What were common Viking surnames?

Viking surnames

The Vikings were a people with rich cultural and historical significance. One of the most interesting aspects of Viking culture is their approach to naming. Surnames were an important part of Viking identity, and they often reflected important aspects of life in Viking society.

In this article, we will explore the origins and meanings of Viking surnames. We will delve into the common surnames used by the Vikings and gain insights into their significance. By the end of this article, you will have a better understanding of Viking naming conventions and the importance of surnames in Viking culture.

Key Takeaways:

Understanding Viking Naming Conventions

Names were an essential part of Viking identity, and they were often chosen based on cultural and religious beliefs. Understanding the conventions behind Viking names can provide valuable insights into the society and culture of these fierce warriors.

Viking names were typically composed of two parts – a given name and a surname. The given name was usually chosen based on cultural or religious significance, while surnames often reflected patronymic or geographical origins.

The structure of Viking names followed a specific pattern, with the given name preceding the surname. The surname was sometimes denoted by a suffix, such as ‘son’ or ‘dottir’, to indicate the patronymic lineage or the place of origin.

The use of patronymic surnames was common in Viking culture, with surnames derived from the father’s given name. For instance, if a person’s father’s name was ‘Erik’, the surname would be ‘Eriksdottir’ for a daughter or ‘Eriksson’ for a son. This practice often led to multiple individuals sharing the same surname, reflecting the importance of familial ties in Viking culture.

How Viking Naming Conventions Evolved Over Time

Viking naming conventions evolved over time, with certain name elements becoming more popular at different periods. For example, during the Viking Age, the use of descriptive surnames based on physical features became more common. Later, during Christianization in the 11th century, many Vikings adopted Christian names or took on Latinized versions of their Viking names.

Overall, Viking naming conventions are reflective of the society and culture of the time. By exploring Viking names, we can gain a deeper understanding of the importance of family ties, religious beliefs, and cultural practices in Viking society.

Patronymic Surnames

Patronymic surnames were an essential part of Viking culture and society. These surnames were formed by adding “son” or “dóttir” to the father’s first name and were used to identify an individual’s lineage. For instance, if a man’s father’s name was Ragnar, then his patronymic surname would be “Ragnarsdóttir” (daughter of Ragnar) or “Ragnarsson” (son of Ragnar).

Patronymic surnames were more prevalent than any other type of surname in Viking society. They were used extensively throughout Scandinavia, and they served as a robust identifier of the family’s ancestry. By using patronymic surnames, the Vikings could trace their ancestries back for generations.

Patronymic surnames also reflected a person’s social status in Viking society. The use of these surnames was an indication of a person’s noble or royal bloodline. For example, legendary figures such as Harald Fairhair, the first king of Norway, was also known as Harald Hårfagre, which means “Harald Fairhair” in Old Norse.

In some instances, individuals would adopt a patronymic surname based on the name of a famous Viking leader or warrior. This was a common practice among the Vikings, who viewed their legendary ancestors and heroes as role models worthy of emulation.

The use of patronymic surnames declined with the advent of Christianity in Scandinavia. However, they still persisted in some areas, and many surnames in Iceland still follow the patronymic tradition to this day.

Top 10 Viking Surnames

The Vikings, like many cultures, had a set of common surnames that were used by a large number of individuals. These surnames often reflected the individual’s place of origin, occupation, or physical characteristics. Here are the top 10 most common Viking surnames:

Surname Meaning Region
Eriksson Son of Erik Scandinavia
Johansson Son of Johan Scandinavia
Larsson Son of Lars Scandinavia
Nilsson Son of Nils Scandinavia
Andersson Son of Anders Scandinavia
Svensson Son of Sven Scandinavia
Olsen Son of Ole Denmark/Norway
Hansen Son of Hans Denmark/Norway
Petersen Son of Peter Denmark/Norway
Christiansen Son of Christian Denmark/Norway

These surnames were prevalent in Scandinavia and Denmark/Norway, and were often used to distinguish individuals with the same given name. Additionally, these surnames have been passed down through generations and can still be found today.

While these were the most common Viking surnames, it’s important to note that there were many other surnames used within Viking society. These surnames reflected the diverse backgrounds and experiences of Viking individuals and provide a fascinating insight into their culture and heritage.

Geographical Surnames

Geographical surnames were common among the Vikings, reflecting the places they called home. These surnames were derived from geographical features such as landscapes, rivers, and valleys, as well as settlements and regions.

Surname Meaning Region
Nordström North stream Sweden
Fjellberg Mountain hill Norway
Skoglund Forest grove Sweden

These surnames not only provided information about an individual’s background but also indicated their place in society. Those with geographical surnames were often associated with the land and agriculture, highlighting the importance of farming in Viking society.

