What’s in a Swedish name?

Want to stick out? Want to blend in? Don't like your husband's surname? Or maybe you just fancy a change. Whatever the reason, increasing numbers of Swedes are applying to change their names. Last year a record 6,060 applications were received by the Swedish Patent and Registration Office (PRV) and this year looks like being just as busy.

Tuesday’s Göteborgs-Posten met Maria and Olli. Like many others, they changed their names when they got married. Maria didn’t want Olli’s Finnish surname and Olli thought being a Söderström felt wrong. In the end, they both changed to the unique ‘Skogsbryne’, or ‘edge of the forest’.

“I think your name should reflect who you are as a person,” explained Olli. “I like nature, but live in the city. On the edge of the forest, as it were.”

Swedes have been able to change their name since 1982, when the so-called ‘Name Law’ was passed. But it’s only in the last few years that people have been doing so in significant numbers. Name researcher Eva Brylla of Uppsala University told the GP:

“The 1990’s was the decade of the individual. People wanted to get noticed a little more and some used their name to achieve that. It probably took a few years for people to realise how simple many changes are.”

Not that simple, though. There are a number of rules and regulations relating to this solemn matter, and it takes up to five months to process. You’re not allowed to change to a name that causes offence or is ‘obviously inappropriate’, or change to a ‘-son’ surname (although you are allowed to change the spelling of a ‘-son’ name you already have). A new surname has to be unique (there’s a list of suggestions and a name creator tool on the PRV web site) and absolutely cannot be the surname of one of Sweden’s aristocratic families.

According to GP, citizens are allowed to re-claim surnames which have been in their family for at least two generations during the last hundred years.

Initial name changes and the names of newborn babies are registered at the Tax Authority. If you want to name your child ‘Månstråle’ (‘Moonbeam’), for example, be prepared for a phone call from the local office and a demand to explain yourself.

The Name Law has also introduced flexibility into the naming system with the concept of the ‘mellannamn’ or ‘middle name’. This is an extra surname, which, for example, enables children to incorporate both their parents’ surnames if they are different.

PRV official, Runo Swärd, gave GP some juicy examples of the kind of applications his office receives:

“We often get suggestions which raise the eyebrows, like Speciell, Mysko [Weird] and Troende [Believer]… There’s always someone who wants to change from Karlsson to Carlsson, or stick in an ‘h’ or ‘z’ somewhere.”

It’s becoming common for immigrants to want to change to a more Swedish name. In these cases, the authorities bend the rule concerning no ‘-son’ names.

“We’re usually generous,” said Swärd. “We’ve considered that ‘Yul’ can be translated as the Swedish ‘Joel’, which gives the name ‘Joelsson’.”

Another large group is made up of those wanting a posher sounding name. These names end in classic noble suffixes such as ‘-crona’ and ‘-swärd’ (meaning ‘crown’ and ‘sword’).

Speciell, Mysko and Troende, incidentally, were all turned down.

Sources: Göteborgs Posten

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Three things not to do as a foreign parent bringing up kids in Sweden

Are you raising children in Sweden? Here are a few very personal tips for what not to do from Alex Rodallec, who was raised in Sweden by a French Breton mother.

Three things not to do as a foreign parent bringing up kids in Sweden

Raising children is hard enough as it is without having to do it in another country. The added difficulties of being a foreigner can be taxing: grappling with the language, the cultural differences, not being well acquainted with how the system works.

So how do you get advice from someone who knows a bit about the issues your child might face growing up as the child of an immigrant in Sweden? One way is to ask someone who was raised by an immigrant parent in Sweden.  Someone like me.

I am no expert in child rearing, and have no children of my own. I can, however, tell you a few things that you should try to avoid. Here are a few of my best tips for what not to do.

Do not reject your adopted country’s culture

This does not mean that you should assimilate completely. It is, however, a good idea to try to embrace your adopted country’s culture as a positive, rather than a negative, for the sake of your children.

Why? Because your children will not have your cultural identity, at least not entirely. And this will be true no matter what you do to prevent it. They will in part become Swedish, imbued with many of the values and customs of Swedish society, with the behaviour and norms.

