With the exception of some royalties, we all have a surname, but where does it come from? Surnames are used by a group of people who have a common lineage. The name usually follows an agnatic lineage (transfer from men). This is in the process of being changed. In Norway the father’s surname is no longer so significant. The newlyweds are now free to choose their form of last name.
Some choose to combine their names to a new surname, such as Berg-Hansen, others choose to keep their own individual surname. Previously, however, there were stricter traditions (and expectations) for what kind of surname one should have.
For a long time it was common to take the father’s name as a surname in Norway. The tradition of having ones last name based on the father’s name was common in Scandinavia right up to the end of the 19th century. In Western Europe, the Scandinavian countries and Finland kept this tradition for the longest time.
This form of surname is called patronymic and consists of the father’s first name with the suffixed sen, søn or son. The opposite of the patronymic is the matronymic. This is a family name based on the mother’s name, but this name form occurs far less frequently.
In Norway, the use of patronymics was finally legislated in 1923 when every family was ordered to have a fixed surname.
It must have been strange for the grandfather when the grandchildren “inherited” not his son’s but his own first name. However, some chose to leave the patronymic system and preferred to choose names for the place they lived, the profession they had or something that just felt right.
Farm names as surnames
The use of farm names as surnames in Norway can be traced back hundreds of years and after the patronymics were abolished, the use of the farm name as a surname increased .
Today, many choose to “get rid of” their sen-name when they marry someone with a farm name as surname.
According to the web page forskning.no, every third surname in Norway
is now a farm name.
Mandatory to continue the husband’s last name
According to the Names Act of 1923 in Norway, women have been required to use their husbands last name. It remained so until 1979 when this part of the Names Act was abolished.
From 1980 and onward, spouses must now agree about which surname they shall have. The couple can combine their previous individual surnames with a hyphen between the names. Other options are to share one of their previous individual surnames or each of them can keep the one they had before the marriage.