May 17, 2012

4 - Something more about Swedish-Polish surnames

Polish winged hussar (cavalryman)In Sweden, before King Eric XIV reign (from 1560 to 1568), Swedish people didn’t use any surnames (family names) at all. Just to remember: Eric XIV was King Gustav Vasa’s elder son and the elder brother of kings John III and Charles IX.

At this time, people in Sweden used first name and patronymic (that’s a reference to the father’s name). In addition, but only if necessary, they could use some reference to the place of living (farm, village, city, county, etc.).

Let’s put an example: First name “Gustaf”, second name (a patronymic, not a family name) “Eriksson” and, if necessary, the place of origin (in order to be simple in this example) “af Sverige” meaning “of Sweden”. Then we have: “Gustaf Eriksson” or “Gustaf Eriksson af Sverige” (Gustav Ericson of Sweden). In fact, the name used as example was exactly the very King Gustav Vasa’s name.

King Gustav I of Sweden never used the family name “Vasa”. His son Eric XIV was who began to use a surname for his Dynasty. He chose this family name because in Swedish language “vase” or “vasakärve means “sheaf” the golden symbol of the Vasas’ coat-of-arms (a wheat sheaf is one of the large bundles in which wheat is bound after reaping).

During his live, King Gustav’s name was really “Gustav Eriksson” (Gustav was written also “Gustaf”). Time later, History books re-named him “Gustav Vasa”.

Because his father’s name was “Erik” his patronymic was “Eriksson” (Erik-s-son) the Swedish meaning Eric’s son. The extra “s” in Swedish patronymics denotes the possessive case, similar to English “ ’s”. Gustav father’s name was “Erik Johansson” because Gustav’s grandfather was “Johan Kristiersson” (meaning the name of Gustav’s great-grandfather was “Kristier or “Kristian”). History books re-named the entire family as “Vasa” to make simple following them along History.

Nowadays, patronymics are family names in Sweden, but this is “modern” (it means 19th century) and this is a different story. Old Swedish patronymics became the most used kind of surnames in Sweden. Actually, the top-ten surnames currently used in Sweden are: Johansson, Andersson, Karlsson, Nilsson, Eriksson, Larsson, Olsson, Persson, Svensson and Gustafsson.

Sometimes instead of the patronymic (let’s say, “Edvarsson” – Edward’s son) some people used the genitive form “Edvards” (Edvard-s) as surname. But, again, this is a “modern” story.

King Gustav Eriksson (Gustav I Vasa) had two brothers named “Johan Eriksson” and “Magnus Eriksson” (because their father was Erik). He had also five sisters: “Margareta Eriksdotter”, “Anna Eriksdotter”, “Birgitta Eriksdotter”, “Marta Eriksdotter” and “Emerentia Eriksdotter”. Because all of them were Eric’s daughters their patronymic was “Eriksdotter” (Erik-s-dotter). “Daughter” in English is “dotter” in Swedish (the writing is different, but the pronunciation is rather similar).

Swedish history books write those old names of men and women as following: “Erik Johansson (Vasa)” or “Margareta Eriksdotter (Vasa)”. The brackets mean those people never used the surname during their lives. Please, see Swedish Wikipedia for a couple of examples:

In his coronation (June 29, 1561) Eric XIV of Sweden acquired for the first time the surname “Vasa” and introduced the Count and Baron dignities in Sweden. The title of Duke was kept only to Dynasty members (princes or princesses belonging to the Royal Family).

Together with the title the new counts and barons got the firsts family names. Yet, it would take well into 17th century until the practice of using family names was fully implemented among the Nobility. “Frälse” (old term for Nobility, in Swedish) like any Nobility was a privileged estate who served the King by equipping a number of soldiers and cavalry (in return they were exempted from taxes). If they were large landowners they were known as “stormän”. Those concepts were similar to Polish “szlachta” and “magnateria”. The new (and currently used) term for Nobility should be “adel”, but it wasn’t used until King Eric’s reform. When noblemen got their patent of nobility and privileges they also got a coat-of-arms on which was emblazoned a heraldic symbol. From these symbols the noble family names slowly evolved. For example, the noble family Uggla (owl) has an owl on its escutcheon and the family Leijonhufvud (lion-head) has three heads of lions. Anyway, between 1561 and 1611 (the last is the date of Charles IX death) only 21 titles of Count and Baron were created, meaning that only 21 families got surnames in the entire Realm of Sweden-Finland at this time, when these countries were inhabited by one million people.

