The Borreson Name

Our family name has held questions for me for a long time. Here’s what I know: in Clara’s family history, Homestead, Borre (with / through the o) Andersen Lille Rustad is our “Borreson cousins'” great-great-grandfather who lived in the Loten Parish all his life. He was born August 17, 1808 and died May 12, 1882. After him we are named Borreson – and going back to his birth, 1808, the name’s been in our family just over 200 years.

The surname Borreson begins with Borre’s son Elias, but you may have noticed that it’s Borresen (with / through the o) until his son Emil changes it to Borreson. Such changes, of course, don’t occur in a nice straight line. In an 1877 deed in Homestead (29), Elias and Kari’s surname was spelled with the letter “o” with an umlaut (two dots above) and a single letter “r,” the latter likely a misspelling. On a 1906 mortgage of Emil and Gina’s that I have in my possession, Borreson is typed as we know it but signed “-sen” by both our grandparents. Clara writes that Emil began to spell his name with “-son” in 1914-15. If “-sen” is simply the Scandinavian form, as I understand, then the change to “-son” seems part of the Americanization process. World War I increased the intensity of such changes.

I find it interesting that the second letter of Borreson became “o” for our family. In Decorah, Iowa, there have been Burresons for many years. I am guessing that their name was once Borresen like ours (with / through o). When I was a Luther College student in Decorah, I was frequently irritated with the mispronunciation and misspelling of my last name by folks only familiar with the Decorah version with “u.” As I think about it, that spelling probably gives the name a more authentic Norwegian pronunciation.

What does “Borre” mean? I haven’t found reliable answer. One website listed it as “dweller at or near a spring,” but since the name also occurs in England and Germany, I suspect this meaning may derive from one of those countries.

In Norway, I do know there is a Borre National Park over 50 miles south of Oslo where burial mounds exist from about 600-650 in the Viking age. Robert Ferguson, author of The Vikings: A History, refers to this grave site as a “great Heathen Burial centre” (86). The mounds were seriously damaged later, and one theory is that the Danish brothers Harald or their army did the harm in 813 to punish local Norwegian lords and assert Danish power. Related to the findings in this historic site, “Borre style” refers to animal, knot and ring-chain ornaments prior to 850. Here’s an example:

Borre style

 Was there any connection between that historic place of Borre and our great-great-grandfather’s carrying of the same name? None that I know of, but it’s still an interesting tangent.

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3 Responses to The Borreson Name

  1. Sue Ann Okerwall Knoblauch says:

    Didn’t we read from one of your other posts that the name Estensen (Gina’s maiden name) was from her father who was Esten’s son…? I may have the lineage a little wrong there…, but the point it the same. Didn’t people of the time also do Estensdatter for their daughters? The other common last name was just to name people from where they were from or what they did for a living.

  2. Glenn Borreson says:

    You’re on track. Naming in Norway and the USA worked differently. In Norway, the child was, for example, (first name) followed by either Pederssen or Pedersdatter – meaning Peder’s son or daughter. In the next generation, the surname would be different, based on the father’s first name. Gina Estensen’s father was Bertinus Estensen, his father was Esten Steffensen, and his father in turn was Stephen Estensen Bremset. Sometimes individuals would take the farm name too – which could change if they moved to a different farm! Gina’s ancestors listed here come from Clara Cook’s family history, Homestead.

  3. Glenn says:

    My son Erik tells me that on he found a reference that in Swedish, Borre is from the Old Norse name Byrgir.

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