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Danish Surnames 1

Danish surnames: Common Danish last names

How much do you know about Danish surnames? Though we don’t typically choose our last names, they can say a lot about us, and our heritage. 

No matter which part of the world you visit, you’ll find different regions have some surnames occur more often than others. Where the US has popular last names like “Smith”, common Danish last names include Jensen, Nielsen, and Hansen. 

People often overlook the last name, but it can offer an exciting insight into how a country has evolved over the years.

Today, we’re going to explore where Danish family names come from, and what the most popular Danish surnames are. We’re also going to cover what some of the common Danish last names mean. 

Let’s dive in…

Common Danish last names: The basics

In the United States, the most common surnames by far are Smith, Johnson, and Williams. There are millions of people with those last names, and many of us are familiar with at least one “Smith” in our lives. In Denmark, you’re less likely to find a “Smith”.

The most common Danish surnames all come from the patronymic system for surnames. This essentially means when people started choosing surnames in Denmark, hundreds of years ago, they picked titles based on their father. 

Patronymics are very common in Scandinavia. Whether you visit Denmark, Sweden, Norway, or Finland, you’ll find plenty of people with a suffix to their surname meaning “son of” or “daughter of”. 

The most common patronyms in Denmark include Jensen, Nielsen, and Hansen. The “sen” suffix simply means “son of”. Around 4.6% of all the Danes living in the country today have the title of “Jensen”, which accounts to thousands of people. 

If you visit the Danmarks Statistik register, you can even track all the  popular names topping the charts in Denmark. 

The suffix “Sen” means “son of”, as mentioned above. Other Nordic countries generally use similar naming strategies. “Datter” is the suffix meaning “daughter”, but it’s less common to see the female version. 

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Danish surnames beyond patronymics

Like most Nordic countries, and regions of Scandinavia, Denmark is famous for its significant focus on patronymic last names. The top fifty titles in the census for the country are largely equipped with the “-sen” suffix. 

There are some other origins to consider for Danish surnames, however. 

Because it’s located so close to Germany, Denmark also followed German naming fashions when choosing last names. For instance, Denmark was among the first Nordic countries to abandon the primary patronyms strategy. 

Starting with the aristocracy, Danish citizens started to take on hereditary surnames modelled on German, or occupational surnames like “Moller” which means Miller. 

Geographic surnames, which indicate where an original Danish family came from, also became increasingly common. Due to the large focus in Denmark on agriculture, many names were “farm names”. 

However, there are various Danish family names based on other places too.

Experts in Danish history say the oldest Danish surnames based on geography are up to 2,000 years old, as that’s when the tradition began. The earliest records available of people in Denmark identifying people by their name and residence go back thousands of years. 

Common Danish last names: Secondary patronyms

Interestingly, when people did start taking place-based names in Denmark, they didn’t always get rid of their patronymic title. It was more common for people to be referred to by both their patronym and their chosen geographic last name. 

For example, a person could be both Ivar Jensen, and Ivar Moller.

In some cases, Danes would essentially “freeze” their surnames and create a double-barrelled family name, such as Ivar Moller Jensen, or Ivar Jensen Model. The primary reason for this is new rules appearing in 1828, dictating hereditary surnames were mandatory. 

The strong focus on patronyms means beyond titles with a “-sen” suffix, there are very few surnames throughout Denmark. 

In the early years of Danish locals moving to new countries, many would take a new last name as part of the transition. This can be a common practice throughout many parts of the world. Taking a new name can help expats to assimilate into their new culture. 

The most common last names in Denmark

By far, the most common Danish surnames are patronyms. Many of the top fifty names in Denmark are defined with their “-sen” suffix. Although you might find the occasional person with a “secondary patronym” too. 

Here are some of the most common last names in Denmark, and their meaning:

1. Jensen

Easily the most common Danish surname, Jensen is the last name of one in every 24 people throughout Denmark. Running into a “Jensen” is like running into a “Smith” in the United States. Jensen means “son of Jens”, and the name “Jen” is a variation of John. 

2. Nielsen

The second most common Danish surname, Nielsen is the family name of around one in every 25 people. As you might guess, it means “son of Niels”. The name Niels in Denmark is a variation of Nicholas, which means “victory of the people”. 

3. Hansen

Meaning “son of Hans”, this Danish last name is popular in Denmark, but it’s also quite common in Norway and the Netherlands, where Hans is a common title. The name “Hans” is the shorter form of Johannes, which means a gift from God. 

4. Pedersen

A popular Danish surname, and a title which appears frequently throughout Norway, Pedersen means the “son of Peder”. Peder is the Danish variation of the more common “Peter”, which translates to mean “stone” or “rock”. 

