Monday, January 11, 2010

The Wessmans in Sweden, Part 1 of 5

Johan Bengtsson was a Swedish sailor. Sweden, like other Scandinavian countries, used a patronymic naming system except when a family name existed, usually among nobility and people of property. Children were named after their fathers. Johan Bengtsson was the son of Bengt Persson who was the son of Per Andersson who was the son of Anders Olofsson. Johan’s mother Maret Olafsdotter was literally Olaf Bengtsson’s daughter. (Genealogists sometimes simplify and write Maret “Olafson” although this is not correct.) Women didn’t change their names when they married.

Amanda Hall and Johan Bengtsson Wessman and a happy child. I'm not aware of any other pictures of Johan.

In the 19th century, the Scandinavian governments discouraged use of the patronymic naming system. Unless a family took a non-patronymic name, the family used the patronymic name that was currently in use. Johan’s daughter-in-law, Jean Wessman, noted that, “John Bengtson… had been legally been given the name of Wessman as there were so many of the name Bengtson on the ship where he worked as a sailor.” He chose the name “Wessman” which was the name of a family in the city of Göteborg (pronounced “yur’-ta-bor-ee” and written in English as “Gothenburg”) where he and his family lived.

If Johan had not chosen this name, the family would most likely now be called “Bengtson” rather than “Wessman.” (Swedish families often dropped the double “s” in patronymic names when they came to America, and it’s often done in genealogy, although it’s not correct to record the names that way until the families started using the new spelling. Names should be listed as they first appeared in the records.)

Assignment (just for fun!):
Read this article on Swedish patronymics and figure out what your name would be if we used a patronymic naming system.

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

The photo of Göteborg is from

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