Our Swedish-American Names

Those of us with Swedish heritage (and those without) can easily understand the meaning of the vast majority of Swedish surnames. Hanson is the son of Hans.  This Patronymic naming system was used throughout Sweden (and other Scandinavian countries) up until 100-150 years ago. For instance Hans had a son names Olof and Olof would then be called Olof Hansson. Olof's daughter Anna would be called Anna Hansdotter. Around the turn of the century males and females both adopted the "son". If your last name ends in sen you are most likely Norwegian or Danish, not Swedish. Of course immigration changed some of that but we will get into that later. It was also a double s (Hansson, Jonsson) indicating ownership. Most American immigrants dropped the additional s and many modern day Swedes did as well.

Other groups such as nobility, soldiers or families immigrating from other countries may have a non-patronymic surname. Members of the clergy often Latinized their names. Lars became Laurentius, Gustaf became Gustavius etc.

Many other Swedish surnames you hear in the US (and Sweden of course) are "nature names".  The names are descriptive to nature such as a tree; Lind=linden tree, or Sjö=lake. Many who did not want to be seen as common folk or were noted as a distinguished tradesman (if only in their eyes) adopted a "nature name" which the family continued to sport. Those names do not point to a particular area of Sweden nor are those with the same nature name necessarily related.

Spelling also, through the ages, did not have the meaning it does for us today. In days of old all throughout Europe your name was spelled different ways on different documents depending on the education, thoughts or even whim of the priest or official who was recording you.

And the last wrinkle for us as Americans is that the family name in Sweden is not always the family name in the US. It is commonly said that "our name was changed at Ellis Island" but that is definitely NOT true. The names on the manifests of the ships entering New York harbor are the names which the Ellis Island officials recorded, verbatim. Those names were given to the ship lines by the immigrants themselves.  New immigrants kept their own patronymic or the patronymic of their father, son or other relative already in the US or they picked a new name entirely perhaps because it sounded more American. And spelling? Wow, that could now have evolved into a number of spellings with a number of reasons, not all of them logical to us.

What does that mean to the names of the three daughters of Robert Albin and Anna Abrahamsson? The three, now American daughters, who gave us the names we bear today?

Well here is what I have found.

ABRAHAMSON    First, God bless Robert Albin and Anna for giving their daughters biblical names that are recognized in Sweden and the US! None of their 9 children were given middle names at birth which from the many many records I have seen seems a bit unusual for Sweden. Reason? Who knows?

At birth all 9 children were Abrahamssons with the double s. Abrahamsson was used as a surname from the time of the sisters great grandfather Carl Abrahamsson b.1792.  Poor Carl is listed as illegitimate on his birth/baptismal record. Must be that his mother Kjerstin pointed the finger at a fellow named Abraham! Unfortunately no DNA then to prove the "baby-daddy"! That extra s was dropped in the US and in Sweden. Robert's* son, Seth's line dropped the Abrahamsson altogether and adopted Majholm (Seths grandmother Charlotta's surname) *see comment below - clarification that it was Gustav's son who changed the family surname and the reason for the change*

KALLMAN (my maiden name)
My grandmother Lydia married my grandfather...
Rikard Severin Källman     Rikard was the youngest son of Carl Teodor Källman. Carl was born, Carl Teodor Andersson (son of Anders Larson). He became a blacksmith which was a respected  (unfortunately not highly paid) trade and adopted the name Källman. His children and two of his step children retained and passed on that surname.

Källman is a "nature name"
källa = spring**
man = man**
K followed by ä and Kj is pronounced the same in Sweden. Not really like sh in this country but more like the "ich" in German. That explains why I often heard older family and friends say what sounded to me like Shellman as our last name.

Rikard is just the Swedish version of Richard and we don't have the ä in English so...

Rikard Severin Källman = Richard Kallman

Abrahamsson Sister Ruth married...
Anders Olof Söderström      The Söderström name is first noted to be used by his grandfather also named Anders Söderström b. 1824. Anders was the son of Anders and who knows? Perhaps he just did not want to be one Anders Andersson among many? Anderson/Andersson is by far today the most common name in Sweden.

Söderström is also a "nature name"
söder = south**
ström = stream**

Anders is the Scandinavian version of Andrew and again ö is unknown in English so...

Anders Olof Söderström = Andrew Soderstrom

Abrahamsson sister Anna married...
Johan Emil Jakobsson    Good for the Jacobsons, proud of their farming heritage or who knows why kept the patronymic system. So, second cousins of mine, your name is Jacobson because your great grandfather (Johan Emils dad) was named Jakob Lorentz Petersson b. 1841. Often Swedes of old named their children after grandparents or saints as the first name and the middle name was the name by which they would be identified. I guess this explains why I knew him as Uncle Emil.
K and c were interchangeable early on and the extra s was lost. Johan is Swedish for John so...

Johan Emil Jakobsson = John Emil Jacobson

Well I have most likely bored you all enough with my genealogy hobby trivia.
Just in case I haven't let me throw in..

Liljegren = small + branch**
Eckberg = oak + mountain**


**Translations of "nature names" are compliments of a wonderful book "Your Swedish Roots" 
copyright 2004 Genline AB, authored by Per Clemensson and Kjell Andersson**