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Swedish surnames: Your guide to common Swedish last names

Today, we’re going to be exploring the history and heritage of Swedish surnames, from Almgren to Winblad. If you want to know more about Swedish last names, this is your indispensable guide!

Have you ever noticed that all throughout the world, there are common surnames depending on where you might be? In the US and the UK, names like Jones and Smith are everywhere. 

Yet if you visit Sweden or Scandinavia, you’re more likely to encounter an Ahlgren than an “Adams”. 

Just as there are common Swedish first names that we’re less likely to see in other parts of the world, there are a selection of more popular surnames worth noting too. 

If you’ve ever wondered where those names come from, or which naming conventions have been passed down through the generations in Sweden, then you’re in the right place.

So, if you’re ready to get started, here’s your guide to the most common Swedish last names…

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The history of the Swedish surname

To fully understand the meaning and depth behind Swedish last names, it’s worth starting with a little history lesson. There’s still a lot of confusion around the world about how people with Swedish ancestry use surnames. 

It’s also worth noting that the Swedish naming act has only been around since 1901. That’s the first time that Sweden passed any law regulating personal names. 

In 1901, the Swedish naming act required anyone who didn’t already have a fixed surname to adopt the masculine form of their father’s name as their own. 

Since the first law, several changes have emerged, as the original guidelines did not address the surnames for adopted children or married and divorced women. 

Compared to other regions in the world, the number of “given” names that are unique in Sweden is quite small. 

Like in most Scandinavian countries, the selection of surnames available is even smaller, with many titles in Sweden coming either from Viking settlers, or the Normans, who introduced surnames to Europe before the end of the first millennium. 

Swedish last names have four potential sources:

  • Patronymic names: These are based on the name of the father So “Nilson” would translate to mean “Son of Nils”. Most Swedish surnames are patronymic. 
  • Nature-based or artistic: A wide variety of Swedish family names come from ties with nature. For instance, the name Ahlqvist means “older twig”. 
  • Nicknames: Some surnames are derived from nicknames that were used to describe a person’s characteristics. For instance, “Fager” means “Fair”. 
  • Geographical: These surnames are based on where a person came from, or their birthplace. These aren’t as common in Sweden as they are in places like Norway and Denmark. 

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Exploring Swedish last names

Many of the most common Swedish surnames are Patronymic. 

Patronymic names are extremely popular throughout Scandinavia, with some popular options in Sweden including Johansson, Andersson, Nilsson, Karlsson, and Eriksson. The patronymic surname is based on the first name of the father, and it changes based on the generation. 

For instance, if a man named Lars Johansson had a son named Jörgen, then Jörgen would become Jörgen Larsson. 

Obviously, it’s less common for people to follow these naming conventions today, as most families maintain the same surname generation after generation. However, patronymic surnames were common practice for the Vikings that first settled in Sweden. 

Don’t worry, there was an option for daughters too. The daughter of Lars Johansson would have been Anna Larsdotter.

Throughout the history of Swedish last names, nature-based names have been a lot less common. Known in some cultures as “artistic” or “ornamental” names, these are based off things that you would usually find in nature. 

For instance, the name “Berggren” would come from the words “hill and branch”, while Sjöblad means “lake and leaf”. 

To create a nature-based name, most Swedes would generally use two nature terms combined. However, you might come across a few nature words combined with standard Latin or Greek endings instead, such as “Lindell” or “Berger”. 

The evolution of Swedish family names

Swedish last names, just like Sweden itself, have evolved over time, with new naming conventions appearing throughout history. You may not have known about this, but when young men entered the military in Sweden, they would often receive a new last name. 

This would help to reduce confusion when multiple men serving together had the same name. 

Rather than just picking a name at random, soldiers that needed a new last name were often awarded one based on their characteristics, or where they came from. The last name “Modig” would mean “brave”, while the name “Bäck” might refer to someone who hailed from “Lillebäck”. 

From time to time, soldier names would also come from nature. Ek (oak) is a common example, as are animal names like “Björn” for bear. 

As you may imagine, the presence of military surnames in Sweden caused some confusion over the years. 

It was often difficult for fathers to determine whether their children should take on a patronymic name, or whether they should continue to use the name that their father “earned” in the military. 

This may have been a particularly tough decision if the surname a man earned was given based on his amazing feats and accomplishments. 

Many professionals in Sweden also elected to take on new surnames when they achieved a crucial point in their career or reached a specific milestone in their life. For instance, when a young man started apprenticing to learn a trade in Sweden, he would usually choose another surname. 

