Norwegian Names

Photo by Kathi Ferguson

This cemetery in Norway dates
back to the 1200s: a geneologist’s paradise.

To make better sense of this blog, please read the preceeding story, Finding Norwegian Roots.

Our globe-trotting daughter Kathi continues to send us updates as she searches for her Norwegian relatives. Her search is complicated by the Norwegian system of naming people. The system has changed throughout history, and there are regional differences as well.

A child was given its “real” name, its first name, at christening. Almost every person took his or her father’s name as well. Kathi’s great-grandfather, Jon, took his father Anders’ name. He became Jon Andersson. His sister, Manghild, would have been Manghild Anderssdatter (the daughter of Anders.) Previous to around 1900, the women used their father’s name all their lives, married or not.

In some places, the father’s name (patronymic) was the only last name used. But in others, one other name was added. Commonly, it was the name of the farm (or address) where the family lived. If Jon Andersson was born or settled on a farm called Sjølseth, he would be called Jon Andersson Sjølseth. If he moved to another farm, then his last name would change to Husby, or whatever the farm was called.

Some families had a hereditary last name, sometimes of foreign origin and often very old. These names were often found in the cities or among high officials.

Complicating all this, in the late 1800’s, new naming patterns emerged. In one of them, a married woman could take her husband’s patronymic.

In another, children took their father’s last name (i.e., Husby) instead of a real patronymic.

The transition period lasted until 1923, so that researchers can find both old and new patterns even within a family. In that year, a new law ordered that each family should have a hereditary last name; only one. So some families took the name of their father, others a farm name, and some kept the hereditary names. The women lost their last names. But today, Norwegian women, as a rule, keep their last names after marriage.

For further information on the Norwegian naming system, go to this link:

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