Friday, February 4, 2011

Swedish Name Changes

The New York Times published a fascinating article the other day about Swedish couples changing their last names when they married. Andersson met Karlsson but who wants to be "Andersson-Karlsson" these days? Swedes are going back to earlier family names or just making names up.

The article went on:

"In most cases, couples adopt a new name for the same reasons the Wetterlunds did: to rebel against the hegemony of traditional Swedish surnames ending in “-son” — Johansson, Andersson and Karlsson being the most common. And it does not end there. Of the 100 most common names here, 42 end in “-son.”

"Sweden abounds in names ending in “-son” because of an old Nordic practice, before hereditary surnames were introduced, of using the father’s first name, and the suffix “-son” for a son, or “-dotter” for a daughter"

As someone who changed her own name ten years ago from Wilson to Sjoholm, I have long been interested in Scandinavian naming practices and learned a great deal about them when I was traveling in the maritime countries of the North Atlantic. I wrote about some of these practices in The Pirate Queen, a travel-history of women and the sea.

My father's Swedish grandparents were Svanssons (he was adopted by the Wilsons), so another -son ending wasn't very inspirational. I chose instead a Swedish place-based name, Sjoholm, meaning sea island (or lake island). Now I find I was right in line with contemporary Swedish practice.

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