Given names in Sweden

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Here we are not going to try to produce a listing of even the most common given names. We just aim to explain som features of Swedish given names that may be puzzling.


Given names in Sweden

At the website for The Federation of Swedish Genealogical Societies, Rötter, there is a section with database of Swedish given names. (Mansnamn=male names; Kvinnonamn=female names)

Listings of given names current in Sweden will give you an idea of what can be a name (spellings were a lot more variable in the olden days, though)

It is interesting to note that most of the top ten names in Sweden today were very common in the olden days as well. The most popular baby names are a different matter.

Multiple forms

For many of the common given names used by common folk in old Sweden there are regional variants, like Karna in Skåne (and the south in general) for the form of Katarina that in the rest of Sweden appears as Karin.

However, the way that multiple forms of the same name were used more or less interchangeably for the same person is more intriguing.

For example, the name Kristina or Christina has a common variant Kerstin (or Chierstin, or any number of spellings) and a short nickname-like form Stina. In modern times these names have developed into fixed, independent, given names. In older times, this was not so. One woman may appear in the records with all these variants, at different times. One would think that Christina is the most formal name, with Kerstin being used in everyday life and Stina being used as a casual nickname. However, this is not necessarily so. A woman may be in the birth/baptism book with any of these names and then in the death burial record with any of the other variants - having perhaps been in the household records in the intervening time by the third variant. There is no reliable pattern, except, perhaps, in very local circumstances. Another female name with three very common variants is Catharina - Karin - Kajsa.

For male names you may get Petter, Per, and Pelle out of the Latin form Petrus, any of which could also be the name at baptism. From Olof we get Olle and perhaps Olaus. From Johannes we get Johan and Jan. Although Johannes and Jonas are different names, their derivative forms sometimes overlap, so that Jon and Jan both may be forms of Johan. One would like to think that Johan=Jan and Jonas=Jon, but this is not always the case, since particularly in the early days Johan could well be in the books as Joen or Jon (Jonas was very uncommon at that time).

This variability also affects the patronymic last names, so that the same woman may appear in the books as Christina Johansdotter and Stina Jansdotter.

What to do

The most important thing concerning the multiple forms of given names used in olden Sweden is:

  • Don't be surprised
  • Don't think it's a different person because the name looks different - you will have to establish the sameness by studying the sources, of course, since there are frequently several persons with the same name combination in a parish.
  • There are name fields enough in WikiTree for three different name forms (although not for all possible spellings, use the biography for that if you wish).
  • So, use the sources for distributing Christina/Kerstin/Stina into Proper First Name, Preferred Name and Other Nicknames.
  • Do your best. Use common sense - don't put all the variants into the same field.
  • Oh, and you can always ask in G2G with the tag SWEDEN - that goes for everything in these pages

A myriad spellings

Spelling of names in the old records is extremely variable - the idea of standardized spellings did not really take root until in the 19th century. Since Sweden was Lutheran, the common folk were expected to be able to read the bible. However, few were also able to write. The idea that people themselves would have a preferred spelling of their name was alien - they just had no say. The church records were kept by the vicar, the sacellanus or the sexton, who were, of course, literate - but nevertheless spelled the same name for the same person differently at different times.

With the introduction of compulsory schooling for the whole people in 1842 and the subsequent growth in general literacy, the spelling of names started being of importance to the carriers of the name towards the end of the 19th century. This was satirized by August Bondesson in Skollärare John Chronschoughs memoarer (1897). In the 20th century and today people tend to be adamant about the correct spelling of their name - and many strive for originality.

The introduction to Så stavar du namnet explains this variability of spellings in older times, and expresses the standpoint taken by The Federation of Swedish Genealogical Societies in favour of a standardization of names to be used in the databases they keep and share. This is the opposite tack to the WikiTree policy of "using their conventions, not ours."

Since data from DISBYT and MinSläkt have made their way into the GEDCOM world of Internet Genealogy since the 1990s, there are a lot of Swedish profiles with standardized names already imported into WikiTree. You will have to be aware of this when you enter new profiles.

Double names

For a very long time, people - that is, the common folk - in Sweden were only baptized with a single name, drawn from a fairly limited repertoire for males and females.

Towards the end of the 18th century people started combining two given names for a child at baptism, chosen from the old stores of common names (mix and match). The two names were mostly used together, as a double first name. This is when we get all the women by name Anna Cajsa, Brita Stina, Greta Lisa and Maja Lena and the men by name Carl Gustav, Lars Erik, Nils Johan and Per Anders, pronounced as Annacajsa, Britastina, Gretalisa, Majalena, Carlgustav, Larserik, Nilsjohan and Peranders. (Please do not write them like this ;-)

The start of this practice can be quite variable, even between neighbouring parishes. There were probably many factors involved, like the degree of influence from nearby towns (towns were, naturally, at the forefront) and the more or less positive attitude of the vicar towards this newfangled fashion. Of course, many children were still only given a single name.

Double names, where people are actually called by their two given names in combination are still very common in Sweden. Nowadays people make a lot of fuss about whether they use a hyphen or not for their double call-name.

WikiTree name fields

The basic rule for Swedish given names is to put them ALL in the Proper First Name Field and nothing in the Middle Name field, remembering to check the radio button for "no middle name".

The system warning about "more than one name in the given name field" can be safely ignored - just click SAVE ANYWAY. If you are working mainly on Swedish profiles you can turn this warning off permanently in the settings of your account, under Miscellaneous settings.

Middle Names ?

