Jutland, Holdensen and Boldsen from the former Duchy of Schleswig or Common etymological classes of surnames are occupational (e.g., Møller - miller, Schmidt - smith, and Fisker - fisher, for example names taken after a village or farmstead inhabited by ancestors.

Other higher class people took heritable surnames during the following centuries, clergy often Latinized names (e.g. Pontoppidan made from Broby) and artisans often Germanized names. Naming acts applying to all citizens were issued 1771 (for the Duchy of Schleswig only) and in 1828. The rural population only reluctantly gave up the traditional primary patronyms. Several naming acts replaced the first; in 1856, 1904, 1961, 1981, 2005. The result of the first act was that most people took a patronymic surname as their heritable family name, with the overwhelming dominance of a few surnames as a consequence. Later acts have attempted to motivate people to change to surnames that would allow safer identification of individuals.

In the table, the top surnames in Denmark are listed as of 1971,[2] 2012[3] and 2022.[4] In 2016, longtime most popular name Jensen was overtaken by Nielsen.[5] The general tendency over the past century has been to give up the commonest names and adopt less frequently-used ones.

Rank Surname Number of bearers 1971 Number of bearers 2012 Number of bearers 2022[6] Type Etymology
1 Nielsen 349,126 264,159 236,397 patronymic son of Niels
2 Jensen 368,631 264,824 233,713 patronymic son of Jens
3 Hansen 297,937 220,956 197,548 patronymic son of Hans
4 Andersen 188,359 161,379 150,161 patronymic son of Anders
5 Pedersen 203,426 166,417 149,643 patronymic son of Peder
6 Christensen 159,943 121,147 111,816 patronymic son of Christen
7 Larsen 148,214 118,144 107,721 patronymic son of Lars
8 Sørensen 139,111 113,207 102,848 patronymic son of Søren
9 Rasmussen 117,355 96,250 88,351 patronymic son of Rasmus
10 Jørgensen 110,132 89,846 82,285 patronymic son of Jørgen
11 Petersen 130,236 81,250 72,757 patronymic son of Peter
12 Madsen 76,441 65,222 60,676 patronymic son of Mads
13 Kristensen 58,990 61,274 57,758 patronymic son of Kristen
14 Olsen 65,194 49,091 44,629 patronymic son of Ole
15 Thomsen 40,180 39,473 38,244 patronymic son of Thomas
16 Christiansen 45,984 37,493 35,143 patronymic son of Christian
17 Poulsen 36,544 32,526 30,545 patronymic son of Poul
18 Johansen 36,470 31,517 29,866 patronymic son of Johan
19 Møller 31,645 30,321 29,481 occupational miller
20 Mortensen not in top 20 not in top 20 28,124 patronymic son of Morten


The most common Norwegian surnames were originally patronymic, commonly ending with the suffixes "-ssen", "-sson", "-sdatter", "-sdotter" which is the genitive s plus the word sen or son for son or datter or dotter for daughter. The genitive s was often dropped; compare Hanssen and Hansen. In 1923, it was ordered by law that each family should have a single, hereditary last name. Surnames derived from placenames commonly originated as farm names. Most families took a patronymic name, but some adopted a farm name.[7] Today, the patronymic names are increasingly being left for the toponyms; 22.4% of the Norwegian population had a "-sen"-name in 2009, while the share is down to 18.4% for the newborns of 2009.[8]

The most common Norwegian surnames would include many names which originated as farm names: Bakke/Bakken (hill or rise), Berg/Berge (mountain or hill), Dahl/Dal (valley), Haugen/Haugan (hill or mound), Lie (side of a valley), Moen (meadow), or Rud (clearing).[9]

The listing of 20 most common Norwegian surnames:[10]

