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A note about how Norwegians got their names

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A Note about How Norwegians Got Their Names

Researching roots in Norway can be an interesting or extremely frustrating task, as, until the early 20th century, Norwegian surnames were based upon the father's name. What this meant was that a man by the name of Trond having children of both sexes would have children with different last names - "different" at least when compared to the modern practice of surnames in the western world. Trond's boys would have the surname "Trondsen" and his girls would have the surname "Trondsdatter." Trond himself might be called Trond Olsen and Trond's wife might be Sigrid Jacobsdatter. Four last names in one family. What this means, in essence, is that finding forefathers is very dependent upon knowing the given name, at the very least, of the individual's father.

However, having said that, once you know the name of the father and have found the correct individual, then you can go backward adding generations if you know the practice that was followed of naming a certain child after either the child's maternal or paternal grandmother or grandfather.  Then the world into the annals of Norway suddenly starts to open.

The other challenge that faces the descendents of Norwegian emigrants is the fact that when the individuals boarded ship in Norway to emigrate, they were required to fill out police forms for establishing their identity. Since there could easily be many Ole Olsens, for example, they would use, as their "surname," the name of the farm they had lived on to specifically identify themselves from all the other Ole Olsens.

Thus, in this family tree, the Kirkebergs and the Kjoses and the Grønvolds are not found in Norwegian archival records with those last names. So it took awhile to discover that it was Martinus Pedersen from the "Grønvold" farm in Østre Toten and was even more difficult to find the exact farm from which Anders Kirkeberg came. Kirkeberg or Kierkeberg or Kjerkeberg or one of the many other forms of the Norwegian root of that name. The Kjos lineage was even more challenging, because it did no good to look for a farm by the name of "Kjos." There were none. We were lucky enough to find an old will of Sidsel Kjos's father, so we finally knew his name was Trond. After a great deal of failure in trying to find them on any boat leaving Norway, the whole family showed up boarding the S/S Hero with the last name Kjøseie. Lucky enough to understand some Norwegian, I recognized that breaking down that name meant they had lived on land that must have been owned (therefore the "eie" part of the name) by a man named Kjøs. (The name of the farm was actually Holten, but they chose not to use that.) And that is where Grandma Sissel Kjos got her maiden name for use in the United States: Sidsel Trondsdatter became Sidsel Kjøseie who then became Sissel Kjos when she met Ole Grønvold (who had anglicized his surname to Wold.).

There is an excellent article written by a Norwegian explaining this phenomenon. If you are interested in knowing more, you can read an indepth description online:

"Those Norwegian names: tips for the 'online' researcher"
2002 -  by Børge Solem

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