North Germanic personal name

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A North Germanic personal name can consist of a first name , patronymic or surname . The term North Germanic refers to the Scandinavian languages including Icelandic names .


Traditional nicknames

Two-part nicknames

The old North Germanic nicknames were often two-part. That is, the name was made up of two parts, with each term being a noun or adjective . This custom did not only exist among the ancient North Germans , but also among the Goths , the old West Germans , Greeks , Slavs and Celts .

Common Old Norse names included god names or designations for higher powers. Examples (in Old West Norse form):

  • Ás- (from áss , "God", see also Åsa and Ase )
  • Guð- (from guð , "God")
  • Ragn-
  • Þór- (from the name of the god Þórr , " Thor ")
  • Frey- (from the name of the goddess Freyja )

These members of the name were often combined with words that meant "protector" or "protected", such as -mundr , -bjǫrg and -gerðr . Examples: Ásmundr (man's name), Ásbjǫrg (woman's name)

Other North Germanic names refer to the war, in men's and women's names. Examples of name members:

  • Gunn- ( gunnr "fight")
  • Víg- ( víg "fight")
  • -hild ( hildr "fight")
  • Sig- ( sigr "victory")
  • Geir- und -geirr ( geirr "Speer")
  • Hjǫr- ( hjǫrr "sword")
  • -brandr ( brandr "sword")
  • Odd- ( oddr "arrow")

In the same area refer to names like

  • -ríkr ("mighty")
  • -marr ("famous")
  • -valdr ("ruler")

Some members of the name are derived from animal names:

  • -bjǫrn- ("bear")
  • -ulf- ("wolf")
  • -arn- ("eagle")
  • -rafn- ("raven")

Examples of two-part first names: Gunnhildr (F), Hildigunnr (F), Arnulfr (M), Oddbjǫrn (M), Þórgerðr (F), Þórvaldr (M),

Single name names

In addition to the two-part names, there were also single-part nicknames. Examples: Dagr , Finnr , Jarl , Karl , Steinn , Sveinn , Ulfr . These one-part call names could also be used as the name member of two-part call names, such as B. in Dagfinnr (M), Steinhildr (F), Þórsteinn (M).

Meaning of the nicknames

Only a few of the traditional Old Norse nicknames have a meaning or can be translated. In some cases you can find a meaning in a nickname, such as B. in Gunnarr ( reconstructed Umordian form * Gunþa-harjaR ), which means something like "devastating in battle". However, most names are mechanically composed of individual parts and have no real meaning. So there is no point in searching for the meaning of e.g. B. to ask Arnviðr , which is composed of Arn- ("eagle") and -viðr ("tree").


Before the introduction of Christian first names, there were several ways to choose first names:

  • Two-part names were formed by the fact that an older relative inherited one of his two parts of the name.
Example: In a Swedish runic inscription, a father is called Frøystæin , his two sons are called Hastæin and Holmstæin . So here the second part of the name, -stæin , was passed on.
Example: An Icelander in the Landnámabók (Book of Settlement of Iceland ) was called Þórbjörn (with the nickname Laxakarl ), his sons were named Oddkell , rórkell and Þórgils . Þórgils had a daughter named Oddkatla who had a daughter named Þórkatla . So here the first name parts Þór- , Odd- and -kell were passed on ( -kell is the male form, -katla the female).
  • Select another option, a family name, which was alliteration (alliteration). The members of a family had given names whose first sound was similar or the same. However, this custom disappeared as early as the Viking Age (approx. 800-1050).
Example: The brothers Anund and Emund
Example: Warin (father) and Wæmoð (son) on the Rök rune stone from the 9th century.
  • A third possibility was to name it after older relatives. The whole first name of a deceased relative was reused. In Christian times, children could also be named after living relatives.

In later times, certain naming rules arose in some areas of Scandinavia. These rules saw e.g. For example, suppose that the eldest son was given the first name of his paternal grandfather and the second oldest son was given the first name of his maternal grandfather. In most cases, this rule only applied if the original bearer of the name (i.e. the grandfather) had already died. The other sons got the first names of other deceased relatives. A similar rule applied to the daughters; they got their first names from their grandmothers. In other parts of Scandinavia, in Norway , the rule was that the eldest son was given the first name of the father. These naming rules meant that only a few first names came into question and the number of first names used decreased. This hereditary name custom was in use among the Swedish rural population until the 19th century.

