Swedish surnames

Patronymic and metronymic surnames.

In the early days of Swedish history, if people were using surnames, they used patronymic surnames, or in some rare cases metronymic surnames.

Patronymic surnames are when the child have their fathers name, directly followed by -son or -dotter (daughter). Children with metronymic surnames had their mothers name, followed by -son or -dotter, though metronymic surnames were not at all common.

Matronymic surnames were a little bit more common during the medieval times and were then sometimes used when the mother was of a higher social status, than the father. For an example, see the Danish king Svend Estridsen (Sweyn II Estridson).

Patronymic surnames was not inherited from a parent to a child and the wife kept her patronymic name when she married.

This continued until the 19th century, when first people in the Swedish towns started to adopt the patronymic name as a family name and later, at the end of the 19th and early 20th century, the people in the countryside also started to use their patronymic surname as family names.

In 1920, a law was adopted that wives should take their husbands family name and this law was effective until 1963, so that women should take their husbands family name is not at all a long tradition, allthough most woman who got married continued to take their husbands family name.

Today, you can see all variations; Wives taking their husbands family name, husbands taking their wives family name, husband and wife keep their respective family name or both of them creates a completely new family name and sometimes they reuse an older familyname from a grandparent.

The sons of Sven Andersson got the surname Svensson,
but his daughters got the surname Svensdotter.

Another example is Gustav Vasa, king of Sweden 1523-1560, who should really be written as Gustav Eriksson (Vasa), by using his fathers first name Erik in his patronymic surname. (Vasa) is referring to his family coat of arms, with a “vase”, a sheaf on it.

Nobility surnames

The nobility, as well as the commoners, used patronymic surnames. Erik Johansson (Vasa), the father of king Gustav Eriksson (Vasa) is one example, Lars Siggesson (Sparre) and Sten Turesson (Bielke) are other examples.

During the later part of the 16th century, the Swedish nobility started to use family names instead of patronymik surnames and about 1625-1626 it was mandated that the nobility should have family names instead of patronymic surnames.

Those early family names amoung the nobility was, for the most part, inspired of their coat of arms.

Clerikal surnames

The priests started using family names during the 17th century. Their names were often latinized, with the suffix -ius or -i, or the greec suffix -ander.

Petri, Laestadius or Colliander

The first part of the clerical family name often derived from the village where the priest was born. For example; The first Laestadius was a famers son from Lästa by, Johan Nilsson, who studied to become a priest and then changed his name to Johannes Nicolai Laestadius.

Most priests married priestdaughters or -widows and the wives kept their family names, after the marriage, but instead of using the suffixes -ius or -i, they often used -ia instead. For example; Sondelia or Walleria, instead of Sondelius or Wallerius.

Soldier surnames

Indelningsverket, the Swedish military allotment system, was created 1682, and consisted of a number of farms, that supported a soldier. When someone was approved to be a soldier, that man was given a soldier name. The soldier name was connected to the farm or allotment he lived on and if he was transfered to another company, he did not take the name with him, unless in a few very rare cases, but instead, he got a new soldier name, connected to the new allotment.

Also, when the soldiear was discharged, due to old age, sickness or something else, the new soldier on the allotment took over the soldier name, though often the old soldier was still known under his former soldier name, especially if he had been a soldier at the allotment (even called “rote”) for a very long time.
Example: “Förre soldaten Berg” = (the) Previous soldier Berg

Common soldier names were names like Modig (Brave), Rask (Quick), Svärd (Sword) or Örn (Eagle) or they could be created by the farm or village where the soldier lived as in Norman and Nordström (both from the village Norsjö).

Soldier names was normally not inherited by the soldiers children, they had patronymic surnames and the wife kept her name when they married.

In the northern part of Sweden, from about 1750 and later, many former soldiers migrated from the costal area in the east and went westwards to Pite Lappmark (Piteå Sami Area) and many of those former soldiers kept their soldier name as an addition to their patronymic surname and their children continued to keep their fathers and grandfathers former soldier name, which means that still today, a lot of those old soldier names has survived and still flourish.

In the late 19th century, the soldier names started to become family names and from then the children started to inherit the soldier names from their fathers.

Walloons and german blacksmiths

During the early 17th century, aproximately 1000-1200 Wallon family units immigrated from Wallonia in the south of Belgium, to Sweden, since their knowledge in mining and ironworking were needed by the Swedish government.

It might not sound like a lot of people, but their french names, although in some cases the names has been changed a little, are still present in Sweden. The reson why the names could survice for over 400 years in Sweden was partly due to the fact that the Walloons lived and worked at a number of Iron Mills, they worked together and at the beginning, they married within the group.

All miners and blacksmiths were not Walloons, many of them were in fact Germans, so a lot of people who think they are descendants from Walloons migth actually find out that their ancestors originated from Germany. The German blacksmith immigrants came in a greater number than the Walloons and some of their names has also survived into modern day Sweden.


Craftsmen often took family names, especially those who lived in larger villages and towns, but even craftsmen in smaller villages sometimes used family names instead of patronymic surnames. Example of craftsmen who took family names could be Millers and Tailors.


People in towns started to use family names earlier than the people on the countryside, mostly because it became difficult to keep track on the different Anders Johansson, when there could be five or six of them living on the same street.

Women with family names:

Most women who was born with a family name, such as daughters of priests and in the nobility, and also the walloon daughters, kept their familly name when they married. And women who had a patronymic surname, as Carlsdotter, Johansdotter and so on, kept their name when they got married.

There are a few exeptions and that is when a woman married a man with better status than herself, when she sometimes took his family name as hers.

In very rare cases, a woman could take her own family name. A woman who moved to a large town, where there were many women with the same Christian name and patronymic name as hers, she could then choose to use a family name instead, even though this was not very common.

An example of a woman who took her own family name is a case I have among my own ancestors: Cajsa (Larsdotter) Wallgren, who was born as a daughter to a tenant, but became a Housekeeper to Major Nils Klockenfelt (with whom she got at least 7 children, without them ever getting married).

© Yvonne Carlsson

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