History Scandinavians1

Published on October 29th, 2012


Scandinavians, Why Do They All Have the Same Name?

By Tor G. Jakobsen

Have you ever wondered why Scandinavian names are so similar and easy to recognize? It seems like they are all named Olsen/Olson, Andersen/Andersen, and a few other names.

Well, this stereotype is not far from the truth. If one looks at the 10 most common surnames, these make up 26 percent of the population in Denmark, 19.5 percent in Sweden, and 9 percent in Norway. The Scandinavian countries are only rivaled by Spain (19.5 percent).

The reason that it is so little variation in the family names of Scandinavians is the common practice of taking your father’s name and making it your own last name, by adding the ending sen (in Denmark and Norway) or son (Sweden). This means that if your father’s name was Peter, then your last name would become Petersen.

Even so, present day Scandinavians are not named after their father, but rather some distant great great grandfather. This is because the practice stopped in the 19th century, freezing the name. Thus, if a Scandinavian’s great great grandfather was named Karl, his son would become Karlsen, and his son would also become Karlsen (regardless of his father’s given name), and so on. The exception to this rule is Iceland, where the people are still named after their father.

Many Americans are of Scandinavian descent. There is a fair chance that this girl’s name is Jensen, Hansen, or Johansson.

Whereas Scandinavians are named after the given names of their forefathers, their British and German counterparts are often named after the occupation of their forefathers. This is seen in names like Smith/Schmidt, Taylor/Schneider, and Baker/Becker.

As we can see from this list, all the top 10 names of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden ends with either sen or son.

Denmark: Jensen, Nielsen, Hansen, Pedersen, Andersen, Christensen, Larsen, Sørensen, Rasmussen, Jørgensen

Norway: Hansen, Johansen, Olsen, Larsen, Andersen, Nilsen, Pedersen, Kristiansen, Jensen, Karlsen

Sweden: Johansson, Andersson, Karlsson, Nilsson, Eriksson, Larsson, Olsson, Persson, Svensson, Gustafsson

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2 Responses to Scandinavians, Why Do They All Have the Same Name?

  1. Gown says:

    Usually I don¡¯t learn post on blogs, however I would like to say that this write-up very forced me to take a look at and do so! Your writing style has been amazed me. Thanks, quite great post.

  2. Johann Andersen says:

    Thank you for the information.
    It is understood that the original “Anders” is derived from the biblical “Andreas”
    The incorrect spelling of my surname (my Andersen great-great dad came from Norway) is somewhat frustrating as the English tends to change it to Anderson instead of Andersen and then they make it sound like Ennersen instead of rather sounding like Undersen.
    Kind regards,
    Johann Andersen

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