Genealogy Articles

(Not Related to a Specific Family)

Here are some interesting and confusing facts about Swedish names:

(1) Did you know that Ersson is the same name as Ericksson or Eriksson? Or that Persdotter, Petersdr, and Petersdotter are all the same name? Well, they are - at least most of the time. The Swedish people, especially Swedish record keepers, tend to abbreviate everything. This frequently results in one or more duplicate entries for many people on the ancestry websites as many people accept the abbreviated forms of a name because it came from a record of some kind. 

(2) Did you know the Swedish alphabet has three more letters than the English; Å, Ä and Ö? They are distinct letters and ordered at the end of the alphabet, after Z; [ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZÅÄÖ]. This means the names Jönsson and Jonsson are two different names.

Following is a more detail on these two topics related to the Swedish names of people and places.

Swedish Record Keepers Love To Abbreviate

Someone asked the question on if the Swedish name Ersson is the same as Ericksson or Ericsson.  One answer was "Yes, Ersson (Ersdotter) is an abbreviated form of Ericsson/Eriksson (ericsdotter/Eriksdotter). We Swedes LOVE to abbreviate and change names around. Olofsson (Olofsdotter) becomes Olsson (Olsdotter), Petersson (Petersdotter) becomes Persson (Persdotter)...etc."  That explains why there are so many duplicates of people on the ancestry websites for many of the Swedish people.

So, to avoid more confusion on the ancestry websites and to avoid adding more redundant entries for one person, when documenting ancestors from Sweden, please completely and correctly spell out the surnames.  Do not accept the spelling entered by clerks or on many of the "official" records just because that's the way it's spelled in the records.

Scandinavian Ancestors Typically Used Patronyms

Until the mid to late 19th century when surname rules changed and Patronymic[1] surnames stopped being used, or unless the person was royalty or in the military, the actual Swedish surname of a person should be correctly spelled as follows: 

   (1)  the father's given name, such as Erik or Peter or Andrea, PLUS 

   (2) the letter "s", PLUS

   (3) "son" or "dotter" depending upon the gender of the person.

It is rare that prior to late 1800s or early 1900s for Swedish women to have "-son" as part of their surname.  It is almost always "-dotter".  

Please note that the use of Patronyms changed for Swedish and other Scandinavian people born in the mid to late 19th century.  The patronymic system gradually disappeared and was replaced with a family last name system in all three Scandinavian countries:

  - Denmark during 1828-1904

  - Sweden around 1900

  - Norway in 1923

When this change occurred, some families may have chosen to freeze the father's patronymic surname and carry it forward through multiple generations. However, siblings may have chose different surnames. Also, some women began using the -son suffix rather than the -dotter suffix, and some women began taking their husband's surname upon marriage. 

Once the Swedish families immigrated to America families began using a common surname.  Often times after they immigrated families chose a completely different surname, such as a farm name or an ornamental name[2] .  My great grandparents said they were asked to choose a different surname than any of them had because there were too many Petersons, Ericsons, Andersons, immigrating into America.  

Sometimes Names Are Spelled Phonetically or Incorrectly

Another related name issue that adds to the confusion is the fact that clerks often spelled names phonetically or how they thought the names should be spelled.  For example, Peter could have been spelled Petter, Peder, Petrus, Pelle, Per, Pehr, Pär, Päder, or Pähr.  Johan could have been spelled Johannes, Johan, Jon, John, Jöns, Jens, Hannes, Hans.  Catharina may have been spelled Catrin, Catrina, Karin, Karna (Skåne version), Kajsa.  And, the list goes on and on and on ......  (By the way, this last issue is one caused by all record keepers, not just those in Sweden.)  

The Swedish Alphabet has 3 More Letters Than the American Alphabet

The Swedish alphabet has three more letters than the English; Å, Ä and Ö.  They are distinct letters and ordered at the end of the alphabet, after Z; [ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZÅÄÖ].  But, often times when Swedish names are "Americanized" on the ancestry related websites, such as,, etc they are typed without the dots or other characters above the "a" or "o".  However, this may result in confusion because these letters “å” and “ä” are not a variant of “a” and “ö” is not a variant of  “o”. Å, ä and ö are distinct individual letters. So, the name Jönsson and Jonsson are not the same name, and place named Boda is not the same place as the one named Böda. 

In Summary

Most of the time Erik's sons should have their surname spelled Eriksson (not Ersson), and Erik's daughters should have their surname spelled Eriksdotter (not Ersdotter or Ersdr or Ericson or Erikson); Peter's sons should have their surname spelled Petersson (not Person), and Peter's daughter's should have their surname spelled Petersdotter (not Persdotter or Persdr or Peterson); and Andreas's sons should have their surname spelled Andreasson (not Anderson), and Andreas's daughters should have their surname spelled Andreasdottera (not Anderson or Andersdotter or Andersdr).  This also means Olofsson should not be spelled Olsson or Olson, and Olofsdotter should not be spelled Olsdotter.  And remember,  Jönsson and Jonsson are two different names, so remember to include any characters that are part of the letters for a name in order to correctly spell that name.


[1] patronymic: “A patronymic, or patronym, is a component of a personal name based on the given name of one’s father, grandfather, or an earlier male ancestor.  A component of a name based on the name of one’s mother or a female ancestor is a matronymic.  A name based on the name of one’s child is a teknonymic or paedonymic.  Each is a means of conveying lineage.  Patronymics are still in use, including mandatory use, in many countries worldwide, although their use has largely been replaced by or transformed into patronymic surnames. Examples of such transformations include common English surnames such as Johnson (son of John).”


[2] Farm names and ornamental names originally functioned as an address rather than a surname and were added to the given name and the patronym.