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How to enter Norwegian Names in WikiTree

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Norway Project Naming Conventions

This page was created on 6 February 2019, when the text was moved from the Project Norway FAQ to the current page. Note that in 2018, these guidelines were changed and brought into line with the Danish and Swedish policies. See the G2G disussion: Name guidance updated in Project Norway FAQ.
The main change in policy was to abandon the Farm name as Last Name At Birth (LNAB) in favor of the historically more correct usage of Patronym as LNAB, and instead put the Farm name in Current and/or Other Last Name(s) as appropriate.

Common Concepts

Here follows a brief introduction to how a Norwegian Pre-1900 name can be deconstructed.

What's a patronym?

If you look at a random page of 19th century Norwegian baptisms, you'll see that the column called "Barnets Fulde Navn" - The Child's Full Name - only shows the given name. There is no surname. Instead, people were called by their given name and the "patronym", a Greek word literally meaning "father's name". The first child shown on the page above, Hans, son of "Huusmand" Johannes Hansen Skibsnæss and Maria Arvesdatter, would be called Hans Johannesen. The next child, Kirsten, daughter of "Huusmand" Hans Helgesen Tveten and Maren Olsdatter, would be called Kirsten Hansdatter.
Such was the custom in Norway, as in the other Scandinavian countries. If the father was Ole Nielsen, his son's name might be Lars Olsen (literally "Ole's son"). His daughter might be Olava Olsdatter ("Ole's daughter"). Yes, the son and daughter had slightly different last names. The patronymic naming practice died out mostly during the 19th century, first among the upper strata of the urban population, slowly percolating downwards and outwards. It was abolished altogether with the new Names Act of 1923, when inherited surnames became mandatory. Norway was the last of the Scandinavian countries to abandon patronyms, while the Icelanders are still using them.

What do you mean by Farm Name?

The "farm name" is a location, often a farm or small community. You can see the farm names in the example above of the fathers Johannes Hansen Skibsnæss and Hans Helgesen Tveten. Those were primarily addresses, and would change if and when the family moved elsewhere.
This location statement was often used by migrants arriving in America to identify themselves and differentiate one Olsen from another. It became common practice, particularly in the United States, to adopt this as a "surname". But it would be wrong to assume that it was ever thought of as a surname by individuals of a culture to whom the entire concept of "surnames" was utterly foreign. The modern idea of using the Farm name as a kind of "surrogate surname" in genealogy is mostly an American invention, and at odds with historical facts.
Eventually, Norwegians staying in the home country would also convert their farm names to surnames. This didn't really take hold with the rural population until early 20th century. During the late 19th century many took their farm names from home as fixed surnames, sometimes with outlandish spellings, if they moved to town. That was particularly the case for sons of affluent farmers who had some education. Lower class people who went to town usually stuck to their patronyms.

Cognomens, Bynames & Monikers

There's a third class of "Not Surnames" applied by pre-1900 Norwegians. In an urban environment with Olsens galore and no farm names, an auxiliary identifier was often needed. So, people could be named by their profession, by their place of origin, or some other characteristic. Common for all of them is that, even if they stuck to persons for the rest of their lives, they never were passed on to the next generation, which of course is the first requirement for calling it a surname. If you find a "Jon Smed" in a Norwegian parish register, you can rest assured that he actually was a smith, and hadn't inherited the name from an ancestor. As mentioned above under the discussion of Farm names, a person might bring his farm name with him to town, but until late 19th century they were always attached to the individual, not to the family. Sometimes that can be very confusing, when you for example find a guy like Niels Pedersen (1719 - 1781) called "Molhougen", the name of a farm about a ten minutes walk away, living on the Western shore in the small town of Porsgrunn for most of his life. None of his children were ever called "Molhougen", again proof that it wasn't considered inheritable.

Real Surnames

A tiny fraction of Norwegians actually had real surnames, passed on from father to son. They were almost without exception descendants of immigrants, and usually were rather upper class, like officers, merchants, and pastors. They're also the darlings of genealogists. If you find what looks like a genuine surname attached to your Norwegian ancestor, just search for it on the Web. You're almost certain to find a detailed description somewhere.
Among early surname adopters should also be mentioned the new urban middle-class citizens: small merchants, sea captains, and master craftsmen, who could wield family names even in the 18th century. Quite often those were frozen patronyms, and it may be a challenge to find out if a "Captain Nielsen" is the son of a Niels Olsen, or of a Ole Nielsen. You may also come across what looks like double patronyms for this class, like "Niels Olsen Nielsen" for our skipper, being son of a Ole Nielsen. This class frequently took surnames not previously documented in their families.