In the UK and the US, it’s common to see many last names based on previous trades, whereas patronymic, nature, and military-given names are less common. 

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Common Swedish surnames (and their meanings)

Now you know where Swedish surnames might come from, let’s explore some of the most popular or common choices you’re likely to see when you’re visiting Scandinavia. 

To start with, here are the top most common patronymic names in Sweden:

  • Johansson: Meaning son of Johan
  • Andersson: Meaning son of Anders
  • Karlsson: Meaning son of Karl
  • Nilsson: Meaning son of Nils
  • Eriksson: Meaning son of Erik
  • Larsson: Meaning son of Lars
  • Olsson: Meaning son of Ola or Olof
  • Persson: Meaning son of Per 
  • Svensson: Meaning son of Sven
  • Gustafsson: Meaning son of Gustaf

Here are some of the most popular Swedish last names with slightly more unique meanings: 

1. Berg

Berg is a common last name in Sweden, and it actually appears in the top 30 list of the most used surnames in the region. Berg is a nature-based name which means mountain, but it could also be a geographical name to refer to where someone comes from. 

“Berg” is often a component of various complex Swedish last names too, such as Berglund, or Lindberg. 

2. Björklund

Another nature-based name, though this one is a little more complex, Björklund means both birch and grove. Someone with this last name had an ancestor who likely lived in a grove full of birch trees, or at least close to one. 

3. Sjöberg

Know someone with ancestors who lived near a mountain, or by the sea? Then you might have heard the name “Sjoberg” before. This is an ornamental name from Sweden composed of two elements: Sjo means sea, and Berg means mountain or hill. 

4. Lindgren

Lindgren is one of the Swedish surnames you’ll see frequently around the Scandinavian region. The term “Lind” shows up frequently across Scandinavia, in reference to the Linden tree. The word “gren” in Swedish means branch, so Lindgren is “Linden-tree branch”. 

5. Lindström

Another “Lind” based name from Sweden, Lindström is just as common as Lindgren. Unlike Lindgren, however, Lindström is considered an “ornamental” name. The word “Ström” means river, while ”Lind” refers to the Linden tree. 

6. Holm

Sweden is less likely than other parts of Scandinavia to have a lot of geographical last names. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you can’t find a few examples. Holm is a surname derived from a geographical location “at the holm”. 

Someone with this title would usually come from a place of flat land beside a river. Holm is a term we commonly use to refer to places in England now, too. 

7. Wallin

Wallin is an interesting addition to this list of Swedish last names, because it’s one of the few that appears to be a kind of nickname. Wallin is an Old English name which appears to connect to “Wealdwine” – a term which meant power friend, or friend of power. 

8. Nordin 

Nordin is a popular Swedish family name found in various places throughout Sweden. This is probably the most “Nordic” a name can get, as it comes from the Old Norse word for North. Nordin sometimes comes with suffixes attached to it which are linked to geography, or places. 

For instance, Nordendahl would mean Northern Valley.

9. Blom

Blom is a lovely Swedish surname, which basically just means “flower”. This is the same word that’s used for flower in Dutch, which means it’s very common throughout the Netherlands too. 

You may occasionally see the word “Blom” combined with other terms in Swedish surnames, like in “Blomqvist”. 

10. Falk

Although it might not seem like a patronymic name, Falk still has ancestral ties. The name means “Son of Fulk” or “Son of the Folk”. Over the years, there have been various versions of this name in Sweden, including Fulke, and Falke. 

In some parts of the world, the name “Falk” also refers to a person who used to look after falcons or hawks. Falk actually means falcon in Swedish.

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More common Swedish last names

We’ve only just scratched the surface of Swedish family names. Even if you look beyond the basic (and most common) patronymic options, there are still tons of wonderful and meaningful titles to explore. 

Let’s look at some more amazing options straight from Sweden:

1. Moller

Moller is an occupational name which is common among residents of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. Moller means “Miller” and referred to someone who was responsible for milling wheat and flour in the early years of Swedish history. 

2. Roos

Another surname with multiple origins, Roos has an entirely different meaning depending on where you are in the world. In German, and Dutch, Roos means “Rose”. However, in Sweden, it’s more likely to refer to someone who came from a moor.

3. Wiklund

Like a vast number of Swedish surnames, Wiklund combines two nature-based words: Vik (Bay) and Lund (Grove). Since Sweden is a place full of pine trees and other greenery, many people say that Wiklund was a surname with a lot of status back in the day.

