November 19, 2015

Norwegian Naming Practices- there IS a method to the madness

Last week I visited a cousin I had not been in contact with for many years. We were born just two months apart and our families were close when we were children but life intervened. I happened to speak with his wife about my interest in genealogy and she offered sharing some family photos.  She expressed an interest in her family history and mentioned her grandmothers name was Jeanette Hanson. Get out of here! That's a Scandinavian name! And I was off again on the family ancestry hunt.

The search for the ancestry of her grandmother Jeanette Hanson was the perfect example of the double edged sword of Norwegian naming practices. I mean how great is it that the women of Norway kept their maiden name? Yet the patronymic names with the addition of the farm name? which could change as they moved?

The great influx of Norwegian Immigrants to America came at a time when Norwegian naming practices were in flux. Immigrants arrived in America with their patronymic name as a surname, or their fathers patronymic name as a surname, or their farm name as a surname, or a name a relative already in America had adopted as a surname, or actually they could call themselves just about anything they fancied. And spelling? Whoa. Traditionally the patronymic is sen in Danish and Norwegian and son in Sweden, but in America?

As for Jeanette Hanson? She was Norwegian! or half anyway. We had another Norwegian in our family! Her Chicago birth certificate listed Harry Hanson as her father and this was confirmed by census records. Harry Hanson's Chicago death listed his father as Peter Hanson of Skien Norway. Census records also confirmed Harry and Peters relationship. In a Norwegian census I found Peter using his fathers patronymic of Pedersen as a surname but when he emigrated to America he used his own, Hansen, which in America morphed to Hanson. Back in Norway by 1900 the remainder of his family began to use the farm name as their surname. Jeanettes cousins in Norway were now known not as Hansen or Pedersen but Kamphaug!

Confusing? Yes but there is some method to the madness. There are some really good explanations on the web of Norwegian naming but I find this one to be the best. Check it out, if you are lucky enough to have had a Norwegian ancestor!
                                           
                                                   NORWEGIAN NAMES


- Ranae