Featured

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.

Animal names

The largest group of these names comprises those that derive from the names of animals and may refer to these animals’ appearance and character, or the mythological attributes we traditionally assign to them. Most of these names can be traced back to the 12th and 13th centuries, and where among the first names to become hereditary. Some nicknames/bynames and their English translation are:

Bjørn
Buch/Buck/Buk/Bukh
Due
Falk/Falck
Fugl
Hjort
Høg/Høeg
Kok/Koch
Krag/Kragh
Lam
Ravn/Raun/Rafn
Svane
Thrane
Ulv
Bear
Buck/he-goat
Dove
Falcon
Bird
Deer, stag
Hawk
Cock/Rooster
Crow
Lamb
Raven
Swan
Crane
Wolf

Nature and topographic features

A sub-group of these surnames are those that refer to elements of nature and topographic features. Often they refer to a where the first bearer lived, but no explanation has been proven conclusively to some of them and might even refer to the character. Some examples and their English translation are:

Bakke
Berg/Bjerg
Birk/Birch
Busk/Busch
Dal/Dahl
Dam/Damm
Holm
Høj
Kvist/Qvist/Quist
Lund
Lind
Pihl
Riis
Skov/Skou/Schou
Vang
Hill
Hill (lit. mountain)
Birch Tree
Bush
~low lying area (lit. valley)
Pond/Village Pond
Islet
Rise/Mound
Sprig/Twig
Grove
Basswood/Linden
Willow
Twig
Forrest
Field/Common Pasture

Seasons and weather etc.

A small sub-group of surnames are those that refer to a season, the weather or Christian festivals. No explanation to these names has been proven conclusively, but they may refer to the person’s birth, a special event or even to the character of the first bearer. Some examples and their English translation are:

Sommer
Høst
Winther/Vinter
Frost
Kold
Paaske
Storm
Juhl/Juel
Summer
Fall
Winter
Frost
Cold
Easter
Storm
Christmas

Other personal characteristics

Other surnames that refer to the characteristics of the first bearer. Some examples and their English translation are:

Bruun/Bruhn
Fast
Flink
From
Grøn
Graae/GrĂĄ
Hvid/Hviid
Kruse
Modig
Mørk/Mørch
Spliid
Stub
Stærk
Rask/Rasch
Scheel/Skeel
Brown
Steady
Nice, decent
Good, sturdy (not pious)
Green
Gray
White
Curly
Courageous
Dark
Discord
Stump (of a tree)
Strong
Quick, energetic
Crosseyed

Large numbers of other nicknames/bynames are found in medieval records, for example ''Kong Valdemars Jordebog'' from the 1230s (a Danish cadastre, similar to the Domesday Book). However, many of these later became extinct or simply failed to become hereditary.

You are here: Home Research Guides Surnames, Naming Traditions, Meaning and Origin Surnames deriving from nicknames/bynames