When you get
into Norwegian genealogy you will very soon find a number of
unfamiliar and sometimes strange ways to name a person.
little article I will give you some information about what to keep in
mind when dealing with Norwegian person names.
thing some of you may have noticed is that your ancestors name in
Norway may not be the same as the name they were known by in the USA.
It is a fact that many names were changed. Where it was done, who did
it and why, is very different from person to person. I am not going
into that discussion. I will just mention that some changed their
names so that it would be easier to write or pronounce in English. I
touch upon this problem in my article “The lost symbols”
When you have
gotten through the “name-change obstacle” you will have to deal
with the names the way they were written in Norway.
common misconception that by looking at how your ancestor wrote his
patronym, you can tell which Scandinavian country he came from. To
make this very short and simple: In Norwegian genealogy you
to be prepared to find both –sen, -son and –søn. This can be
written with one or two S’s like Hanson or Hansson. The same
person may be recorded with different spellings in different records.
- Everyone had a first name, -a given name
such as Hans, Per, Ole, Lena, Anne etc.
- The next part of the name is their
“patronym”. This is their father’s name with the suffix –sen, -son or
-søn for males and datter or dotter for females. Hansson; son of Hans.
Olsdatter; daughter of Ola/Ole. On very rare occasions you will find a
“matronym” meaning their mother’s name with suffix. This occur
sometimes when children are born out of wedlock and nobody has accepted
“identity information” to underline that we are not talking about
a surname or a family name. The last part being an address is easily
seen in some church records where the minister may have written “Hans
Hansen paa Flate” instead of
“Hans Hansen Flate”.
This means Hans Hansen at the Flate farm.
- The last part of a person’s “identity
information” is not part of his name. It is the address, -an indication
of where he lived.
As we now see
that we are talking about an address it is easier to understand that
our ancestors changed “their name” a lot. Hans Hanson Flate may a
few years later be recorded as Hans Hansen Berg as he moved from the
Flate farm to the Berg farm. This can be a challenge for a
genealogist, but it is of outmost importance to keep this in mind and
make sure that we always are dealing with the right person. I write
about the problem of people moving from farm to farm in my article
“What is a bygdebok?”
If you are
lucky, your ancestors owned their farm and had the same address
through several generations. There were groups that moved around that
can be difficult to trace. These were the cotters (husmenn), lodgers
(inderster), paupers (legdslemmer), servants/farmhands
(tjenere/tjenestejenter/drenger). Also people who rented their
(leiglendinger/bygselmenn) land may have moved around and thus,
ancestor moved a lot, it can be a challenge to decide how to record
their name in your genealogy software. I didn’t pay enough
attention to this problem when I started out, but when I got to Knut
Knutson Korsnes Hauge Nederhus Vestnes, I realized that I had to do
something. I ended up recording the name of the farm where the person
was born. So my ancestor is now Knut Knutson Korsnes in my software.
BUT: I use the Legacy program and here I can easily register aliases.
In print-outs this appear like “NN was also known as…..” No
matter what software you choose I recommend that this feature should
the use of surnames was not common among Norwegians until about the
year 1800 there were groups that used family names in the same way we
use surnames today. This may have been ministers, officers or civil
servants who came from Denmark or Germany (e.g. Munch). There may
also have been craftsmen who came from abroad and used their “job
title” as a surname (e.g. Müller – Miller). There was also a
very small group belonging to the Nobility who used a family name.
the 1800 more and more people started to use what we today call
surnames. The practice first appeared in the towns. Often they used
their patronym (primary patronym) sometimes they used their father’s
patronym (secondary patronym). Sometimes the easiest way to see that
a patronym is used as a family-, or surname, is when the wife uses
her husband’s patronym. My Great-grandfather Markus Olsen Moldenes
in many cases dropped Moldenes after he settled in the town Ålesund
in 1865. His wife Nicoline used Olsen as surname (her father’s name
The use of
proper surnames didn’t become law in Norway until 1923. Before this
they could pretty much do as they wished. This means that the same
name might end up being spelled differently. It also means that
siblings might end up with different surnames.
many different spelling of Norwegian names and this may be a
challenge. Even though the first public schools started in the
1730’s, I think it is safe to say that far into the 20th
century the reading and writing abilities among Norwegians were poor.
They seldom, if ever, wrote, or saw their own name in writing. This
means that the name was written as the minister or other officials
thought it sounded. Often they were of foreign origin (often Danish)
and wrote the names based on how the sounds were written in their
variations of names are too many to even try to list, but I’ll give
you just a few examples of spellings of what was often the same name:
variations in first names will, of course, give the same variation in
patronyms. The variations in spelling of farm names are equally
great. Oluf Rygh in his books “Norwegian farmnames” lists
different spellings of names. In my article “How to find place
names” I tell you a little about how to use the online
these books. You can access it by going to “Articles”.
- Ann, Anna, Anne, Ane
- Jon, John, Joen, Johan, Johannes
- Guri, Guro, Gurå, Gøro
- Ola, Ole, Olav, Olaus, Oluf
- Per, Petter, Peder
- Pernele, Pernille
- Pål, Paul, Povel
- Kristian, Christian, X-tian
- Kristoffer, Krestoffer, Chrisoffer, Christopher, X-ofer
hope you find this information useful. Don't hesitate to
contact me if you have questions or comments on this topic. There may
be things that should be added or things that needs clarification. Go
and send me a word.
Lis: «Leseferdighet og skolevesen 1740–1830» Heimen, ISSN
0017–9841, bind 45, 2008
Gudrun: “Framvoksteren av norske slektsnavn” in Sprauten, Knut
(editor) “Å kallast med sitt rette namn» Skrifter fra NLI nr 38
Per: «Ættegransking :
innføring til bruk i brevkurs eller sjølvstudium» Fram brevskole,
om personnavn, Kapittel 4 – Historikk. NOU 2001:1