Celtic nicknames

In the Norse era, first names were almost always native. In Iceland , some first names were used, which were borrowed from the Celtic , since many Norwegian colonists in Iceland did not come directly from Norway, but from Scotland and Ireland (see also History of Ireland (800–1536) ). Examples:

  • Kjartan
  • Kodran
  • Kormákr
  • Njáll
  • Brigitta


In Old Norse times, some Scandinavians had, in addition to their first name and patronymic , an epithet that referred to the characteristics or deeds of the wearer. These surnames could become first names. Examples:

  • The Icelander Snorri goði (963 to 1031) was given the first name Þórgrímr as a child , after his father, who had died before the child was born. But he received the nickname Snerrir and later the nickname Snorri , by which he became known.
  • Around the year 1000 there lived an Icelander named Þorðr kǫttr ("Þorðr cat"). His son was a skald and was called Stúfr hinn blindi Kattarsunr ("Stúfr, the blind, son of the cat"). Here the father's name ( Kattarsunr ) reflects the father's nickname, not the first name.
  • In the late ninth century, according to stories, there was a man who emigrated to Iceland from Moster in Hordaland. Originally he was called Hrolfr , but was later called Þórolfr because he worshiped the North Germanic god Þórr ( Thor ).

Christian first names

In the time of the Reformation, the old native or pagan first names in Scandinavia were only used in remote rural areas and in Iceland . First names of Christian origin, i.e. names of biblical persons or saints, were predominant . The Christian first names were adapted to the native languages ​​of the time.

Examples of male names:

  • Anders , Andres (= Andreas )
  • Kristen , Krister (= Christian )
  • Johan , Jon , Jens , Hans (= Johannes )
  • Morten (= Martin )
  • Niels , Klaus (= Nicholas )
  • Peder , Per (= Peter )

Examples of women's names:

  • Anne , Ann (= Anna )
  • Katrine , Trine , Karen (= Katharina )
  • Kerstin , Kristi (= Christina )
  • Margret , Margrit , Grete (= Margareta )
  • Mari (= Maria )

Old, non-Christian names only remained common if they reminded of kings or saints who also bore these names. Examples are:

  • Ola (Norwegian) and Olof (Swedish) (= Olav )
  • Järker (= Erik )
  • Knud (Danish) (= Knut )

In Norway, many priests in the centuries after the Reformation rejected traditional Norwegian first names because they felt they were too pagan. A priest in Ulvik (Hardanger) wrote in 1744 that in the past priests refused to baptize children with pagan names, so that these names are now extinct.

Low German first names

With the Low German influence in Scandinavia, Low German first names also came into the Scandinavian languages. Examples: Fritz , Gotfried , Karsten , Lennart , Sivert .

Double first names

In the 16th and 17th centuries, the custom of giving children not one, but two first names, spread among the royal houses and the nobility . For example, the children of Charles XI were called. of Sweden : Gustav Adolf , Karl Filip and Maria Elisabeth. This custom was adopted by the rural population towards the end of the 19th century.

Nordic Renaissance

In the 17th and 18th centuries, ancient Scandinavian history and literature were rediscovered in Scandinavia. Interest in this peaked towards the end of the 19th century. See also Norwegian National Romanticism . Representatives of the Nordic Renaissance were the writers Adam Oehlenschläger and Nikolai Grundtvig in Denmark, Esaias Tegnér and Viktor Rydberg in Sweden and Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson and Henrik Ibsen in Norway. The Nordic Renaissance led to the spread of old Scandinavian first names.

