Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bergit Who?

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 when it comes time to read future posts.

In Norway, up until the early 20th century, Norwegians had three names.  Norwegian couples awaiting their firstborn child had 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 different surnames.)

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! 




Melissa Hays said...

I think I finally figured out how to enable comments! I'd love to hear from you.

Carolyn said...

Interesting! What would your name be, say, if you used the name of your hometown (here in the States) instead of a farm name?