4. Svärd

Svärd is a powerful Swedish surname, taken from the Swedish word for “sword”. This was one of the more common military names given to people who needed to change their last name to avoid having too many people with the same title in a group. 

5. Fors

A beautiful ornamental surname, Fors references some of the wonderful nature you’ll find all around Sweden. The name basically translates to ”rapid” or “waterfall” and was rarely used as a description of where a family or person came from.

6. Hjelm

Another excellent name for military men, Hjälm means “helmet” in Sweden. This surname isn’t just popular in Sweden, it’s also very common in the Faroe Islands nearby. Hjelm might be the name given to a military man great at defence.

7. Frisk

An interesting option among the common Swedish last names we’ve covered so far, Frisk doesn’t refer to a place or a part of nature. The name basically just means “healthy”. There aren’t a lot of names similar to this in Sweden.

8. Lundgren

Lundgren is a combined surname in Sweden that uses the terms “Lund” (grove) and branch (gren). If you’re a fan of Swedish actors, then you’re probably familiar with the name Lundgren from the unforgettable Dolph Lundgren. 

9. Nyqvist

Deviating from the original spelling in Sweden (Nykvist), the Swedish surname Nyqvist means new branch. We like the artistic nature of this surname, as well as the fact that it’s frequently linked to Swedish actor, Mikael Nyqvist. 

10. Sundberg

A Swedish surname with a lot of strength and imagery attached to it, Sundberg is another combined name that uses two words. Sund means “sound”, while Berg means “mountain”. Combined together, you get sound mountain.

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What are the most popular Swedish last names?

It’s hard to choose the most popular Swedish surnames, because today’s last names are passed down through the generations, rather than specifically chosen. 

Right now, the most common last names in Swedish are the patronymic options we mentioned above, starting with Andersson, which appears amost 225,000 times across Sweden. 

While patronymic Swedish family names might be the ones that appear most frequently, there are still plenty of other titles worth learning. 

1. Alström

Frequently associated with famous psychiatrist, Carl-Henry Alström, and his discovered syndrome, Alströms syndrome, this name is still common throughout Sweden. Fortunately, the title has nothing to do with psychology, and is a combined name for a tree and river. 

2. Blomqvist

Probably one of the prettiest Swedish family names around, Blomqvist combines the word flower “blom”, with branch “qvist”. This lovely title is frequently associated with a fictional character from Steig Larsson’s “Millenium” series, Mikael Blomqvist.

3. Björk

Björk is an ornamental Swedish surname which simply means “birch”, as in the birch tree. Interestingly, you might also find this name frequently used throughout Iceland, Björk is a name regularly given to Icelandic girls. 

4. Öberg

A common Swedish surname with origins in Norway too. The title comes from the Swedish words ö and berg, which mean “island” and “mountain”. Åberg, which means ”river” and ”mountain” is also common around Sweden.

5. Hellström 

It might sound like a punk-rock surname at first glance, but Hellström actually comes from the words “häll”, meaning rock, and “ström” meaning river. This name essentially references a rocky river, and can be either an ornamental surname, or a reference to where someone came from. 

6. Bergman

We love the rugged outdoorsy atmosphere of this name. Bergman means “mountain man”, and although it’d be a great name for any outdoor adventurer, it’s commonly associated with Ingrid Bergman, an actress from Sweden. 

7. Lagerlöf

You may be familiar with the Swedish surname Lagerlöf if you know about Swedish author and teacher, Selma Lagerlöf. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in literature. Another Swedish title linked to nature; Lagerlöf means laurel leaves.  

8. Thunberg

An ornamental surname from Sweden, Thunberg is a title known all over the world today, thanks to the young and moving environmentalist, Greta Thunberg. This is an ornamental and geographical surname, which refers to a fenced area on a hill or mountain. 

9. Drakenberg

Although not very common, this is probably the coolest Swedish surname we’ve ever seen. Drakenberg means mountain of dragons. This title was probably used as an ornamental name by most families, but it could also be a geographical moniker referencing a man or family who came from a mysterious mountain in Sweden.

10. Ehrling

Another fairly uncommon Swedish surname with a lot of power behind it. Ehrling translates to mean the “heir of the clan chief”. Common throughout all regions of Scandinavia, Ehrling is very similar to “earl” and references someone who has been born into royalty, or a leadership position. 

There are definitely plenty of great Swedish surname options to choose from. If you’d love to learn more about the meaning behind common Scandinavian names, remember to check out some of our other fantastic naming lists! 

Scandification: Discovering Scandinavia.

Now read these:
The top Swedish female names
Common Swedish first names
Popular Swedish men’s names
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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