The ‘worst’ Swedish names

It’s funny how some names just don’t translate well. Years ago when I was living in London, I had a Swedish friend called Lasse visiting. At a party I introduced him to another person. ‘Oh’ she said ‘Lasse! That’s a really funny name! It’s the name of a film star dog!’ My friend Lasse looked unamused. He responded by saying ‘Well, what about your name Pippa? In Swedish that means fuck’!

In Swedish, there are some unusable names – because they simply don’t work in an international environment. Many names that are fine in Swedish, are just not in English. Let’s take a look at ten of the ‘worst’ Swedish names.

Titti – there are 1028 women called Titti in Sweden. They have an average age of 53. The most well-known one is a radio host called Titti Schultz. The last Titti to be registered in Sweden was born in 2014.

Jerker – this name works fine in Swedish. Not so much in English. Its masturbatory connotation makes it somewhat tasteless. In Sweden, there are 2705 men called Jerker in Sweden, with an average age of 49. Since 2010 nobody has been registered with this name.

Fanny – this name also exists in English and is considered by many to be inappropriate. Meaning vagina in British English and backside in American English, it’s probably best to avoid it as a name. In Sweden there are 10703 women called Fanny. The Bergman film Fanny and Alexander made the name popular again in the 80’s, so the average age of the name Fanny is actually 25.

Pekka – about 8% of Sweden’s population are Finnish, and of course they give their children names of Finnish origin. Pekka is such a name. Currently there are 2308 Pekkas in Sweden. The name is unfortunate because, to the English-speaking ear, it is suspiciously close to ‘pecker’ which is a slang word for penis.

Lo – a lovely name in Swedish sounds like ‘loo’ in English. To Brits, this means toilet. 2717 females are called Lo, and 1207 males. They average an age of 8, which means their name-related problems are ahead of them.

Sigge – a popular name for boys today. 2161 males have the name, averaging the age of 8. In Swedish, it’s quite a cute name but internationally it sounds like ‘ciggie’ – which means cigarette.

Birger – the name works in Swedish as it has the pronunciation of ‘biryer’. But in English it’s unfortunately pronounced Burger. There are 30,000 men with this name in Sweden, averaging the age of 66. In 2019, 11 new baby Birgers were however registered.

Simon – while we are on the subject of pronunciation, the name Simon becomes relevant. No problem pronounced the English way, but in Swedish the ‘i’ sounds like a ‘ea’. So the name is pronounced seamon, which is rather regrettable.

Odd – an old Nordic name which is beautiful in Swedish. But in English it means strange and weird. Maybe not what we want our newborn to be associated with. That said, there are 1373 of them in Sweden.

Birk – pronounced ‘birrck’ in Swedish, it’s probably also easy for Scots to say. However, English people would say ‘berk’. This is unfortunately a slang word for idiot or dickhead. There are 562 males called Birk averaging an age of 11, and it’s growing in popularity. It is an old Nordic name meaning ‘trading place’.

Who 20 Swedish airports should be named after

Naming airports after individuals is common – for example Paris’ Charles de Gaulle, or New York’s JFK or Liverpool’s John Lennon airports. But not in Sweden. No naming commercial airports after celebrities here. Who the hell do you think you are?

In Sweden, it is tradition to name commercial airports after the location they are in – so Stockholm is called ‘Arlanda’, Gothenburg is called ‘Landvetter’ and Malmö includes the village of ‘Sturup’.

There was loose talk about changing Stockholm Arlanda to Alfred Nobel, but the idea didn’t fly. So, I thought, who could the airports be named after? There are about 38 airports in Sweden – here is my name list for 20 of them:

  1. Stockholm – ABBA Airport
  2. Gothenburg – Ace of Base Airport
  3. Malmö – Zlatan Ibrahimovic Airport
  4. Linköping – Louise Hoffsten Airport
  5. Nyköping Skavsta – Tess Merkel Airport
  6. Östersund Åre – Henrik Lundqvist Airport
  7. Ängelholm – Jill Johnson Airport
  8. Borlänge – Mando Diao Airport
  9. Västerås – Tomas Tranströmer Airport
  10. Jönköping – Dag Hammarskjöld Airport
  11. Växjö – Vilhelm Moberg Airport
  12. Hemavan – Anja Pärson Airport
  13. Ronneby – Viktor Balck Airport
  14. Örebro – Prince Daniel Airport
  15. Karlstad – Selma Lagerlöf Airport
  16. Kristianstad – Axel Anderberg Airport
  17. Skellefteå – Stieg Larsson Airport
  18. Halmstad – Gyllene Tider Airport
  19. Visby – Josefin Nilsson Airport
  20. Umeå – Eva Dahlgren Airport

IKEA’s secret Swedish code


Anyone who’s ever been in one of the 350 + IKEAs in the world, has experienced a tiny slice of Sweden. 

In the stores, one thing that reflects Swedish and Scandinavian culture is the name of the thousands of products. 

What many people don’t know is that there are strict rules for the naming of the merchandise. Fascinatingly, these rules were devised by IKEA’s founder Ingvar Kamprad because he struggled with dyslexia and had trouble remembering the order of numbers in item codes of the inventory. 

So what’s the secret? Here are the guidelines: 

  • Bathroom articles = Names of Swedish lakes and bodies of water
  • Bed textiles = Flowers and plants
  • Beds, wardrobes, hall furniture = Norwegian place names
  • Bookcases = Professions, Scandinavian boy’s names
  • Bowls, vases, candle and candle holders = Swedish place names, adjectives, spices, herbs, fruits and berries
  • Boxes, wall decoration, pictures and frames, clocks = Swedish slang expressions, Swedish place names
  • Children’s products = Mammals, birds, adjectives
  • Desks, chairs and swivel chairs = Scandinavian boy’s names
  • Fabrics, curtains = Scandinavian girl’s names
  • Garden furniture = Scandinavian islands
  • Kitchen accessories = Fish, mushrooms and adjectives
  • Lighting = Units of measurement, seasons, months, days, shipping and nautical terms, Swedish place names
  • Rugs = Danish place names
  • Sofas, armchairs, chairs and dining tables = Swedish place names

There are some exceptions to these rules where the product’s name is a Swedish verb reflecting the function of the item, eg a spice mill called ‘krossa’ (to crush) or a lamp called ‘böja’ (to bend). 

Obviously, IKEA’s branders try to vet any words that are offensive locally. And with a few notable exceptions, they seem to succeed. More about this in a later blog.