How I record person names

Here is an article about how I record Norwegian names in my genealogy research

I am often asked how Norwegian names and locations should be recorded. I have been a little hesitant to write this article as there are a lot of different and strong opinions about this matter. This first article is about names.

Let me start by underlining that this article does not tell you how you should or must do it.  This is how I do it and I will tell you why I do it this way.

The important thing is to record in a reliable and consistent way that works for you and your readers.

When doing this I think it can be helpful to use what we can call “the three R’s of recording” (if I have “stolen” this from someone else, please tell me so that I can credit the right person)

  1. Reliability We want our writing to be reliable so that there is absolutely no doubt as to what person we are dealing with, or the location where an event took place.
  2. Readability We are most likely going to come back to previously recorded information several times. Hopefully someone will want to read what we have written. It is therefore important to use a way of recording that is easy to read and comprehend.
  3. Relatability  I want my genealogy to be recorded in a way that I or my readers can relate to. I want names and locations to be written in a way that is easily recognizable.

If you are not familiar with Norwegian naming, I recommend that you read my article Norwegian naming. Here is a short recap

  • 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 may find a “matronym” meaning their mother’s name with suffix.
  • The last part of a person’s “identity information” is not part of his name. It is the address, -an indication of where he/she lived. This could change several times throughout the person’s life.

It should be noted that the use of surnames in Norway didn’t become a legal requirement until 1923. Up until then people were free to do as they liked. There was a small minority that from early on used a (family)name as we use surnames today. This use increased from the middle of the 1850’s. Very often their father’s/grandfather’s patronym was used as family name.

The problem with how to record the identity information arises because most genealogy software are not designed to handle the Norwegian identification pattern. The way I choose to solve this problem is based on how the genealogy software handles the data. To me this is especially important when it comes to the options I have to out-put the data.

In my Legacy software, like in most others. there are two name fields; a “Given name” field and a “Surname field “.

  • I record the given name(s) and the patronym in the “given name field”.

The reason I do this is that Ole Hansen is always going to be the son of Hans. Anna Olsdatter, no matter who she marries or where she lives, is always going to be the daughter of Ole. This is my incentive for keeping the given name(s) and the patronym together.

  • In the “surname field” I put the name of the farm where the person was born or surname if used.
  • If the person moves and are recorded with other farm names, I use the “alternative names” feature in my genealogy software to record this. If I do not know the person’s origin, I leave this field blank.
Picture 1 input window “Individual’s Information

There are some strong opinions about this so ” I can hear the roar of a thousand keyboards preparing for the comments field below”. The reason I choose to do this relates to “the third R – relatability”. If I am not able to link this additional information to the individual, I am likely to end out with a large number of Ole Hansens and Anne Olsdatters that is hard to pick out from an index. This is directly linked to the options I have to output the information.

I realize that recording farmname at birth in the surname field may cause siblings to be recorded with different “address” , but I don’t see this as a problem. (When the law about names was put in place in 1923, there were many siblings that chose different surnames)

I write names with modern spelling for readability. I use the “alternative name” feature to record the way(s) the name was spelled in the original record(s).

Picture 2 Output Ancestor book report

If we look at the picture above, we note that Dordi is listed with an alternative name. The legacy software allows for a large number of alternative names for each person.

In picture 3 below, we see a name index in an “Ancestor book report” produced by the Legacy software. In my opinion is this an index that is clear and easy to use. Here the persons are listed by the name of the farm where they were born. We note that for some of the farms the names are listed in several versions. This is due to the “alternative name” feature. The persons that have alternative names recorded, are marked by a tilde (~). 

For some persons we do not know where they originated. These are listed under the heading “No surname”.  We know that this is not surnames, but farmnames. When (if) I get to the point where I want to publish my genealogy in print, I will output the information to format that I can edit in a word processor.

Picture 3. Name index “Ancestor book report”

Finally, I do not use any kind of substitute in fields where I have no information. I think this messes up the output and decreases readability.

I have written a bit more about how to record patronyms in my article Norwegian patronyms

This ended up as a longer article than I had planned, but I hope I have been able to cover all bases.  I will write another article that covers how I record locations. I am happy to receive questions or comments, Please be gentle! 🙂

Prepare for the next installment by reading how to Find placenames in Norway

Here is the link to How I record Norwegian locations

10 thoughts on “How I record person names

  • October 16, 2016 at 11:54 pm

    I think your method of recording names is very workable and makes sense. I like it. For me though, my family is Norwegian on my mothers side and Swedish on my fathers. Since the Swedes generally either go with patronymics or have an established surname I like to keep both sides consistent. Therefore in the surname field I place the patronymic-farm name. The farm name I use in the surname field is the farm on which they were born or spent the greater part of their life. Like you I then use the alternate name fields for additional farm locations. ex: great grandfather Nils Gundersen-Øvald. This also keeps siblings listed alphabetically together regardless of the farms they worked in their lifetime. I also capitalize the patronymic of direct ancestors only (helps me keep everyone straight). I think my method also covers the 3 R’s. Great article!

    • October 17, 2016 at 12:44 am

      Hello Ranae. Thanks for Your kind Words and interesting views.

  • October 17, 2016 at 12:42 am

    This article was so very helpful! Thanks so much.

  • October 17, 2016 at 5:34 am

    This is a wonderful explanation of how you have handled a complex and difficult subject or surnames. I love your expression of the roar of a thousand keyboards! I have the same dilemma as Ranae in that I have both Norwegian and Swedish ancestors that I keep in one Legacy database. My Swedish ancestors moved a lot and didn’t seem to name anything to a farm name (I don’t think that they owned any..if at all). This unlike my Norwegian family who owned a nice section of farm and the children definitely identified with the farm name, even when they immigrated to America/Canada. Thus, I decided to put the farm name in the suffix field in Legacy.

  • October 17, 2016 at 3:59 pm

    I have followed the system you use for the past 15 years. I understand the farm is not the surname but this method helps track people and find data. Thanks for sharing.

    • October 17, 2016 at 4:15 pm

      Thanks for your visit and comment. To me the system makes sense. I am happy to see I’m not the only one.

  • October 18, 2016 at 1:41 am

    Hi Martin! Great article! I do things a little differently. For the person’s given name, I only put the first name. For Norwegian surnames, I put in the patronym, followed by a farm name, if known. I use the farm where the person was born, or lived the longest, or is commonly known by. My mother’s ancestors are Norwegian. My father’s ancestors came to America in colonial times, mainly from England. My system seems to work well with my mixed ancestry.
    Keep up the good work. I enjoy your articles and learn a lot from them.

  • October 18, 2016 at 1:51 am

    I forgot to include this: Instead of using alternative names for multiple farm names, I create a separate residence fact for each farm.

    • October 18, 2016 at 3:46 pm

      That sounds interesting Gary. Would you care to elaborate on separate residence facts. I am not familiar with this this technique.


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