Friday, December 23, 2016

Scandinavian Naming Patterns

The next several posts will trace my maternal ancestry in Norway, so I felt it important to explain some Scandinavian Naming practices. Here are some important things one ought to know about the large amount of Scandinavian names in my database:
  1. NN is the Latin abbreviation for "nomen nescion" or "non nominandus"  meaning "name is not known" which is a standard across Europe for genealogy, newspaper reports and court affairs. This is more language neutral and globally acceptable than using the English terms "Miss", "son" or "daughter" in place of an unknown given name. It is also more preferable than leaving the given name blank, as it clearly indicates the name is missing.  This unknown name happens most often when a source indicates that a man married the daughter of another man, without giving the daughter’s name. Thus she might be recorded as "NN Torgilsdatter".
  2. "d.e." is the Norwegian abbreviation for "den eldre" - the older or elder. "d.y" is the Norwegian abbreviation for "den ynge" - the younger. These terms can apply to father/son (mother/daughter) of the same name, brothers (sisters) with the same name, or even a little more distantly removed such as uncle/nephew, etc.
  3. For the most part Norwegians (and all Scandinavians) use two types of surnames: patronymics and farm names. Surnames, as we consider them in America (or Western Europe) today are relatively new, used in Norway only since around 1900 - officially since 1923. Prior to that, each person had a given name only and often was called the daughter or son of their father (and sometimes but rarely their mother). A name such as Johan Svendsen, meant this was "Johan the son of Svend". Same thing for daughters: Josephine Knudsdatter means Josephine, the daughter of Knud.  Some genealogies have removed the "gender" from all these ending surnames and changed a lot of "datter" endings to "sen". Thus, Josephine Knudsdatter is sometimes called Josephine Knudsen. For the older parts of the databases I have kept the proper endings: datter and sen as appropriate. (Generally speaking, Swedish endings are spelled "son" and "dotter", as opposed to the Norwegian spellings of "sen" and "datter". Icelandic spells them as "son" and "dottir". For the most part that is true in my database, but not always strictly adhered to.)
  4. A second type of surname very often used in conjunction with the patronymic surname was the farm name. Thus a person called Arnbjørn Einarson Kydland was from the farm called Kydland. In reality this was not really part of the name, but a location indicator to help identify people who often had the same or similar names. This last name/place could change throughout a person's life, if they moved to a different farm. In my database I have included every farm name where I have ever discovered the person's name associated with as a part of the person's name. Thus you may come across a long name such as: Lars Sveinungson Vølstad Rage Haukamork. This would indicate that Lars, the son of Sveinung at various times in his life was associated with three different farms: Vølstad, Rage, and Haukamork.
  5. For quite some time the Norwegians had a traditional naming practice where each of their children would be named after certain ancestors in a certain set order, such as first maternal grandfather, then paternal grandfather, a deceased previous spouse, etc.  Also if a child died, the next child born to the couple of the same gender would get the deceased child's name. Thus, if a married couple both had fathers with the same name it could easily be that 2 or 3 or even more children all had the same given name, especially if there were others in the ancestral line with that name. This can be confusing when you see a family where there are several children all with the same name and you wonder whether these have been duplicated. Perhaps they are but perhaps they are not. Typically if two children with the same give name grew to adulthood, one was identified as d.e. (den elder – the older) and d.y. (den ynger – the younger).
  6. Surnames are somewhat of a recent invention in Western Europe. China has the oldest history of surnames - going back thousands of years. But in Europe they are really only a few hundred years or so old. Thus many medieval people were given nicknames which are often in quotes in the database: such as Harald "Fair Hair" and Alfred "the Great". Almost all countries and languages also had their equivalent "son" and "daughter" nomenclature to help identify people. We are used to the "datter/dotter" or "sen/son" of the Scandinavians, mentioned above, but other languages had their equivalents and you will see them all through my database.  Some examples are: ap (son) and verch (daughter) in Welsh, Mac in Scotland, Mc in Ireland, plous in Greek, and ovich or ak in Russia or Slavic countries.


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