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