Changing Your Family Name to Stand Out

family name, popular names

Great style! Boring names.

I guess Sweden just isn’t good enough for some Swedes.

The Nordic country with the enviable maternity and paternity leave laws, national health care, great schools and awesome furniture showrooms also has a naming tradition that doesn’t sit well with some of its citizens. To a growing number of Karlssons, Ericssons and that most Swedish of Swedish names: Svensson, taking their father’s names is presumptuous, sexist and just plain boring.

So, a lot of these Swedes are making name changes, including making names up. (Pantzars, anyone?)

The New York Times reports that for the past three decades, more and more Swedes have plunked down the fee — now $297 — and applied to change their surnames. The number one reason, the Times writes, is that individuals want to stand out. But also, the notably gender-equal country is casting off some of the lasting evidence of more patriarchal times. From the NYT:

In most cases, couples adopt a new name for the same reasons the Wetterlunds did: to rebel against the hegemony of traditional Swedish surnames ending in “-son” — Johansson, Andersson and Karlsson being the most common. And it does not end there. Of the 100 most common names here, 42 end in “-son.”

Sweden abounds in names ending in “-son” because of an old Nordic practice, before hereditary surnames were introduced, of using the father’s first name, and the suffix “-son” for a son, or “-dotter” for a daughter.

So Lars, the son of Karl, was named Lars Karlsson; a daughter Lisbet became Lisbet Karlsdotter, though she would lose this at marriage. (The practice still exists in Iceland.)

Sometimes they look through family history and find the non-”son” name of a beloved great-grandmother (Wetterlund). Or they pick ones that sound exotic (Bovino). Or they just make stuff up (Pantzar!).

The government has to approve the names: Brands like Coke are forbidden as are the names of the Swedish royalty, actors and Obama.

Have you ever changed your name? Are you glad? Did you take someone else’s name or pick something else that you liked (or did you make one up?). I’m happy with my name, though that wasn’t always the case. I have been, and always will be, a loud talker, so it’s a good fit. Any Swedes out there looking to stand out? I’m willing to share.

Photo: babybjorn.com

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