5. Andersen 

A very well-known surname throughout Denmark and the rest of the Nordic countries, Andersen means “son of Anders”. This patronymic name comes from the title, “Anders”, which is a variation of Andrew, meaning “masculine”. 

6. Christensen

Christensen is among the top surnames in Denmark based on patronymics. The title means “son of Christen”. The name “Christen” is less common in other parts of the world, but it’s the Danish version of the name “Christian”, which has religious roots. 

7. Larsen

You’re likely to find a “Larsen” wherever you visit in Scandinavia, as the name “Lars” appears all throughout history. Meaning “son of Lars”, this name refers to the short-form version of Laurentius, which meant to be “crowned with laurel”. 

8. Sorensen 

This Norwegian and Danish common surname means “son of Soren”. Though the name Soren seems very Scandinavian, it comes from the Latin title, Severus, which meant “stern”. A significant portion of the Scandi population has this name. 

9. Rasmussen

Rasmussen is another Danish surname on our list which also appears frequently in Norway. We find these two regions share a lot of names. Rasmussen, sometimes spelled Rasmusen, is a patronymic title meaning “son of Rasmus”. 

10. Jorgensen 

A great example of a Danish surname with German influence, Jorgensen is among the top ten most common titles in Denmark. As you probably know, it means “son of Jorgen”. The name “Jorgen” is a variation of “George”, which means farmer, or person who works with the earth.

11. Madsen

“Mads” in Danish is a popular variation of Matthew, or Mathias. This patronymic surname therefore translates into “son of Mads”. Madsen is one of the top last names in Denmark, appearing in tens of thousands of families. 

12. Olsen

You’ve probably heard of the Olsen family from the show business world — but did you know Olsen is a common Danish last name? Taken from the name “Ole”, which could also extend to Olav or Olaf, Olsen means “son of Ole”. 

13. Thomsen

Thomas is a surprisingly common name in the Scandinavian region, as well as elsewhere in the world. You might come across a Thomsen in various places worldwide. Thomsen simply means “son of Tom” or “son of Thomas”. 

14. Poulsen

Poulsen in Denmark is a lot like “Paulson”, elsewhere in the world. Like most patronyms, it means the “son of Poul”, which is a variation of Paul common throughout the Nordic countries. It’s occasionally spelled “Paulsen”. 

15. Johansen

Another surname deriving from a variant of the title “John”, Johansen means “son of Johan”. Johan is a very popular name throughout Scandinavia, particularly in Denmark and Norway. Johan means “the gift of God”. 

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Danish family names without patronyms

Though patronyms are easily the most common last names in Denmark, they’re not the only option. There are plenty of titles which also come from various backgrounds, such as geographic names, or nicknames issued to people over the years. 

Denmark also has a handful of “ornamental” names too. Here are some popular options.

1. Moller

Moller is the most common Danish surname which doesn’t derive from patronymics. This occupational name refers to a “miller” or someone who worked at a mill in the older days of Denmark. Usually, the surname is spelled Møller

2. Lund

One of the more common topographic names in Denmark, Lund is popular throughout Sweden and Norway too. You can even find this moniker in England, and it’s used to describe people who live next to a “lund”, or “grove”. 

3. Holm

Holm appears frequently throughout both Scandinavia and England. The title, which comes from the words for “small island” in Norse, is common among Danes. This title definitely reminds us of “home”. 

4. Schmidt 

Both German and Danish in origin, you may have heard the name Schmidt throughout various parts of the world. This is actually a variation on the name “Smith”, which refers to a blacksmith, or someone who works with metal. 

5. Vestergaard

One of the longer Danish surnames we’ve covered so far, Vestergaard might sound complicated, but it’s actually a simple topographic name. This title used to refer to people who lived “west of the farm” and comes from the Danish words vester (Western), and gard (farm).

6. Norgaard

Another farm-focused Danish surname, Norgaard is a habitational title describing the northern part of a farm as the homestead for a family. Nord in Danish simply means “north”, and “gard” refers to the farmstead. 

7. Thorn

Both ornamental and habitational in origin, Thorn is a common Danish surname describing a family located close to a “thorn bus”. This name is simple and easy to remember, which might be why it is spreading all over the world. 

8. Agard

Taken from both Norwegian and Danish history, Agard is a simple but memorable farm-based name in Denmark. The habitational name refers to a family or ancestors which grew up on a farm by the stream. Once again, note the “gard” suffix. 

9. Anselm

We mentioned above, many Danes took their surnames from Germany, thanks to the close proximity of the two countries. Anselm is an excellent example of this. With German and Danish roots, Anselm means “divine helmet”. 

10. Beck

Definitely one of the stronger common Danish surnames on this list, Beck is connected to the last name “Bach”, which has roots in middle English, Old Norse, and even German. The title translates to mean “stream”. 

