19 of the top 20 surnames in Sweden end with ‘son’. Where does this name come from?
Over 120 years ago, most Swedish surnames were patronymic – a surname formed by adding -son to someone’s father’s name, and it means “son of.” Someone named Fredrik Andersson, for instance, was Fredrik, son of Anders. This type of name was also sometimes created with the addition of the suffix -dottir, or -dotter meaning daughter; someone named Selma Torsdotter would have been Selma, the daughter of Tor. However this is rare – due to the patriarchal structure of society at the time.
When laws eventually required all families in the various Scandinavian countries to decide on a heritable last name — one that would pass down intact instead of changing every generation — many families adopted a current name as their hereditary surname. This is known as a “frozen patronymic.”
Sweden passed the Names Adoption Act in 1901, requiring all citizens to have heritable surnames that are passed down to each generation.
Most people took a patronymic surname to pass down, and as we see, patronymics are still the most common Swedish names.
Some Swedish families took names referring to places or things in nature, such as Lindberg (lime mountain), Engström (meadow stream) or Blomqvist (flower twig).
Other Swedish surnames came from trades such as Åkerman (ploughman) or Möller (miller), or from the military such as Skold (shield) or Svärd (sword).
Another source of Swedish names up to about the 18th century were Latinized names, which were based on place of birth – such as Floderus (from Floda).
Many names today end with ‘ander’ – Wallander, Wikander, Nylander – this comes from the Greek word for ‘man’.