Men's names (examples from Norway):

  • Torsten
  • Haakon , Håkon
  • Fridtjof
  • Torbjørn
  • Einar
  • Harald
  • Gunnar
  • Sigurd
  • Sverre
  • Kåre
  • Hjalmar

Women's names (examples from Norway):

  • Dagny
  • Signe
  • Hallgerd
  • Solveig
  • Ingeborg
  • Synnøve
  • Borghild
  • Dagmar
  • Gudrun
  • Helga
  • Ingrid
  • Ragnhild

When the Danish Prince Carl ascended the throne in Norway in 1905, he changed his name to Håkon ( Håkon VII of Norway ). His son Alexander (who became Crown Prince) changed his name to Olav (who later became King Olav V of Norway ).

The Old Scandinavian names, which came from literature, had roughly an Old Norse form. However, some of these names had remained in use in some rural areas of Norway since the Old Norse. The names had gone along with the changes in the languages ​​and changed aloud. So today there are some Old Norse names in two forms: in a literary Old Norse form and in a vernacular form. Examples (first the literary variant, then the vernacular Norwegian):

  • Olav - Ola , Ole
  • Sigrid - Siri
  • Gudrun - Guro
  • Gudrid - Guri
  • Torgeir - Tarje

The literary variants of the Old Norse first names were only based on the Old Norse first names, they were not identical with them. The modern Norwegian first names Olav and Gudrun come from the Old Norse first names Ólafr and Guðrún, respectively . The following simplifications were made when adopting the Norwegian written form:

After 1900, the non-literary (i.e. the vernacular) old Scandinavian first names became more popular in Norway. Examples:

  • Kjell
  • Door
  • Åke
  • Jorunn
  • Randi

20th century

In the 20th century, many foreign names came to Scandinavia through the mass media .

In 1920 the five most common women's names in Sweden were: Karin , Margrit , Brita , Greta and Ingrid . In 1950 the most common male names at Uppsala University were : Erik , Lars , Per , Anders and Olof .

The decline in binding to the churches meant that increasingly nicknames and diminutives ( diminutives ) official baptismal names were such. B. Bibi , Gitte , Dudde , Gunna , Lolo , Jytte , Tessa .


Early modern age

In the Middle Ages , fixed, heritable surnames were still rare in Scandinavia. In 1526 the Danish King Frederik I ordered that the Danish nobility should adopt fixed, inheritable surnames. In 1626 there was a similar order from the Swedish King Gustav Adolf for the Swedish nobility. Most of the surnames that emerged were a kind of coat of arms , e.g. B. the Danish surnames Rosenkrans (in German "Rosenkranz") and Gyldenstierne (in German "Goldstern"). If z. For example, if a noble family in Sweden owned a coat of arms with a lily and a hawk , they could give themselves the surname Liliehöök ("lily hawk "). Another family in Sweden was called Krook , "Haken", after the town of Kroksbygd in Småland ; when the family became noble, they called themselves Gyllenkrook ("gold hook"). Others of these surnames contained references to places, e.g. B. Ehrenborg or Stråle af Sjöared . After around 1700, surnames became more common among the bourgeois upper class under the influence of the nobility.

Scholarly surnames

Academics, especially the clergy , adopted Latin names, also elsewhere in Europe, e.g. B. Olaus Petri instead of Olof Petersson ("Olof, son of Peter"). Some of these names became surnames in the 17th century. Examples:

  • Arctander ("man from the north", last name of a family from northern Norway)
  • Bartholin - "Bertelsen"
  • Fabritius ("blacksmith")
  • Pontoppidan ("bridge city", translation of the Danish place name Broby )
  • Celsius ("hill")
  • Molander ("son of the miller")
  • Nobelius (derived from the Swedish place name Nöbbelöv )

See also family name , section Humanist names .

Decrease in Latin endings in Sweden

In the 18th century the learned surnames became rarer, especially after the very popular satire by Ludvig Holberg Erasmus Montanus (1722; first performance; Copenhagen 1747). The main character of this satire is the Danish farmer's son Rasmus Berg, who calls himself Erasmus Montanus after his studies . Among other things, this satire targets his Latin phrases and his scholastic rhetoric .

