On family and farm names in Dalarna.


Since the Middle Ages, the peasantry in Sweden have called themselves by the father's name with the addition of -son or -dotter.

The sons of Hans, Erik and Olof were called Hansson, Ersson and Olsson. The learned word for this is patronymics.


The number of names was limited. During the first half of the 18th century, 80 percent of the men had one of the following

names: Anders, Olof, Erik and Hans. As the population grew, it became necessary to add something to distinguish people

with similar names. This was done by putting a denomination before the Christian name. This extra name was inherited by

the children and was subsequently attached to the home-stead. It was therefore called farm name.


A black-smith could be called Smed Anders Hansson, and the farm would be called the Smed farm. The sons would be

called Smed Hans Andersson etc, even if they did not take up their father's profession. A man from the village of Gruvriset

could be called Gruvris Erik Hansson. Names like Stor (= big) and Liss (= little) are found in many villages.


Christian names were often used in the same way. The Daniels farm got its name from some ancestor called Daniel, Smårs

comes from Hans's Mårten's etc. Naturally, it has taken several generations of tear and wear for a name to be abbreviated

like that. The origin of some names is difficult or even impossible to trace. Bunis is regarded as an abbreviation of Bud-Nils

(=Nils from Boda). Jelk may emanate from Gäl Erik. Gäl is an existing farm name (my mother's), possibly emanating from

"gärde" (field). Kus I cannot explain.


In those cases where a farm was taken over by a son-in-law, he normally replaced this own farm name by that of his wife.

It was jokingly said that he adopted the petticoat name.


The names of the soldiers represent an important contribution to farm names. Up to around 1900 Sweden had a part-time

professional army financed by the peasantry.  In peace time they were called up for a few weeks of training each year.

The rest of the year they could use for cultivating their own or their father's farm. In war time they were paid by the government.


The parish of Rättvik including the chapelry of Boda and certain parts of neighbouring parishes had to maintain a company of

150 soldiers. The farms had been assessed and grouped into entities of about the same value ("rotar", which means squads),

each of which had to recruit a soldier and to ensure part of his livelihood. Mostly, the farmers recruited the soldiers among

themselves. This was a form of taxation of land.


When the system was new, in the first half of the 17th century, the officers found it impossible to tell all the Hanssons and

Olssons apart, so every soldier was given a name of his own. These names were usually short and represented military qualities,

animals etc., such as Stöt (= thrust), Hjorth (deer) etc. When a soldier had to be replaced, the officers found it convenient to give

the new soldier the same name. Consequently, the soldier's name also became the name of the group of farmers (rote) recruiting him.


The soldier's name was often inherited by the descendants as farm name, particularly if division of households had led to more than

one farm in the village having the same name. The result of this was that there could exist two or more families with the same farm

name, not necessarily in the same village, emanating from different soldiers having served for the same "rote". The farm name "Stöt"

is an example of this.


It seems that the clergy initially handled the farm names with some reluctance. They were introduced gradually in the household

records, but do not appear in the books of births, marriages and deaths, which were considered as primary material, until the

middle of the 19th century. This causes difficulties of identification to the genealogist.


When people abandoned farm life, they usually left the farm name behind, and used the patronymic as an ordinary surname,

which was inherited by the children. The women changed their "-dotter" names to "-son". For practical reasons, many of the

thousands of Andersson and Hansson changed their names to something less common, such as Lindström and Berglund.

Some found it possible to use their farm name, such as Berg, Hjorth etc.


Some 50 or 60 years ago the adoption of farm names became a popular way of finding individual surnames, particularly as

this was permitted long after other changes of names had to be authorized by a central body. Now, in our computerized time,

all changes have to be applied for, and are permitted only if the name is not born by any other Swede, or if those already

bearing that name do not object. This is a challenge to the ingenuity of people, and new names are getting stranger all the time.



© Olof Hansson & Karin Jegelius November 3rd 2003