There are two meanings of "middle name" in Swedish. In the presentday vernacular mellannamn refers to the (second) given name that we are more or less never addressed by - our non-preferred name(s).

Then there is a legal meaning, referring not to a given name but to a surname. This type of "middle name" was introduced in the name law of 1963, when you could no longer create new double surnames like Flygare-Carlén or Peterson-Berger, so if you wanted to keep your birth surname when you married, you had to have one of the surnames as the true surname and the other as an extra first-name - this was called a middle name. This turned out to be impractical in many ways, and was changed in the name law of 2017: there will be no more middle names of that kind, but now you can, again, have double surnames (two-part). So this type of middle name in Sweden was a temporary phenomenon from 1963, and is being phased out from 2017.

The "middle names" that are non-preferred given names are a relatively modern phenomenon in Sweden. They may be viewed as the next step in the development from single given names, to double names based on the "good old names" and on to more and fancier names, copied from the upper classes or inspired by popular literature. Again, this practice started at the top of the social scale and worked its way down.

The daughters of Jakob Niklas Schottenius, born 1832 to 1842 have names like Emma Fredrica Nicolina, Jenny Leontina Alfonsina and Betty Constantia Theresia. Now, Schottenius was a craftsman in Stockholm, and the grandson of a vicar, but there were industrial workers up north giving their children similar names.

With three or more names it is not very likely that people used all their names as their preferred name - but often we do not know which one they used. They could go by the first of their given names or by one (or two) of the others. If we are very lucky people appear somewhere in the sources under their preferred name, or with the preferred name marked in some way.

What to do

The simplest way to handle given names in all time periods for Sweden is to put ALL the given names in the field for Proper First Name and the call name, if you know it, in the Preferred Name field.

If the profile is fairly modern and there IS a "middle name" in the middle position nobody will object if you put it in the Middle Name field.

Sources and resources

  • At the website for The Federation of Swedish Genealogical Societies, Rötter, there is a section with database of Swedish given names. (Mansnamn=male names; Kvinnonamn=female names Så stavar du namnet (How you spell the name)
  • Current statistics for names in Sweden SCB
  • Om personnamn (flera sidor) Institutet för språk och folkminnen
  • In the FamilySearch Wiki there is a list of Scandinavian Given Names. It tells you the gender for the various names, but does not explain whether the name is of Swedish, Finnish, Danish, Norwegian or Icelandic origin.


Comments: 8

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I'm actually a bit surprised that this document says that we are not sure what is the best way to distribute the names, since from the mailing list and other discussions I have gotten the impression that there is consensus in listing given names in the field "Proper First Name", clicking the "no middle name" and put the call name ("tilltalsnamn") in the "Preferred Name" field, if known.

So nothing special for example with Arvid Helge. "Proper First Name: Arvid Helge; Perferred Name: Helge".

posted by Per Starbäck
That may be because it hasn't been edited in over a year.
posted by Eva Ekeblad
You are right, it should probably be phrased a bit differently.

I just wanted to leave the option open for using a middle name for modern people.

On the other hand, since it became possible to turn off the warning for multiple names in the Given Names at Birth it may be best for all purposes to just put all given names in the first field and the call name in the preferred name field - making us all equal whether our call name comes first or in the middle.

posted by Eva Ekeblad
I think that is because in Sweden, what we might consider (or guess) is a "middle name" is not the same definition that they do in US for example. This is from English Wikipedia;

The term middle name does not refer to additional given names, which are instead referred to as given names. A middle name could be e.g. one's mother's maiden name or the last name of another recent ancestor (for instance a grandparent). One can have several middle names, but it is unusual to have more than one or two.

By this definition, a middle name is not one of the given names at birth.

posted by Maggie Andersson
edited by Maggie Andersson
Here is another example, not covered in the discussion: My father's name was Arvid Helge, in this order, but the name he used was Helge. My grandfather's name was Erik Harald, but the name he used was Harald. In both cases, the first name functioned as a middle name although they were placed first. I have therefore entered their first given names in the middle name field in their profiles, and entered the name they used in the fields for the proper first name and the preferred name.
posted by Per Erik Modén
I usually add all their given names at birth in the "proper first name field" because that is actually the names given at birth. Then I add they name they actually used in the "preferred name field". I do not use middle names at all since they did not exist in Sweden until modern times.

It used to be important for WikiTree search to add all given names to the first name field so searches could be done correctly, otherwise there could easily be duplicate profiles created for the same person but with one of the other given names at birth than the one already existing. The search has now been made better so it include the middle name field but I, personally, still think that all given names should go into "proper first name".

posted by Maggie Andersson
edited by Maggie Andersson
I don't think my responses to Per Starbäck's comment got sent to you, Per Erik and Maggie.

I realized from these two comments that the page hadn't been updated since May last year and could do with some modifications - most importantly since it has now become possible to permanently turn off the annoying warning for "There is more than one name in the given name field, should one of them be a middle name?"

The Swedish standard way is to do what Maggie and Per say: all names in the proper name field and call name in the preferred name field.

There is no need to use the middle name field, if it does not fit the structure of a modern Swedish name. I just wanted to keep the option of using the middle name field for modern Swedish names where it fits the structure.

WikiTree: where Swedes speak English to each other

posted by Eva Ekeblad
Hello! How do we do with people's names such as mine, Maria Helena. My name is Helena. I can't type Maria in the middle name as it is before Helena. I usually write Swedish names in the first name field, all of them, and then ignore the error alert. am I doing correct?
posted by Helena Hultén

Categories: Swedish Names