11. Bille

Bille is a more common version of a Danish noble name for the aristocracy, which was Bielde. Bille, also has origins as a personal name in Old Norse. This powerful title means “axe”, making it an ornamental surname. 

12. Collin

Collin is a surname with roots from all over the world. Translating to mean “famous one”, or “fame”, this Danish last name has a presence in many countries today. 

13. Fisker

The name “Fisker” in Danish is one of the few associated with an older occupation in the country. Fisker means “fisherman”, which makes a lot of sense throughout the whole of Scandinavia and the Nordic countries. 

14. Anselm

One of the Danish surnames with German roots, Anselm means “divinity” and “protection” or “helmet”. This title was often used to refer to someone in battle and can refer to a person protected by the Gods. 

15. Dahl

You’re probably familiar with this common Danish surname thanks to the incredible author Roald Dahl. Dahl comes from the Old Norse word for “valley”, making it one of the many topographical or geographic names in the country. 

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More popular Danish surnames

Danish surnames are a fantastic insight into the history of the country, and how the locals have evolved over the years. Though there aren’t a lot of common Danish surnames, there are a few more for us to mention here. 

1. Dastrup

This Danish last name is another habitational option, taken from a specific place, rather than a marker in geography, like a lake or stream. The name refers to the actual place “Dastrup”, where families may have hailed from. 

2. Gram

Another Danish surname referring to the country’s roots in agriculture, Gram is both an ornamental name, and one that could refer to an occupation. The term refers to “grain”, but it can also mean “raven” according to some experts.

3. Lykke

This is easily our favorite Danish surname, thanks to its unique meaning. The name “Lykke” means happiness and good fortune, which is such a perfectly hygge title for someone from Denmark. It’s pronounced LOU-KEH. 

4. Oster

Oster is a pretty simple geographical name, compared to some of the other options we’ve seen so far. This Danish title refers to someone who lived on the eastern side of Denmark, or in the east of a specific place. 

5. Pelle

Many of the geographic names in Denmark don’t refer to a single place, but to a specific feature of the countryside or location a person came from. Pelle is an example of these ornamental geographic names, as it means “rock” or stone. 

6. Quist

It’s rare to find many people with a surname beginning with ‘Q’ in most parts of the world. Quist is an easy to remember surname in Sweden which means “twig”. You’ll also find this last name frequently in Sweden. 

7. Riber

Another great habitational name, Riber is a title chosen for people who came from a specific town in Denmark called “Ribe”. This name has also travelled around Scandinavia over the years, as people have moved around. 

8. Sander

Sander is a popular Danish surname, but it’s also an unusual one as it comes from a given boy’s name, Sander, or Zander. Sander is a take on “Alexander”, which translates to mean the “defender of men”. It’s a pretty powerful surname. 

9. Strand

A great Old Norse surname common throughout the Nordic regions, Strand is a memorable title  topographical in design. This word means “seashore” or “beach” in Norse, and was usually intended to describe people living by the beach.

10. Ronne

Ronne is a habitational name from a place once called Ronne. Some people also believe the word Ronne refers to a swamp-covered land. 

11. Randrup

The Danish family name, Randrup, comes from a world used to refer to homesteads throughout Denmark. Most people today agree this name means “home”, or the place where someone belongs. 

12. Overby

This Danish surname just sounds fun, and it appears quite often throughout the country. The habitational name refers to a farmstead, and could apply to anyone who’s ancestors came from a farm. 

13. Winther

There aren’t many names in Denmark related to temperatures or seasons. Winther is an exception. This is basically a variation on the word “Winter” and may have been used to name someone who was born during the colder months of the year.

14. Vang

Another Danish surname that’s also a variation of an Old Norse word, Vang comes from “Wang”. The Word “Wang” in old Norse was used to describe a glassy slope or a hill. This is another topographical, or geographical name. 

15. Wolff

This isn’t a very common Danish last name compared to some of the other options we’ve discussed so far, but it’s cool enough, we wanted to mention it. Wolff simply means Wolf, and it’s likely to have come from a nickname. 

Celebrating popular Danish last names

Last names in Denmark are brimming with history and meaning. Whether you were trying to discover the meaning behind your surname, or you just wanted to learn more about Denmark’s roots, we hope this article has helped. 

Don’t forget to check out our other lists on Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, and Finnish names to learn even more about the history of Scandinavia. 

Scandification: Discovering Scandinavia.

Now read these:
Popular Danish female names
Popular Danish names for boys
The ultimate Danish name guide
Scandinavian names and their meanings
Viking and Norse names, and their origin
Your guide to Scandinavian people traits
Popular Scandinavian female names
Popular Scandinavian men’s names 

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