Swedish history: A sidenote about surnames

During the middle ages (and before that, too) Swedish naming practices were very straightforward.  While there were some exceptions, most people had the combination of father’s name+son/daughter. This was the tradition no matter which class you belonged to.   Or at least that was the case for most persons.  There were exceptions for both men and women.

Men that reached a certain position, or were appointed to one, often added that to their surname, simply to stand out among the others.  It also happened that men added something from their shields to their name.

When it comes to women, it is much less known how common it was. I think it was pretty rare, even if it wasn’t entirely unheard of. Ingrid Ylva is one of the women, Sigrid Storråda is another ( though she is a bit earlier).

The naming system gradually changed by the 15th century all nobles had names like Gyllenstierna ( Goldenstar) or Lejonhuvud (lion’s head). There were other more simpler names too, but by the end of the 1600’s all of the noble families had names.

The Burghers gradually followed in the footsteps of the nobles and began to use family names. By the 1700’s a majority of them had family names.   Often the names stemmed from their occupations, or a personality trait.

Priests had latinized surnames, and occasionally names, this tradition continued  after Sweden had become Protestantic.

Farmers also adapted family names, but it was slower and more irregular. Most of them kept the -son and -dotter names, but some of them took the names of their farmsteads as their surnames.   The traditions were different all over the country, though.

That said, no matter which class you belonged to or where you lived, a child was never, ever given the surname of  Mother+daughter/son.  The reason for this is because it told everyone that your child was born out-of-wedlock. There were different strategies to avoid this from happening. If you were betrothed,  you could marry your fiancé before the children arrived.  If you were unmarried, you could let someone adopt the child, or you could foster it.  Or, if you had a high status, you could keep the child.   During the 1600’s and 1700’s it is known that   several noble families had names that they used for illegitimate children.  I have no idea how it was before the 1600’s, though.








Swedish History: Ingrid Ylva

At  first I  hesitated if I should include Ingrid Ylva, since not much is known about her, but she is an important figure in Swedish History, since her descendants helped shaped Sweden into the Country it is today.   She is also representative for what noblewomen did. 


Not much is known about Ingrid Ylva.  She was born in the late 1100s into a Swedish noble family. Some historians believe that she was the granddaughter of Sverker the Elder, a Swedish King.   She married Magnus Minnesköld, who was a nobleman from the Bjälbo family.  At this time, the Bjälbo family had a lot of influence. Birger Brosa was the Jarl, which meant he was second only to the king.  It was a tumultos time, with a lot of strife between different families.   Magnus died in 1210 ( or 1208), and after his death Ingrid ruled the family for a long time forward.   And she did so very successfully.

Unike most noblewomen, she didn’t remarry for a long time, instead she focused on raising her four sons from her marriage with Magnus Minnesköld and making sure the family prospered.  And she was very successful. Birger Jarl became Jarl, just like his uncle, and shaped Sweden. Her sons  Karl and Bengt both became bishops of Linköping.  She also had a stepson, Eskil that became Lagman (= judge, of a kind).  I have no idea if she had any daughters as well, since there are no information about that.

She did have a lot of grandchildren that either were members of the Swedish Royal Family or married into the royal family of Norway or Denmark. This also made Swedish history really interesting later on…

There are rumors that she eventually re-married, after her sons were grown. This rumor is based on the fact that there is an Elof mentioned as a brother to Birger Jarl, but his descendents used a different shield.

Aside from raising her sons, she also ruled the family.  While she might not have a lot of influence (or interest) when it came to warfare, she had the last word when it came to the household. Which might not sound as much, until you consider that household for a Noblewoman*  meant all the houses the family owned. This means that she was consulted about marriages, informed about new servants (especially the higher ranking ones), new purchases of land. In addition to all this she also kept an eye on what happened at court, and kept in touch with her family in general.

(One interesting fact, unbased, that I read about Ingrid Ylva, was that she was a white witch, using her power for good. I’ll admit that made me go “Ooh.” Since I have a historical Fantasy series set in Sweden.)

This was the first post in a series of blog post. I think the next one will be about Birger Jarl’s laws. Or maybe even about the Jarl himself.

* This is an assumption by me, based on what Queen Margareta did ~300 years later. And while some things of course changed I suspect it didn’t change that much.

Swedish History: An introduction

I have been talking about writing a series of blogposts about Swedish History for a long time, but I have been pondering how to structure it.  Swedish history is… complex, to put it mildly. ( I am avoiding the 1100’s. The reigns of the kings were short.)  But I have finally settled on a structure.   More or less.

First. I am not going to tell the complete Swedish History, but primarily focus on 1200-1500ish. At least at first.

Second, I am going to begin with the women.  And yes, this is a viable strategy, since we had a lot of strong women during the medieval times. There were also laws made during the 1200s to at least attempt protect women.

I think this will be a series of monthly, or maybe biweekly posts, depending on how busy I am with work and edits and writing.  I think every blogpost will be 300-500 words long.  I will also add a new category or tag called Swedish History so people can easily find the post.

Stay tuned for the first blogpost, coming later this weekend.