Swedish soldier names for enlisted soldiers
While most of the farming population of Sweden still used patronymic names very late in time, up towards 1900, the sons that became soldiers in the allotment system were assigned surnames as they were enrolled.
This page aims to explain the naming practices for enlisted soldiers. Officers usually were nobility, or at least followed naming patterns more in line with the nobility.
The soldier did not own his surname
The most important fact about the Swedish soldier names is that these names were not the personal property of the soldier, and thus they were not inheritable. The name belonged to the numbered position in the company, and served the purpose to make each soldier easy to identify and command during drills and wartime duty.
When one soldier died or was dismissed, the next soldier was given the same name, as a general rule. So, having the same name does not prove they were related. When the name corresponding to a given number was changed, as occasionally happened, the new name seems to have replaced the old one permanently.
A soldier that was honourably dismissed usually kept his soldier name until he died. This does make you a bit suspicious about the ones who went back to their patronymic. (They were not necessarily black sheep, but you wonder.)
Soldiers' names as Last Name at Birth
The fact that soldier names were assigned upon enrollment means that the soldier was not born with this name.
You should be cautious about assigning these names as Last Name at Birth, since in most cases a soldier was born with a patronymic rather than a family surname. Unfortunately it can be quite hard to figure out who was the father of a soldier when he is only in the church records with his children as Johan Krut, never as Johan Andersson Krut, as an example. It does not make for easier going that soldiers often came from a neighbouring parish.
Soldiers who came from a family with an actual family name, like, for example, a smith family were also, as a rule, assigned the soldier name linked to their number in the company. (As with any rule there are exceptions).
You should also be cautious about assigning the soldier's name to his children as LNAB. The 19th century, however, was a major period of transition in Swedish naming practices and many children did use their father's soldier name as they moved from home. In any case, sources are paramount.
Which names are soldier's names?
Since the soldier name served the purpose to make each soldier easy to identify and command during drills and wartime duty the names were often short and catchy, often warlike: Lans (lance), Svärd (sword), Skott (shot), Pil (arrow), Krut (gunpowder), Dolk (dagger) and so on. A company was about 150 men, so there would be 150 different names. Some of them could be in use in the next company of the same regiment (where they would not be confusing the orders).
Different regiments had different habits of name choice; some could be very inventive. Apart from the short and snappy names like Stolt (proud), Stark (strong), Glad (merry) and Frisk (healthy) there would also be names of the typical Swedish composite kind, based on features of nature and/or location names like Bergström or Vetterskog. This latter type was also frequently adopted by the common folk as they went to town or became industrial workers; these are, of course not as easily recognized as soldier's names when that is what they are.
A case study of infantry soldiers
The fourteen numbered positions for the allotment soldiers in Skinnskatteberg parish - infantry soldiers in Bergs Kompani, Västmanlands Regemente - are fairly typical as soldier's names. There are the short snappy ones: Falk, Kvist, Holm, Frisk, Svan, Berg, Uggla, Kuse, Bark, Björk, Brun, Konstig and the composite ones: Alström, Lindgren, Forsman, Bergström, Ramström, Björnberg, Blomfält, Östman. There is one location based name, Wetterskog. Most of the positions have had at least one name change in the 200 years covered. From the way these name changes were written into the muster rolls, it seems as if they mostly occurred on request from the soldier (in this regiment ).
The case of Petter Björnbom illustrates the fact that names belonged with the number and the soldier's croft rather than the soldier himself. He started out as #58 Holm, but was replaced on that number during his absence as a prisoner of war in Pomerania, so that when he returned he was transferred to #63 Björnbom.
The case of Henrik Jansson Falk is one of the cases illustrating the fact that soldier sons did not automatically get the father's soldier name. He had two soldier sons: Erik Henriksson Björnbom and Henrik Henriksson Brun.
- Experience with Swedish genealogy will sooner or later familiarize the researcher with the principles for soldier names. Primary records - church records and military records - are available as scanned images at Riksarkivet SVAR (free of charge) and Arkiv Digital (subscription site).
- The article by Ingela Martenius on Swedish Names and Naming Conventions, available in pdf format at the Sweden page of FamilySearch Wiki, is very good, and contains a section on soldier names.
- If you suspect that you have found an ancestor with a soldier name you should do a search in Soldatregistret. The database is extensive but not entirely complete. There is also the caveat that some soldier names are also surnames for families who were never soldiers. If you are uncertain, ask in the G2G forum with the tags SWEDEN and NAMING_CONVENTIONS.
- Skinnskatteberg allotment soldiers
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