Published on October 29th, 20122
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.
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