Swedish Name Soup

If you look back over the generations of our family tree, you’ll see examples of the Swedish patterns of naming.  The patronymic convention was widely used.  A male child is given a first name and takes a surname composed of his father’s first name with the possessive "s" followed by “son”.  “Anders Jacobsson” is therefore interpreted as “Anders, son of Jacob”.  Similarly for a female child, “Anna Svensdotter” is “Anna, daughter of Sven”.  Women usually continued to use this patronymic birth surname even after marriage.  This naming convention was used until about 1900 when it was abolished by legislation.

Recycling of names was very common.  Anders Jacobsson would name his first son Anders Andersson and his second son Jacob Andersson.  Jacob would have Jacob Jacobsson and lo and behold, another Anders Jacobsson!

The patronymic convention was not 100% observed and not 100% predictable.  You will see occurrences of a surname (originally patronymic or not) used for more than one generation.  You may also see variations of the father’s name when used as the surname of a child.  The son of “Hindrik” may become “Hindersson”, “Erik” > “Ersson”, ”Peter” > “Persson”, and “Johan” > “Jansson”.

Many young men served in the military when they were about 15 years old.  To minimize confusion they were encouraged (sometimes forced) to adopt short, simple, more unique surnames.  They sometimes chose personally descriptive names like the Swedish word for tall or strong, and sometimes names of objects or places like hill, river, or type of tree.  Sometimes these military names were kept after service, especially in the late 19th century as patronymics were being phased out.  Although I have found no documented evidence of his service, family rumor is that Tillner was a military name that my grandfather Alfrid Andersson ended up keeping after he migrated to America.

In addition to the military, non-patronymic names were taken by royalty, the clergy, and many professionals.  Once adopted, these names were often used by all descendants of the original person.

As if patronymics and military names were not confusing enough to a genealogist, nicknames, abbreviations, misspellings, and other variations crept into documentation as well.  “Alfrid” became “Alfred”, “Fredrika” became “Frederika” and even “Frida”, and “Mamie” morphed to "Mayme" or “Mimmie” in various documents.  All documents were handwritten in those days, and they were written primarily by persons other than the one named.  Haste, inattention to detail, faulty hearing, poor penmanship, and years of aging of the documents, all mitigate to leave serious difficulties in deciphering.

Migrating to the USA frequently resulted in name changes.  Americanizing consisted of dropping letters considered excess (e.g., “Persson” becomes “Person”, “Larsson” becomes “Larson”), changing spelling (e.g., “Lovisa” becomes “Louisa”, “Jan”, “Johan”, and “Johannes” all become “John”, “Stina” becomes “Christina”, “Anders” becomes “Andrew”, “Karl” becomes “Carl” or “Charles”), for single women, reverting to the male form of the patronymic (“Johannesdotter” becomes “Johnson”), and for married women, adopting the husband’s surname.

Consider these sequences of names from birth to death for several relatives:

o Karl Erik Jansson Sandin/Charles Eric Sandin

o Anders Ersson/Andrew Erikson

o Alfrid Andersson/Alfred Anderson/Alfred Tillner/Albert Tillner

o Beda Tillner/Beda Lindberg/Beyda Lindbergh

o Stina Lisa Persdotter/Kristina Elisabet Erikson/Christina Elisabeth (“Anderson” on stone)

o Carolina Larsdotter (birth)/Jansson (married)/Johnson (obituary)/Larson (death and burial)

One of our direct ancestors had THREE sisters named Britta.  If a child died in infancy, it was common practice to reuse the child’s name for the next birth of the same sex.  In this particular case, three daughters were named Britta, and all three died very young.

Clockmaker Lars Sandin who established our Sandin line had a son named Lars Sandin and a grandson named Lars Sandin.  It was almost like unique names were not to be used and existing names HAD to be perpetuated.

A first name with many variations is Mat.  It is spelled variously as Mat, Matt, Math, Matth, and all of those variations with a terminal s.  The patronymics derived from these variations tend to shorten the first name, but may include all of the letters resulting in Matsson, Mattsson, Mathsson, and Matthsson.  The typical Americanization of all of these variations is Matson, but I’ve seen others – the most recent was a Mathson business in Manistique, MI.

All of these examples come from the research I've done on my family tree and serve to illustrate naming practices that were common in Sweden between 1600 and 1900.