General Guidelines

The convention for Norwegian names before the adoption of surnames can be a complex topic for non-Norwegian genealogists (and even for Norwegians). However, the overwhelming part of the population were mainly known by their patronyms. Even people with real surnames were frequently recorded by their given name and patronym only.
Note that records were generally not written by the individual concerned. They were written by civil servants, mostly clergy. They were either Danish or had their education in Denmark, and wrote in Danish. Thus there are variations in names of a person depending on the record concerned. In parish records, you may often see that names changed with a new pastor, "Karen" becoming "Kari", or "Tellev" changing to "Tollef". Generally, names would be written with a distinctly Danish spelling. The male name "Sveinung" may be spelled as anything ranging from "Svenum" to "Svenning". It's impossible to give general rules as to how names "should" be written. Use common sense, and avoid extreme forms. The spellings found in the 1801 census are usually good candidates for "standard" name forms.
It should be mentioned that "th" in Norwegian doesn't signify a distinct sound as it does in English. A name like "Thor" is phonetically equivalent to "Tor". The h is silent and only serves as decoration in the written form. Because "TH" and "T" have different Soundex values, it may be prudent to omit the silent h in Norwegian names.
The most Norwegian name of them all, Ole, requires some special consideration. It's arguably the same name as the old Norse Olafr, and has mostly been pronounced "Ola". Some Bygdebok authors have consistently used either "Olav" or "Olaf" where the church records have "Ole". Whether this is objectively "correct" or not, is open for debate. But if you want to keep your Norwegian ancestors visible for potential matches and merges (which you should, if you have signed the WikiTree Honor Code), you'll do well in sticking to the most common spellings, which are mostly the ones you'll find in the original records. The patronymic forms should be entered as Olsen and Olsdatter, or at your discretion, Olson and Olsdotter. These forms are recognized by the system as the same name, while eg. Olavsdatter isn't.
The Wikitree convention is to use the name that the person was known by at birth for the LNAB. These can often be found in the family records and family books. A good source for records is at the Digital Archives Norway.
Norwegian names tend to use a three-part naming system:
  • First name: all given names
  • Patronymic: Olsdatter, Svendsen, Nielsen etc, showing the given name of their father
  • Farm name: the name of the farm where they were born or lived – this would change when people moved, but is often the name that can best be used to find a person’s origin. Be aware, though, that many farm names (eg. Dal, Fjell, Nes, Vik) are extremely common, and can be found all over the country.

Specific Fields

There has been much discussion on the unique characteristics of Norwegian naming and how it should be entered in to WikiTree. This standard deviates from some other genealogy platforms but for WikiTree, it has been determined that the best overall standard for entering Norwegian names is:

Proper First Name

All given names should be placed in the First Name at Birth field, e.g. Christiana Marie. Norwegians rarely used middle names in the American sense. Please ignore the "Unusual Data" warning in this context. There's nothing unusual with multiple first names. And, if you're working a lot with European profiles, you may want to turn off the warning about "More than one name in the First Name field". Go to My WikiTree->Settings, and at the bottom just click the check box for "Disable Middle Name Warning for First Name field".

Preferred Name

If there is more than one first name, the preferred one may be put here. If left blank, it will be filled automatically with the contents of the field above.

Last Name at Birth (LNAB)

The Patronym as LNAB is the default rule for most Norwegians born before the legal requirements for surnames. Even if you're unsure if the person had a real surname, putting the patronym here is erring on the side of caution. However, there are distinct differences between the urban and the rural populations. In general, urban profiles from before 1814, and rural profiles from before 1923, should have the patronym as LNAB. The exceptions are:
  • if no patronym can be found, and/or if the subject or their immediate ancestors were immigrants to Norway and carried the culture of fixed surnames with them.
  • If a person is mentioned in contemporary sources mainly by an inherited surname, rather than by patronym, use of the proper surname may be warranted.
Rather than using the common abbreviations for patronyms found in records (eg. Olsdtr), the full name (Olsdatter) must be entered. This is important, because the system currently doesn't recognize that an "Olsdtr" and an "Olsdatter" may be the same person. Hence using abbreviated names will hide the profile from potential matches. Whether you will use "-datter" or "-dotter" is optional, as "-sen", "-son", and "-sson" are interchangeable for males.
Many Norwegian profiles are created with an LNAB consisting of Patronym + Farm name, like "Olsen Berg". This has the unfortunate effect that neither the Patronym nor the Farm name will show up in searches or as possible matches, and is strongly discouraged.
When no patronym is known, which is often the case for early 17th century farmers, it's usually better to use the farm name than Unknown. See for instance Lars Gisholt. On the other hand, when not even a place of living is really known, you should rather use Unknown. See Anne Andersdatter "Aadna"'s first two husbands.

