The adventures and misadventures of a family history researcher
Thursday, October 23, 2014
A Short Lesson in
Norwegian Naming Traditions
I need to explain a little about the
Norwegian naming traditions, the importance of farms and the
relation between the two. You'll be glad to have had this confusing
system explained to you whenit comes time to read future posts.
In Norway, up until the early 20th
century, Norwegians had three names.Norwegian couples awaiting
their firstborn childhad no Name Your Baby books to
pore over. Parents did not spend time drawing up lists of possible
names, bargaining over which of their favorite names to choose.
There was no need. It was simple to name a baby. It was already
mapped out: If the newborn was a boy, his Christian name was the
name of his father's father. If it was a girl, she was given the
father's mother's name. And quite sensibly—you could probably
guess this next part—the second-born son and daughter were named
after the mother's father and mother.
The second name of the baby was a
patronymic name: the father's Christian name with “sen” or “datter”
tacked onto the end. As I said, simple... so far. (Although, you
will notice that this results in the child and the parent having
Then there was a third name, and that
was the name of the farm where the family lived.
This is where it can get a little dicey, because if that family moved
to a different farm, their name changed to the name of the new farm.
And what's more, not all people living on the same farm were
necessarily of the same family—the farm owner and the farm laborer
had the same farm name but were not related in any genetic way. Yes,
I know this is very confusing and kind of crazy. But that's the way
it was for centuries and it probably made sense back when there
weren't a whole lot of people. Because, even though there were fewer
people, they shared and recycled the same family names: Knud
Halvorsen, Halvor Knudsen, etc. Adding the farm name helped to
locate—and therefore distinguish from each other—the various
Halvors and Knuds. That is, until there just got to be too many
people. Finally, in 1923, the Norwegian government said, “Enough!”
and passed legislation putting a stop to this unwieldy system.
But at the time that my grandmother's
mother was born, this three-name system was still in place. So,
being the couple's first daughter, she was named for her father's
mother, Bergit. Her father's name was Knud, and the family lived on
the Lerberg farm. The resulting name for my great grandmother was
Bergit Knudsdatter Lerberg.
Feel free to refer to this information again when you tackle my next post. That's what it's here for!