Paintings by Joseph Conrad (Jenssen)
Heritable family names (surnames) were generally adopted rather late within Scandinavia. Nobility were the first to take names that would be passed on from one generation to the next. Later, clergy, artisans and merchants in cities took heritable names. Family names were still used together with primary patronyms (father’s name plus an affix denoting relationship), which were used by all social classes. This meant that most families until modern times did not have family names. Scandinavian patronyms were generally derived from the father’s given name with the addition of a suffix meaning ‘son’ or ‘daughter’. Sometimes the family name of the mother would be given to the children if that name carried status or an inheritance came from the mother’s side. The names of family farms or other place names were also used. A nobleman had the right to write himself to (Norwegian: til) the seat farm(s) or the estate(s) on which he resided, for example ‘Hans Kaas til Rostrup’.