In the 18th century, the Latin endings of surnames were often dropped in Sweden, so that these surnames were given a French form. Examples:

  • Nobelius became Nobel
  • Odelius became Odel
  • Linnæus became Linnaeus
  • Dalinus became Dalin
  • Troilius was from Troil

Natural ornamentation in Swedish surnames

In the 17th century, two-part surnames with natural motifs became popular among the Swedish bourgeoisie. Examples:

  • Palmgren ("palm branch")
  • Rosenqvist ("rose branch")
  • Sjöberg ("sea rocks")
  • Lindström ("Lindenstrom")
  • Strindberg ("Berg bei Strinne", after a Swedish place Strinne )

Craft names as surnames

Craft occupation names were rarely used as surnames in Scandinavia. The few examples that exist are of foreign origin:

Last names become mandatory

In 1771 a law was passed in Schleswig , according to which all residents should have surnames. This law was extended to the entire Kingdom of Denmark in 1828 , but met opposition. In Norway and Sweden , rural populations had not adopted surnames until the late 19th century.

Farm names as surnames

In some areas of Scandinavia, especially in Norway , Dalarna (Sweden) and Österbotten (Finland), there was a custom of using the name of his farm as a surname.

Patronymic as surname

When people were forced to adopt a surname (e.g. because they emigrated to America), they often chose the patronymic . In Danish it had an ending in -sen and in Swedish in -son (e.g. Pedersen or Petersson ; "son of Peter"). This type of surname led to a low diversity of surnames, because the underlying male names were not very diverse either (see above, section on naming ). In the 19th century, for example, one in three Danes had a surname ending with -sen . In 1958, two out of five Swedes had a last name ending with -son . The most common Swedish surname was Andersson in 1958 : of around 7 million Swedes, around 380,000 (around 5%) had this surname.

In Sweden the most common surnames were:

  1. Andersson (from Anders , "Andreas")
  2. Johansson (from Johan , "Johannes")
  3. Karlsson (from Karl )
  4. Nilsson (from Nils , "Nikolaus")
  5. Eriksson (by Erik )
  6. Larsson (from Lars , "Laurentius")
  7. Olsson (from Olof , "Olaf")
  8. Pettersson (from Petter , "Peter")
  9. Svensson (by Sven )
  10. Persson (from Per , "Peter")

After the surname, in brackets are the first names from which these surnames are derived, including a German equivalent.

Swedish naming law of 1963

A naming law was passed in Sweden in 1963, which should lead to a greater variety of surnames. Anyone who had a surname that could easily be confused with other surnames was allowed to change their surname. You were not allowed to use any existing surnames.

Exception Iceland

In the late 19th century, the Icelandic independence movement spoke out in favor of retaining the traditional naming (see also History of Iceland ). In this naming tradition there were no surnames, only first names and patronymic. Examples: Helga Ólafsdóttir ("Helga, daughter of Ólafur") and Hallbjörn Vilmundarson ("Hallbjörn, son of Vilmundur").

Some Icelanders already had surnames that were originally patronymic or place names. In 1924, the Icelandic parliament, the Alþingi , passed a law prohibiting the use of new surnames. Those who already had a surname were required by this law to discard their surname.


  1. a b c d e f g h i Roland Otterbjörk: Svenska Förnamn. Kortfattat namnlexikon (= Skrifter utgivna av Nämnden för svensk språkvård 29). Stockholm 1964
  2. a b c d e f g Gösta Bergman: Kortfattad svensk språkhistoria . Stockholm 1970 (andra upplagan)
  3. ^ A b Gustav Indrebø: Norsk Målsoga. utgjevi av Per Hovda and Per Thorson, Bergen 1951
  4. Eivind Vågslid: Norderlendske fyrenamn. Eidsvoll 1988, ISBN 82-991668-0-2 .
  5. a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Einar Haugen, The Scandinavian languages. An introduction to their history , Helmut Buske Verlag, Hamburg 1984, ISBN 3-87118-551-5 ; § 12.5.14-12.5.15 = pp. 495-500
  6. Urs Jenny: Erasmus Montanus eller Rasmus Berg . In: Kindlers Literatur Lexikon im dtv . Munich 1986, ISBN 3-423-05999-0 , pp. 3186-3187.

See also