Current/Married last Name

For most Norwegians before 1923 this would be the farm name where they spent the most time in their life or the last part of their life. For the urban population before about 1814, the CLN field will often be the best place to put family names; see the discussion under LNAB above.
For women who adopted a husband's surname, enter it here. Note that very few women took their husband's last name, and they never took their husband's patronym as their last name.
For Norwegians who emigrated to countries where inherited surnames were used (USA, Canada, Australia etc.) enter the surname they adopted here.

Other Last Names

If they used more than one farm name in their lifetime, the farm names not used in Current Last Name would go here. There could be several. Separate by commas, as in "Fjell, Berg, Dal".
If you don't like the thought of your ancestor being somehow "married" to the farm, you may of course enter even the primary farm name in this field. The expression "Ole Berg formerly Olsen" as found on the main Profile screen may look disturbing, and some people prefer "Ole Olsen aka Berg" which more closely follows the historical custom. The flip side is of course that the Other name will never be seen anywhere but on the main Profile screen. It doesn't matter much for practical purposes either way, if you follow the main rule of "Patronym as LNAB".

Middle Name

This field should not be used for most Norwegians prior to the adoption of inherited surnames. For modern Norwegians who now use a middle name it may be entered here. The idiosyncratic American custom of hiding the middle name usually doesn't apply to Norwegians, so if you want your own middle name to be visible at all times, there's no choice but to make it part of your first name.

Biography

Record the full names as given in important sources, with source references, at the start of the biography. This will help us when it comes to rationalizing and merging profiles.

Further Reading

A thorough discussion on Norwegian naming, with many good links, can be found on the Norwegian Names page at www.norwaydna.no. Note that this article does not use the WikiTree standard. It suggest Farm Name as LNAB but this is not the standard in WikiTree.
If you're still, after reading this page, in doubt about how to enter a Norwegian name, don't hesitate to ask a question in the G2G Forum, and please tag your question with "Norway".




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Comments: 13

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Author Ole Edvart Rolvaag (Rolvaag-4), born in Norway as Ole Edvart Pedersen, came to United States, took the surname Rolvaag from a place near his birthplace. His novel "Giants in the Earth" was based on his experiences. In it the characters have an interesting discussion about changing their names. It's too long to post here, but I did post it as a comment on his profile. You might enjoy reading it.

https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Rolvaag-4

posted by Joyce Vander Bogart
edited by Joyce Vander Bogart
I think I'll just take a couple of paracetamol and have a lie down lol.
posted by Rolf Kolvik
What do you do with more than two first names? I'm doing my husband's ancestry, and being American, I just thought the first name was the first name and all the others were "middle" names.

For example, how would I enter Josef Frantz Caspar Frantsen Landgraff? Would his first name be ALL of the names before Landgraff? (His ancestors came to Norway from Germany, so kept the surname, even though he was born in 1823.) I have several like this on my husband's maternal grandmother's side, as they were all fairly upper class.

Please read the paragraph called "Proper First Name" above, which explains that all given names should go in that field. Until quite recently, middle name was a foreign concept in Norway, and it's stll rarely used. In your example,

"Fransen" is a patronym, and not a given name. I guess that "Landgraff" was a heritable family name, so if the father was a documented Landgraff too, that is what should be put in the Last Name At Birth, at least as late as 1823. (The 18th century saw far less proper surnames in Norway, and far more emphasis on patronyms, even among the upper strata.)

As there is no dedicated field for patronyms, we usually put that in the LNAB field. But when there's a fixed family name, the best (or least troublesome) place to put the patronym may be in the Middle Name field, if it has been documented that it has actually been used. You see, it's hard to put round pegs into square holes :) But, as they say, let the sources decide.

regards, Leif

posted by Leif Biberg Kristensen
edited by Leif Biberg Kristensen
Thank you! I had read it, but wasn't sure with such a long string of names what to do. I will have to check on whether Landgraff was passed down from their emigration from Germany, fairly certain it was.

