- First name: all given names
- Patronymic: Olsdatter, Sveinsson, Nilsen etc, showing the given name of their father (note that women would never have a male patronymic)
- Farm name: the name of the farm where they were born or lived - this would change when people moved, but is the name that can best be used to find a person's origin
Understanding the Norwegian Naming PracticeA lot has been written about this before, and for those who are not familiar with how Norwegian names work, I will refer to a few very good websites to study. Having good knowledge about this system is necessary to do Norwegian genealogy.
Recommended reading for all Norwegian-Americans:
- Genealogical pages from Johan Borgos explaining the Norwegian Naming patterns.
- Article from Norway Heritage which explains why you can't follow the surnames of your Norwegian paternal line, but need to add the farm names.
- before 1850: traditional system of given name, patronymic and farm name
- 1850-1923: gradual change starting in cities moving towards hereditary last names - circumspection must be used to judge what is more correct in this phase, especially for those who moved from their farms to towns
- 1923-1965: Norwegian Names Act: everyone had to take a hereditary last name. Children would have their father's last name. Women would use their husband's name
- 1965: Women could again keep their name (as before/tradition) and children could use either parents' last name, typically both (one as middle name)
How to enter names in a collaborative genealogy databaseBeing a Norwegian genealogist I come across a huge number of ways for how people enter Norwegian names in a genealogical database. If a collaborative database is going to work, a common practice is called for.
- Given name: all given names. (Unlike the US, additional given names are not "middle" names in Norway; a middle name here is either a patronymic or an additional family last name.)
- Patronymic: a descriptive name telling us the first name of the person's father
- Surname: a hereditary last name normally inherited from one's father, that can be used to follow a paternal line back in time, shared by the whole family
- Last name: a surname or other last name used by an individual
- Farm name: an "address" telling us on which farm the person lived. Over 90 % of Norway's population lived on farms/in rural areas in 1801 (number based on census 1801)
- Legal name: Before the Names Act in 1923, this was the given name(s), but patronymic and farm name were not part of the legal name, they were descriptive names. After 1923 this is the given name(s) and a last name.
The Surname field in software and online sitesThe surname field has some special characteristics:
- It automatically generates Surname pages, where one can enter, edit and use information about that particular surname.
- There will be Surname Lists (index) which can be used in searches and to see who is related.
Farm names are the closest to surnamesNorwegians have three names, given, patronymic and farm name. It is the farm name that is closest to a hereditary surname, and this is the name that should be put in the "last name" field on genealogical websites.
- can be used to follow genealogical lines over generations
- is the same for a family
- can be studied to find out more about family origin and should have a surname page on websites
- is different for mother father and child
- cannot be used to trace generations - new name for each generation
- cannot be studied to find out more about family origins and should not have a surname page anywhere
- can be used to follow genealogical lines over generations
- is the same for parent-child
- can be studied to find out more about family origins and should have a farm name page (i.e. surname page) on websites
The only exceptionsThere are only a few groups of people who did not have farm names:
- Families with hereditary surnames: typically immigrants to Norway 1500-1800 from Holland, Germany, Denmark, clergy, civil servants
- Some northern fishermen families who lived in cottages with no farm name
- Craftsmen, labourers and their families who did only stay in one place a short time, and made a living travelling to get work, moving from farm to farm
How to enter names:
- "First Name" field: All given names and the patronymic
- "Last Name" field: Farm name at birth, or the earliest one you know - the fact that you do not know the farm name does not mean there is no farm name - search sources to find out
- Alternative Names: All later farm names, with a description and/or timeline/event for when/why etc
But I've always entered the patronymic in the surname field?In your private genealogy software, you will of course enter names just as you wish, to make your family file as practical for your own purposes as possible. However, now you know reasons why it could be a good idea to gradually change your practice.
For collaborative databases online (Geni, MyHeritage, WeRelate, WikiTree etc) it is however essential to use the farm names whenever possible.
There will be thousands of Ole Andersens in a Norwegian genealogy database, and easy to be confused about who is who. If you have Ole Andersen Sukkestad, Ole Andersson Selboskar, and Ole Andersen Stedje, you know so much more. You really do not want to add just half the data about a person, right? We want our genealogical information to be as complete as possible, and always adding the farm names is necessary.
There is never a farm name in the records I haveThe farm name will often be implied as can the patronymic be. Everyone knew that if you referred to Ingrid Sollien, it meant that she lived at Sollien, and if she was referred to as Ingrid Knutsdotter she was the daughter of Knut. Sometimes people would use one, sometimes the other, depending on the setting. Typical christening records list the child with given name(s) only, then the father with given name and patronymic, and the mother with given name and patronymic and the (common) farm name last.
But where do I find the farm name then?In a census (1801, 1865, 1900), people are listed under the farm they live at, with their given names and patronymics in the name fields. You then find the farm name on top of the forms, as each page is sorted by farm. The farm name is implied.
In parish records for christenings, marriages and burials you find the farm name either listed as address, or as name together with given name and (most probably) patronymic.
My databaseGenealogy is a constant work in progress, and my own database and GEDCOMs I have uploaded here are not perfect. I keep editing and correcting when I have the time. Don't we all?
Spelling variantsToday we perceive Sigurd, Sivert, Sjur and Syver as different names. Originally these were just variants of each other, all derived from Sigurd (Old Norse Sigurdr), and the actual name used/pronunciation chosen would depend a lot on the local dialect.
If you wish to learn more about this, study name etymology. A good first name dictionary is necessary.
Set spelling is a very modern invention, and for names entered in any original record before 1900 we have to be aware that it was not the people themselves who entered the name, they would say it, and the minister/office clerk/census data collector would write it down - the way he perceived it. Thus the spelling of the name of one and the same person could vary a lot between all records that exist. Jon, Joen, John could refer to the same person.
NormalizationLanguage normalization is actually a subject at university, and you will find that almost all authors of bygdebøker (bygdebooks) have used normalized spelling of the names, based on the local practice in the area. It basically means using the standard common official spelling of a name in our database, to ease comparison and finding duplicates, and avoiding wrong matches.
Why should I spell the name differently from what I find in the source?Records were not written by the people themselves - they were written by civil servants, mostly the clergy, who were Danish or who had their education from Copenhagen - and wrote Danish. The spelling would be chosen by whoever wrote it down, and not the people themselves.
The same person could in various records from Sogn og Fjordane have been entered as:
This means that for this family in Sogn, we should enter "Sjur" as given name, "Sjursson" or "Sjursdotter" as patronymic (in the given name field), and the farm name in the "surname" field as usual. The actual spelling from the parish records, census records, probates etc, should be entered exactly the way it is found in the record for each entry, when we describe the source.
The actual name fields should have:
- original name at birth
- normalized spelling (remember Æ æ Ø ø Å å - copy/paste from here if you do not have a Norwegian keyboard)
Farm names should normally be written according to their normalized form, typically the one used in Oluf Rygh: Norske gaardnavne. Some families today who use a farm name as family name use a different spelling, and it is natural to add these under their actual spelling of the name for family members born after 1850-1923, depending on what actual sources exist for that spelling.
Some common misunderstandings
"My ancestors changed their name"
No - they were referred to by another farm name because they moved, or they chose a surname when immigrating to a country with hereditary surnames (like the US)
"The people who wrote the books could not spell"
No - there were no set spellings, that is a very modern invention. Most people could not write nor read, and when they said their names it was up to the minister or civil servant to write it down the way they perceived it. There would be a lot of individual variation and preferences. Thus the same person could be listed with numerous varieties in the records during a life-span, depending on who wrote down the name.