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Surnames, Naming Traditions, Meaning and Origin

Surnames deriving from nicknames/bynames

Another group encompasses the surnames deriving from nicknames/bynames, and many of these are among the oldest surnames in Denmark. This is a very broad and miscellaneous group of surnames that usually derive from mythological attributes of certain animals or the characteristics of the first bearer, for example a particular physical feature or the person''s appearance (e.g. the color of hair or beard) or character. In most cases, the literal meaning of a nickname/byname is clear, but often we can only guess why these nicknames were originally acquired or bestowed.

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Surnames deriving from a farmstead

A Danish farm near Vejle, about 1870

Asub-group of the habitation names are those surnames that derive from the name of a farmstead, which often was owned by the family at the time when the surname was taken/formed. There were, of course, some farmhands who acquired surnames from the farmstead where they were employed, but these cases are exceptions.

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Surnames indicating a family's point of origin

A group of surnames are the so-called regional names—those names that indicate a families point of origin. You will also find these names in English surnames (e.g. French = from France) and in German surnames (e.g. Berliner = from Berlin). They are all nicknames although they in some way also are related to habitation names.

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Surnames deriving from occupation

Another group of surnames refer directly to the particular trade, craft or occupation of the first bearer. The group comprises easily recognizable names relating to agriculture, manufacturing, retail or to an office, rank, or status, and will therefore tell us what the first bearer did for a living. In this article you will find a group of the most common occupational names in Denmark.

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The 100 most common surnames in Denmark

The 100 most common surnames

This list covers the 100 most common surnames in present-day Denmark. It explains the origin and meaning of the name and provides information on ranking and numerical distribution.

Of the following 100 surnames, as many as 64 derive from the patronymic naming tradition (names ending with "-sen"), 23 from nicknames, 9 from topographic features, and 2 from an occupation. Due to the natural immigration over the years many foreign surnames have appeared in Denmark, however, only one surname of German origin, SCHULTZ (and partly SCHMIDT, BACH and BECH) and one of Swedish origin, NILSSON, have made it to the top 100 list.

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