And yes, lots of round pegs and square holes on my husband's side, it seems. But I'll figure it out! Thanks so much for your kind help.

I have some ancestors from Germany and what I've observed is that the long string of names was quite common, and which name in the string was their "everyday" name followed no consistent rule. In fact the list gets shuffled from source to source even in the church records. I'm just mentioning that as it justifies putting the whole long string in "First name".
posted by Bjørnar Tuftin
I do see that more on the German side of my husband's ancestry, for sure. And it does make a good justification for putting them all in that "First name" box.

I find inconsistencies, too, in which of the long string of first names comes first, second, etc. Whew! No wonder my in-laws didn't give my husband a middle name at all!

posted by Stacy (Smith) Aannestad
edited by Stacy (Smith) Aannestad
One comment on the statement " [Wives] never took their husband's patronym as their last name". This is of course true in rural areas where she carried her own partonym all life (+ farm name). So it is true as long as the patronym tradition existed.

But at some time these -sen names "became familiy names" [aka frozed partonymic]: Example: when moving to cities like Christiania, it may well happen that Anne Andersdatter and Hans Olsen and their children are all listed in census with family name Olsen. This happened typically last part of 18xx-1900, but may happen also earlier as well as later, and depending on district/size of city and more.

One may say that first Olsen became a family name, and then wife and children took this as their family name. Only in this sense the statement that wives never took husbands patronym as their last name is true.

posted by Anonymous Kristiansen
edited by Anonymous Kristiansen
There are of course no rules without exceptions, and in particular in the late 1800s, what you describe is a rather common pattern. But the practice should be determined by what the sources say. Hint: What does the burial record for the woman say about her "surname"? I'm seeing way too often that male patronyms are indiscriminately assigned to married women by inexperienced genealogists, here and elsewhere.

I've got an example where it actually may look like a woman took her husband's patronym as a surname, see Pernille Pedersdatter (1785-1847), who remarries in 1820 as "Enke Madame Pernille Abrahamsen 35 aar af Borgerclassen i vestre Porsgrund" (note 5). But as her late husband Isach Abrahamsen was a merchant captain, he was entitled to a proper surname. He had already taken his patronym as a surname in the modern sense, and "Abrahamsen" became a fixed surname in this family from that moment on. Again, it's what the sources tell us that should determine how we handle the names of our forebears.

posted by Leif Biberg Kristensen
edited by Leif Biberg Kristensen
I fully agree to your statement " way too often that male patronyms are indiscriminately assigned to married women by inexperienced genealogists, here and elsewhere". Also too often a father's own patronym is assiged to an (unmarried) daughter. One problem is of course that "LNAB" is not really existing existing in old Norwegian sources like church book. As a general rule daughter of Hans Olsen should be registered with Hansdatter as LNAB. This will really help us avoid duplicates. I have seen so many duplicated of same person on other genealogy web pages, and I am really glad wikitree has the rules and policites they have to avoid such confusing duplicates.
posted by Anonymous Kristiansen
I am happy this post was made and I was able to locate it when I needed it. I am now working on a Norwegian branch and this answered many of my questions. I am happy to see that sen/son datter/dotter are recognized as the same name. Now realizing that I need to change a surname or two sen/son was going to be my next issue. Crisis averted!
posted by Justin Jacobs
Thanks for this well written guidance. I'll go in and edit the many Norwegian profiles I manage. In some cases, this will change their Wiki-ID though, since I'll change the LNAB to patronym rather than farm name.

Is that Ok? Will use the determined convention moving forward.

I support this decision by the Wiki team, but it does get confusing because some of the Church books do start to tack on their farm names after Patronym name.

posted by Jennie Skancke
At least for a Norwegian (like myself) I can easily see what is a patronym and what is a place/ farm name (the problem is more to read the handwriting). Note that not only is Olsdatter sometimes written Olsd. or Olsdtr, but also Olsen is written Ols.

Tip: In the digital versions at digitalarkivet.no the farm name is recorded in a separate entry "Bosted" (bosted= place of living = farm name). see an arbitrary Ole Olsen in 1799 here: https://www.digitalarkivet.no/view/255/pd00000042648256.

I have learnt the lesson that when adding a son/daughter one need to be extra careful, since the system automatically assume "same LNAB", and this is not true for patronyms or course.

posted by Anonymous Kristiansen
edited by Anonymous Kristiansen