From HISTORISK INSTITUTT UNIVERSITETET I BERGEN
NAMING TRADITIONS IN NORWAY
With few exceptions, family names did not really excist in Norway until, say ca. 1900. In the 1801 and 1865 censuses people had a christian name + patronymic + farm name. The first was the only "real" name; the second told who your father was; the third just told where you lived [i.e. it was the adress]. If the suffix 'eie' was added to a farmname, this meant that it was a subfarm or cottage under the mainfarm. There was no name law until 1923 (revised 1949 and 1964), that stated that all persons in a (core) family should have the same family name or surname as the father/husband in the family. Between, say 1890 -1920 people gradually adopted family names: Some took a patronymic (their own, their father's or their husband's) as family name/surname, others used the farm name. The family name derived from a farm name could often give a clue to where in the country this family came from. A patronymic was not so often traceable to certain parts of the country, simply because many first names were frequent all over the country. The adoptation of a farm name as family name was not necessarily due to a ownership of the farm.
Norwegian Naming Practices
The traditional Norwegian naming practice is to use patronyms. If a man called Hans Andersen had a son called Anders, he would be called Anders Hansen. A daughter named Brita would be called Brita Hansdatter, often written Hansdtr. or Hansdt. or even Hansd. Very often a child would get her or his first name from one of the grandparents. But this is by far a general rule.
From 1400 onwards the upper classes (civil servants, merchants; Norway had scarcely no nobility) experienced an influx of people from abroad. They were using or adopting would could be called a modern naming practice.
In Os parish in the year 1801 the priest was called Gerhard Sandberg, married to Inger Sandberg. They had several sons, one of them was called Johan Sandberg. They also had daughters, one was called Mette Sandberg. They have names and naming practices according to present Norwegian rules.
Their farm (most Norwegian priest had a farm, in most cases with the same name as the parish, in this case Os) was farmed by a man called Ole Johannessen, Johannessen because his father was Johannes. His wife was Brithe Knudsdtr., her father was Knut. They had several sons, one was Knut Olsen (first name the same as her father) the second Johannes Olsen (named after his father). One of their daughters was called Brithe Olsdtr. This is traditional naming practices. Iceland is still using this practice. All of them may add Os to their name. But this really not part of the name. It is added to their name because there may be other in the same parish with the same name. Ole Johannessen Os means that he was baptized Ole, was the son of Johannes and was living on Os farm in 1801.You can say that Os is the address. If he moved to Moberg he would be called Ole Johannessen Moberg. He moved to Bergen city, he may still call himself Ole Johannessen Os, to keep him from other Ole Johannesen in the big city.
During the last decades of the 19th Century the patronym practice was abandonned. The grandson of Ole Johannessen may call himself Ole Johannessen in the first part of his life, because he was the son of Johannes Olsen. If he stilled lived at the Os farm he could then start calling himself Ole Os, abandonning the partronym and adopting the addresses as the name. The name of the farm became a family name. If he had moved to Bergen he may start calling himself Ole Olsen, because his father had Olsen as his last name, or at least his son would call himself not Olsen as the last name, but Johannessen as his father. The partronym changed into a family name. The daughters would call tehmselves Johannessen, not Johannesdtr.. The Olsdtr. type of name is completly disappearing. Most of the Norwegians today has a family name of the 'farm'-type, like Os or Oldervoll (my name). A large minority has the 'partronym' type, like my wife, Astri Andresen. But her father is nor Andre, his last name was Andresen as well. A small minory has 'imported' name, like the man who used to live in our house. His last name was Bolmann.
During the last decades we have seen some changes as well. Traditionally marrying did no changes to a woman's name. Brithe Knudsdtr. in the 1801 census was called so all her life. She may have added a diifferent farm's name afteer she married, but that was really not part of the name. In the upper class the wife often took the name of the husbond, but even here it was not a general rule. At the end of the last century this changed. All wives started taking the name of the husband when marrying. This went on for almost a century. I was first married in 1966. My wife was called Jorun Kvernes and she took the name Jorun Oldervoll. Our two boys are called Frode Oldervoll and Thomas Oldervoll. This was the system until the approximately 1980.
My present wife is Astri Andresen. We married in 1991 and she did not change her name. At the time we married we had two children, Johannes Andresen Oldervoll and Sigrid Andresen Oldervoll. But as you can see they are called Andresen not because their father is Andre but because their mother is called Andresen. This is a very common practice today: the wife do not change her name and the children get both last names. Even two patronymic names may be combinded. A friend of my son is called Simon Wilhelmsen Olsen. But this is rather unusual. But this is a system that is very difficult to take into the next generation. Except that the middle name is very often droped in daily life. The children of Johannes and Sigrid may even get Oldervoll from them and something else from their other mother. It should also be added that sometimes the children get the name of only one of the parents. Sometimes the siblings may even get different names. Chaos, in other words.
Hope this is of some help to somebody.
Bergen 13 April 1996
Many Americans have a Norwegian farm name as their surname. You will find the reason for this if you look at the page about Norway Naming Patterns. Farm names are important clues for the genealogist, but they also carry lots of interesting cultural history with them.
First some information about Norwegian farm structure: In earlier centuries most of the Norwegians lived on farms, and each farm had a name. A few hundred years ago all the farms were listed in a land register ('matrikkel' in Norwegian) and given a number. Each rural district ('kommune' or 'herred' in Norwegian) had it's own list, where the farms were numbered from 1 and upwards.
The numbering and the spelling of the farm name may have changed with revisions of the land registers, but with only minor exceptions the farms were the same units. The numbers are called 'gårdnummer' in Norwegian, often abbreviated to 'gnr.'. Farms that were listed in these old registers are called 'matrikkelgårder', in English I will call them 'main farms'.
Originally there may have been only one family on each main farm, but as the population increased, the land had to be divided between many families. Each holding is called a 'bruk' in Norwegian, and just before 1900 the authorities had to create a secondary numbering ('bruksnummer' or only 'bnr.') for these holdings. If a main farm were divided into five parts, they got the numbers from 1 to 5. 'Gnr. 7, bnr. 4' consequently means 'holding number 4 on main farm number 7'. In addition, the holding got a name.
On many main farms, there were cotter's holdings. The cotters used land belonging to the numbered holdings, therefore their small places didn't get their own number. As a rule they had a name, but it could easily change. The farm names that made the transition into family names as a rule once belonged to a main farm, but many numbered holdings and some cotter's holdings also have produced surnames.
Now some words about the main farm names. Some of them are very old, perhaps 1500 years or more. The great majority are more than 200 years old. The spelling may have changed quite a bit through the centuries, and even more after crossing the Atlantic as a surname.
Farm names usually describe the farm in certain ways. The oldest are either short 'nature words' or names ending with -stad, -set, -heim/-um, -land or -tveit/-tvedt. They are probably more than a thousand years old, the farms they belonged to were big and could feed many people in earlier history. As a rule you will find the oldest names at the most central farms in an area.
Some farm names have expanded and are used as names for wider territories today. If the local church were build on a farm called Sortland, then both the church and its parish got the same name. Later on this place could grow to be a little city, covering also the neighboring farms, and the city would be called Sortland.
If you are interested in Norway's farm names and want to know more about their meaning, then you should read 'Norske gaardnavne' (Norwegian Farm names), written by the brothers O. and K. Rygh a hundred years ago. It is an encyclopedia in 18 volumes, one for each of the counties ('fylke'), covering every main farm name in Norway. Take a look at the Rygh website, where you can search for information about farm names.