Rank Surname Number of bearers 2012 Type Etymology
1 Hansen 54,433 patronymic son of Hans
2 Johansen 51,136 patronymic son of Johan
3 Olsen 50,655 patronymic son of Ole
4 Larsen 38,510 patronymic son of Lars
5 Andersen 37,630 patronymic son of Anders
6 Pedersen 35,688 patronymic son of Peder
7 Nilsen 35,435 patronymic son of Nils
8 Kristiansen 23,910 patronymic son of Kristian
9 Jensen 23,318 patronymic son of Jens
10 Karlsen 21,677 patronymic son of Karl
11 Johnsen 20,964 patronymic son of John
12 Pettersen 20,466 patronymic son of Petter
13 Eriksen 19,351 patronymic son of Erik
14 Berg 18,228 landscape mountain or hill
15 Haugen 14,467 landscape hill or mound
16 Hagen 14,202 landscape enclosed pasture
17 Johannessen 13,539 patronymic son of Johannes
18 Andreassen 12,218 patronymic son of Andreas
19 Jacobsen 12,016 patronymic son of Jacob
20 Halvorsen 11,614 patronymic son of Halvor


The most common surnames in Sweden are originally patronymic. Family names ending with the suffix "sson" are the most common names in Sweden. In 1901, the Names Adoption Act was passed, which abolished the patronymic practice. From 1901, everyone had to have a family name that was passed down to the next generation.

Many family names consist of items from nature, for example Lind/Lindberg (linden/lime + mountain), Berg/Bergkvist (mountain/mountain + twig), Alström/Ahlström (alder + stream), or Dahl/Dahlin (valley). Sometimes the first part of such a composite name refers to the family's place of origin e.g. the Strindberg family originating from Strinne; the second part being just ornamental. Families also frequently have military-oriented names such as Skarpsvärd (sharp sword), Sköld (shield) and Stolt (proud). Those names were originally assigned to soldiers under the military allotment system in effect from the 16th century. As in Denmark, the clergy Latinized their names up to about the 18th century, e.g. Linnaeus. Due to the greater diversity of these names each specific name is less common than most patronymic names.

The listing of 20 most commonly Swedish surnames as of December 31, 2012. Different spellings are included in every name but the name is presented by the most common spelling:[11]

Rank Surname Number of bearers 2012 Type Etymology
1 Andersson 251,621 patronymic son of Anders
2 Johansson 251,495 patronymic son of Johan
3 Karlsson 223,151 patronymic son of Karl
4 Nilsson 171,360 patronymic son of Nils
5 Eriksson 147,514 patronymic son of Erik
6 Larsson 124,686 patronymic son of Lars
7 Olsson 114,280 patronymic son of Ola / Olof
8 Persson 107,911 patronymic son of Per
9 Svensson 101,834 patronymic son of Sven
10 Gustafsson 97,536 patronymic son of Gustaf
11 Pettersson 96,011 patronymic son of Petter
12 Jonsson 73,869 patronymic son of Jon / Jonas
13 Jansson 50,170 patronymic son of Jan
14 Hansson 43,926 patronymic son of Hans
15 Bengtsson 34,302 patronymic son of Bengt
16 Jönsson 32,249 patronymic son of Jöns
17 Lindberg 27,533 landscape linden + mountain
18 Jakobsson 26,793 patronymic son of Jakob
19 Magnusson 26,562 patronymic son of Magnus
20 Olofsson 26,424 patronymic son of Olof

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ University of Copenhagen, Unit for Name Research
  3. ^ "Navne - Danmarks Statistik". Retrieved 2019-12-16.
  4. ^ "Navne i hele befolkningen". (in Danish). Statistics Denmark. Retrieved 21 November 2022.
  5. ^ "Navne i hele befolkningen". (in Danish). Statistics Denmark. Retrieved 21 November 2022.
  6. ^ "Navne i hele befolkningen". (in Danish). Statistics Denmark. Retrieved 21 November 2022.
  7. ^ Norwegian Naming Patterns
  8. ^ Name statistics for 2009 (Statistics Norway, SSB)
  9. ^ Norwegian-American Surnames (Norwegian-American Historical Association. Volume XII: Page 1
  10. ^ Statistics Norway
  11. ^ Swedish Name Statistics

External links[edit]