Swedish Soldiers’ Names

Scandinavians didn’t use hereditary surnames in most cases until about 1900. Their customs would surprise many Americans.

The following information was adapted from a posting to the Norrbotten mailing list by Gwen Boyer Björkman.

Because Swedish soldiers typically came from rural backgrounds, they often used patronymics. These names might be very common, such as Andersson, Eriksson, Olsson or Petersson. When the new soldier appeared before the military clerk, he was given a soldier’s surname, which he kept during his service and which he often retained when he was pensioned or left the army. The name was usually short, often consisting of only one syllable. These names made it easier for officers and staff to identify individual soldiers.

Soldiers’ surnames can be confusing for genealogists. The name a soldier got when he became soldier was attached to the rota. If a solder moved to another rota, he got another name unless he was an officer. Similarly, a new soldier might take the surname of his predecessor. The system made it easy for the military, but hard for the genealogist who wants to follow a particular person. Because the surname was attached to the rota, Jonas Svanström was not related to his successor Carl Svanström. Moreover, a soldier might use either his patronymic or his military name in official records. So, it can be difficult to determine, for example, whether Jonas Jonasson in one record was the same person as Jonas Svanström in another record. To make it even harder for genealogists, the same surname was often used in another district not far away.

Besides the typical soldiers’ names, there were other names that could be taken as a soldier name. For example, the names Kråka (crow) and Rehn (reindeer) belonged to Birkarl families. A Birkarl (similar to a Landköpman (land-trader)) was a man who had rights to trade outside the town, where all trade had to take place. Birkarls were important people, say about 1400-1600, so if you find a Birkarl in your lines it will probably be possible to trace much further back in time.

Soldier’s surnames can be divided into various groups:

Military terms
Granat = grenade
Pistol = pistol
Kanon = cannon
Sabel = sabre
Kask = hat
Spjut = spear
Kula = shot
Svärd = sword

Personal characteristics
Cavat = brave, plucky
Fast = steady
Flink = fast
From = pious
Modig = courageous
Stadig = sturdy
Stark = strong
Trofast = dependable
Trogen = loyal

Nature names
Al = alder
Alm = elm
Ek = oak
Gran = pine
Gren = branch
Lind = linden
Löf = leaf
Lönn = maple
Qvist = twig
Sjö = lake
Ström = river, stream

Place names
Abborre = from Abborberget
Berg = from Berghem
Dahl = from Dalsland
Gerdeman = from Gärdserum
Murberg = from Murum
Svanström = from Svenserum

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