Norwegian Naming Practices in Our Family

My current reading is A Handbook of Scandinavian Names (Coleman and Veka, 2010) published by the University of Wisconsin Press. I thought I’d share with you how traditional naming practices worked out in our family.

Scandinavian Names book cover0001In Norway the first son born in a family was typically named for the paternal grandfather, the first daughter for the paternal grandmother. The second son was named for the maternal grandfather, and the second daughter for the maternal grandmother. Within this pattern there were variations, of course, some necessitated by the number and gender of the children, for example.

1. In Borre Anderson’s family, that pattern worked with a few not unusual variations. Son #1 Andreas was named after his paternal grandfather, Anders Pederson, but daughter #1 Bertha was named after her maternal grandmother, Berte Pedersdatter. Son #2 Elias is one for whom I don’t know the naming reason, but daughter #2 Anne was named after her paternal grandmother, Anne Pedersdatter. Daughter #3 Bertha Marie appears to be named for her maternal grandmother and her mother. Son #3 Bernt may be named after his maternal grandmother too – just my guess.

2. In the next generation in America, the practices already are losing their grip. In Elias and Kari Borreson’s family, daughter #1 Syverine Marie appears to be named after both her grandmothers, Sigri Johnsdatter and Maria Andersdatter. Son #1 Emil likely was named after his father. Continuing the first letter of the name, in this case “E,” was a common practice among immigrants. Son #2 Bernt may be named for Elias’ brother by that name. But Selma, Emma, and Charlie? I don’t know who, if anyone, they were named for. Charlie apparently became an American favorite, as was Ed (Eddie, Edward, etc.) in its variations.

3. In the third generation, the naming practices from Norway are even less apparent. Son #1 Edwin is likely name for his father and grandfather. The continued letter “E” is the clue. Daughter #1 Mabel may be named for her mother and grandmother – the continued first letter “M.” But after that, I have only guesses. Gilbert is an American name, Clara was very popular among immigrants around 1900, and Ben(nie) is an American substitute for Bjarne. But for these and the other names I am guessing. However, if Ed was an American favorite, the Borresons were truly Americanized with their “Ed trifecta” of Edwin, Ednar, and Edgar!

Actually, these three generations match amazingly well the three stages the book describes on pages 98-99, based on a theory by Einar Haugen. Basically, Stage 1 has the practices of the old country, Stage 2 is a transition, and Stage 3 is becoming Americanized. I find it interesting how the Borreson family naming fit Haugen’s theory. As I looked at the Estenson names, the pattern was less obvious and more complex.


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