Swedish like harquebusier (cavalryman)Finally, patronymic names were slowly abandoned by the nobility and clergy. Also, the development of town guilds was a starting point for craftsmen to adopt special surnames too. Swedish Burghers took surnames after nobility and clergy (with the exception of those who were from foreign origin – usually German traders or French smiths – that already used foreign surnames). Swedish Farmers (small landowners) and Peasants (free land-workers) got surnames at the beginning of 19th century (in some rural zones just in 20th century). Let’s remember that opposite to Poland-Lithuania, not-nobles were allowed to get lands and land-workers were free in Sweden-Finland, where serfdom never existed. In Poland and Lithuania, between 1505 and 1861 only nobility (with rare exceptions) were landowners and land-workers were usually serf.

This note was written thinking in Poles and Polish descendants with “far” Swedish origin. Why “far”? What’s the difference between “far origin” and “close origin” in this case? Swedes or Swedish descendants that settled in Poland in “modern” times (later 18th to 20th centuries) already had surnames before living in Poland-Lithuania. For this people’s names applies the same explanation given about a French living in Poland (like Chopin’s father) or any other foreigner established in Poland coming from any other country (for instance, Bacciarelli, Konrad, Schelking, etc.). Our ancestors (17th century Swedish military people) came to Poland without using family names, therefore, them (or their offspring) got Polish surnames (usually) after the nicknames Szwed, Szwec, Szwen, etc. Let’s remark “usually” because always may be exceptions to any rule.

Before, I wrote something about Count Lars von Engeström (also d’Engestrom or Engestrem) because he was a standing character in Stanislaus II Augustus era. But he (who was Swedish born) and other people from “close Swedish origin” are out of the proper goal of this summary.

A reader of these notes, also Swedish-Polish descendant, was wonder about some surnames that don’t look like “ethnic-Swedish”. But, what is properly an ethnic-Swedish name? Only patronymic-originated surnames are ethnic-Swedish? Certainly not! For instance, Lind, Horn, Pauli, Danielis, Granat, Glad and Missa are Swedish surnames. Indeed.

Lind (linden-tree) is popular among Swedish craftsmen descendants. Horn (horn/antler) is a prominent Swedish noble family name; in this case they took the surname after the very symbol of the family crest. Pauli and Danielis may look Italian names... yet, they are clergymen or scholar Swedish surnames (Lutheran clergy and University scholars used Latinized versions of their patronymic names – originally Paulsson and Danielsson in those examples).

Granat (grenade) and Glad (glad/happy) were nicknames used by military in 17th century and become surnames later. Missa (somebody who usually misses or foozles a shot) was a kind of ironical nickname to a very fine shooter (with musket, carbine or pistol) like “Little” John was to the gigantic companion of Robin Hood.

At the end of the 17th century the Army (and later the Navy) started to give the soldiers special nicknames that some of them decided to keep as family name when they left the army. When a soldier was enrolled the commander of the company gave him a special “soldier-name”. In each military unit the soldiers (or sailors) had to have a unique last name because when an order was given to a certain soldier only this soldier was to react. These “soldier-names” were of special character, many of the names had a military touch and were usually made from only one word describing the personality, appearance or skill of the person, as we saw in the examples.

That kind of surname may be available in Poland too, because some soldiers kept their Swedish “soldier-names” as family names. In addition, some lone Swedes (already using that kind of surname) perhaps moved to Poland in “modern” centuries. Anyway, not necessary all Swedish military remaining in Poland took surnames after the nicknames Szwed, Szwec, and Szwen.

March of Swedish troops reinforcing Kiejdany (Radziwill’s) castle.


Swedish nobility

Finnish nobility

Swedish name

Swedish naming practices in earlier times, surnames

Swedish Last Names

Some Notes on Swedish Names

The Allotment System

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