This might not sound so serious, but if you are someone who is resentful of Sweden, or if you ever become resentful of it, it might become a serious problem.

My mother, who was French, first came to Sweden as a tourist and then later to work, but with no plans of staying. Then she met my father, a Bolivian man, whom she would eventually divorce when I was around two years old. After that my mother went to live in France with my big sister and me, and with the intention of staying.

The next part I am not so sure about, but I believe my father might have threatened legal action if she did not return with us to Sweden. Whatever the reason for her involuntary return, I do know that my mother’s dislike of Sweden grew with her resentment of having to stay there. And sad as that may be, because of our Swedishness she eventually began seeing us children – though only intermittently – as physical manifestations of the country she hated. Or perhaps we were a constant reminder of the fact that she could not leave. Why could she not leave? Because she loved us. How complicated the twists and turns of life sometimes play out.

Growing up, my mother would often tell us that it was our fault that she was “stuck in this country”, and her most common use of the word ‘Swedish’ was as a profanity directed at us, her children. Naturally this created a dissociation with Sweden and Swedishness, primarily in myself and my big sister, and to a lesser degree in my little sister.

And even though my mother had put my big sister and I in private schools with other children of immigrants (The Catholic and English Schools in Gothenburg), coupled with the fact that we went to preschool in France, we had still committed the cardinal sin of absorbing ‘Swedishness’. My little sister had it the worst when it came to this. She went to a Swedish public school, and never had the experience of going to preschool in France, and so was the most ‘Swedish’ of us all.

To this day, the subject of Swedishness and the like or dislike of Sweden is still a topic of conversation whenever I talk to or meet my sisters. My little sister has accepted her Swedishness, and lives in Gothenburg where we grew up. But my big sister and I both live abroad, and to varying degrees have issues with the country we grew up in. I am slowly learning to love and accept my Swedishness while living in France, but my big sister lives in London and baulks at the thought of ever moving back to Sweden. We are a separated family, in part due to our varying degrees of acceptance of Swedishness.

Perhaps I should stress that my mother was not a horrible person, but she suffered greatly from the circumstances of her life.

So, do not fill your children with your resentment of the country they will grow up in, it may very well be detrimental to their well being and their integration into the society they grew up in.

Do not ignore the complexity of cultural identity

Even though cultural identity can become symbolic of underlying issues, as was the case with my mother, it can also be a great resource, albeit one that might need some help along the way.

Being half French, half Bolivian, born and raised in a Swedish multiethnic suburb, had me untangling the threads that make up my cultural identity for decades. An experience common among multi-ethnic children. Your children might eventually need your support in this, I know I could have used some help.

My advice is to promote the idea that one can be many things all at once. And that to a certain degree these things are contextual. I myself am Bolivian to a greater degree when I spend time with the Bolivian side of the family, and more French when I spend time with the French side.

Having multiple cultural backgrounds also has benefits. Your reference points are multiplied compared to someone who has only one cultural background. You can act as a sort of cultural bridge, much like Commander Spock in Star Trek, for the Trekkies out there. Beyond that, having multiple languages is an asset, children who grow up speaking multiple languages struggle a bit at first, but then tend to outdo their peers in language mastery.

Do not be intimidated by how well your children adapt to Swedish society

This one might be slightly odd, but is an experience that many of my friends of immigrant background have shared with me.

Because your children will grow up as cultural insiders they will master the ins and outs of Swedish society much better than you. Most parents want their children to outdo them, but a parent also wants to feel useful and capable in front of their children. You might have a hard time coping with the fact that your children at a certain point, and perhaps much quicker than they would if you were in your home country, will outdo you. On top of that, in many cultures there is also a more authoritarian parent role, where children ought to know their place as children, and let the parent lead and decide.

My advice is: if you have an issue with your children making you feel inadequate, try to think of yourselves as a family unit. If your children can help you do better, that is good for all of you, try to embrace that. And why not look at it as a great opportunity to learn?

What are your best tips for parents raising children in Sweden? Share your experiences of parenting in Sweden with The Local by emailing us at [email protected]