Swedish “Farm Name”

One of the most potentially-confusing part of learning mechanics of Family History can be learning some of the cultural uniqueness from birthplaces of our ancestors.

My paternal grandfather, Emil Hansson (Petrin), was born in Dalarna area of Sweden.

Until the late 1800s, there were few surnames in Sweden; they simply followed patronymic system (an example is Kerstin Daniels-dotter, who was Emil’s mother.)  However, in the 1700s “80 percent of the men had one of the following names: Anders, Olof, Erik and Hans” (see English translation from http://www.jegelius.se at bottom of this page).  In my own Swede quarter, probably the next-most-common name would be “Per” or “Pehr” — short for “Peter”, as “Jöns” and “Hans/Jans” are both shortened forms of “Johann”, and “Matts” is short for “Matthew”. With only 5 or 6 names to pick from for each gender, and many families averaging 7-10 children born, it was difficult to identify any specific person in a community of more than one family, especially since families stayed living in multi-generational environment.  Probably the majority of my own Swedish quarter saw the families living in a MATERNAL multi-generational environment — as in usually my grandfathers left their birth homes and lived with their wives’ families.

Since there were so few given names, in addition to their patronymic (“son-of” or “dotter-of”) Dalarna developed a system of gårdsnamn, or “Farm Name”.  In many cases, each “Farm” was a small self-sufficient community, with blacksmith and other occupational-specialties included under the “Farm Name”, inside a specific geographic area, such as the town of Näset.  My “Wester” branch is my only family branch that i know owned the farm, then it eventually became the surname. The reason i know they owned the farm is because one of my Swedish dna cousins will be inheriting the “Wester” farm.  i think that is so VERY cool !  i have a few known dna cousins living in Sweden, and probably almost half of them are from the “Wester” branch of family tree.  It is exciting to stay in contact and see photos from the areas my ancestors came from.

Some other farm names from my ancestors are “Blecko”, “Glad”, “Rustas”, “Hult”, “Hohl”, and “Bond”, along with “Finn”, “Börs”, “Lit”, “Lill”, and “Ruck”.  So, Ore Parish (where almost all of that quarter of my family tree is found from 1600s thru 1800s) has my own ancestor “Lit” Matts Matsson, plus “Blecko” Matts Matsson, plus “Rustas” Matts Matsson, etc … and probably in each generation !!!

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i use the Sweden Church Records of “Household Examinations” … a lot !!!  and learned a lot about Farm Names from these two Swedish pages; http://www.jegelius.se/farm.html and http://www.etgenealogy.se/farmname.htm .

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http://www.jegelius.se/farm.html  (page translation printed in full below, in case the webpage becomes no longer available)

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

http://www.jegelius.se/farm.html  (page translation printed above in full, in case the webpage becomes no longer available)

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http://www.etgenealogy.se/farmname.htm (page translation printed below in full, in case the webpage becomes no longer available)

The Farm Names of Dalarna

A very specific type of names

By Elisabeth Thorsell

In the province of Dalarna (Dalecarlia) people used and still uses gårdsnamn, which means farm names.

These names are always put first in a person’s name. They show that this person belonged to the “Der” farm or the “Blom” farm, and they were always put before the person’s Christian name, and they were talked about as Der Eric or Blom Anna.

If Blom Anna married Der Eric and moved to the Der farm, she was usually known as Der Anna after the marriage. But if Der Eric moved to her home, he was probably known as Blom Eric after the marriage.

The reason for this is not clear, but probably has to do with the fact that very few first names were used, when a baby’s name was to be chosen. In the old days people almost always used a name, that already was used by an older relative, and that gave the parents somewhere less than 20 names for boys and 20 names for girls to chose from. As a result you could have several Anders Erssons or Anna Andersdotter in a village.

The villages, especially round lake Siljan, can be very big with some 50 different farms in the same village. So to help to sort out which Anders Ersson or Margareta Olsdotter you were talking about, a farm name was added the this person, like Orr Anders Ersson or Stolts Margareta Olsdotter. Then you knew that you were talking about Anders from Orrgården or Margareta from Stoltsgården in that village. The same farm names could also be used in other villages, without the people on those farms being related.

This custom is very common in all of Dalarna, but the gårdsnamn are not recorded in the church records until about 1800 or so, at least not in Leksand, which is the parish I am most familiar with. But they were probably used in the local society much earlier.

These names are of several types, and the most intriguing one are the ones like Knis, Kers, Hases as they are contractions of the name of an early owner of the farm. Knis can be derived from someone named Erik Nilsson, if you say the name fast, and the same goes for Kers from Erik Ersson etc.

The name can also be of a type that has to do with nature, like Berg, Land, Sjö [mountain, land, lake]. Another variety are names that were first used by a soldier as his army name. My husband’s ancestor Erik Jönsson Orre [orre is a forest bird] was a soldier and he had a son, and he was called Orr Anders Ersson.

The names can also be based on some position in the local society, like Körkvärns (the church warden’s), Nämndemans (the permanent juryman), Klockars (the church singer and clerk) or Lärmors (the schoolteacher’s).

They can be based on a craft, like Skommars (the shoemaker’s) or Målars (the painter’s).

Names could also be based on personal characteristics, like Lång (tall) or Munter (cheery). The most common ones are the ones of the first type, based on the name of the first owner, more examples are Olars, Perers, Perols, Mases, Helgas, Göras.

These days many people with a farmname in the family use them for surnames, like our rock singer Björn Skifs, or ice hockey player Åke Lassas, or artist (painter) Jerk Werkmäster. My husband’s direct farm name is Helgas, but I am quite content that his grandfather changed this to Thorsell.


Back to the first page!

Uppdaterad 8 June 2007
© Elisabeth Thorsell

http://www.etgenealogy.se/farmname.htm (page translation printed above in full, in case the webpage becomes no longer available)

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