Geographical surnames were also used to distinguish individuals from different areas or regions. For example, someone with the surname “Østergaard” (east farm) would have been associated with the eastern region of Denmark.

The Significance of Place Names

Viking place names provide insights into the geography and cultural history of the Nordic countries. Many of these names still exist today, and some have been incorporated into modern-day place names. For example, “vik” (bay) is a common ending in many Scandinavian place names, such as Reykjavik in Iceland and Lerwick in Scotland.

Exploring Viking place names can deepen our understanding of the cultural heritage of these regions and the lasting impact of Viking society on language and geography.

Occupational Surnames

Occupational surnames were common among the Vikings and often reflected the profession or trade of the individual or their family. These surnames provided insight into the economic and social structures of Viking society.

The Vikings were skilled at various professions, and many of these skills were passed down from generation to generation. Some of the most common occupational surnames included:

Surname Profession
Bakari Baker
Fisker Fisherman
Skomaker Shoemaker
Tønnemaker Barrel maker

These surnames were often used to differentiate between individuals with the same given name, especially in larger communities. For example, if there were two individuals named Erik in a village, one could be referred to as Erik Bakari and the other as Erik Fisker, based on their respective professions.

Occupational surnames also reflected the importance of certain trades and skills in Viking society. The ability to produce food, clothing, and other essential goods was highly valued, and those with these skills often held positions of esteem and influence within their communities.

Overall, occupational surnames provide valuable insight into the economic and social structures of Viking society, as well as the importance placed on certain trades and professions.

Descriptive Surnames

The Vikings often used descriptive surnames that referred to physical features or personal qualities. These names provided insight into the individual’s appearance or character, and often served as a shorthand to distinguish them from others of the same given name.

Some examples of descriptive surnames include:

Surname Meaning
Erik the Red Referring to his red hair and beard
Harald Bluetooth Named after a dead tooth that appeared blue
Gunnar Eyjolfsson Indicating that he was the son of Eyjolf
Thorstein the Black Referring to his dark complexion or hair

These surnames were not only descriptive but could also be used as nicknames or even insults. For example, someone with a particularly large nose might be called “Nose” as a nickname, or “Big Nose” as an insult.

Descriptive surnames were not limited to physical features, as they could also refer to personal characteristics or skills. For example, someone who was known for their wisdom might be called “the Wise” as a surname.

The use of descriptive surnames in Viking society provided a unique insight into the individual’s physical or personal traits, and helped differentiate them from others.

Patronymic Adoption

The use of patronymic surnames was a common practice in Viking society. However, there were instances where individuals with non-Viking backgrounds would adopt patronymic surnames to assimilate into Viking culture.

During the Viking Age, the Vikings were known for their extensive travels and conquests. As a result, they encountered individuals from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Some of these individuals, such as slaves, prisoners of war, and foreigners, would take on Viking names to integrate into Viking society. This practice was particularly prevalent among the Normans, who were of Viking origin but had adopted French culture.

One famous example of patronymic adoption is the case of William the Conqueror, the Duke of Normandy who invaded England in 1066. William’s father was named Robert but he adopted the surname “Fitzroy” (meaning “son of the king” in French) to reflect his royal heritage. William, in turn, adopted the surname “Fitzwilliam” (meaning “son of William”) and passed it down to his descendants.

While patronymic adoption was not exclusive to the Vikings, it exemplifies the significant role that surnames played in shaping cultural identity during the Viking Age.

Legacy and Modern Usage

Viking surnames hold a special place in the collective memory of Norse culture and heritage. Though they were used in an era long past, their legacy continues to endure, with many modern individuals still bearing popular Viking surnames today.

For instance, the surname “Anderson” is derived from the Old Norse name “Anders,” which means “warrior.” Similarly, “Eriksson” is a patronymic surname that means “son of Erik,” a popular Viking name. And “Larsen” is yet another patronymic name that means “son of Lars,” another common Viking name.

Many Viking surnames have also been passed down through generations, becoming a part of family legacies and histories. These surnames serve as a connection to the past, reminding people of their Viking ancestry and the traditions that still live on.

Today, many individuals with Viking surnames continue to honor their heritage by exploring their Viking roots, learning about Norse mythology and history, and celebrating their cultural identity. Viking surnames have become a source of pride and connection for people around the world, from Scandinavia to North America and beyond.

In conclusion, the legacy of Viking surnames is a testament to the enduring power of Norse culture and heritage. As modern individuals continue to bear these names and honor their heritage, the spirit of the Vikings lives on.


In conclusion, Viking surnames provide a fascinating glimpse into the culture and heritage of the Vikings. As we have seen, these surnames were often derived from patronymics, geographical locations, occupations, and descriptive features.

Understanding Viking naming conventions and the significance of these surnames can help us gain a deeper appreciation for the Vikings and their way of life. The top 10 most common Viking surnames, such as Olafsson, Eriksson, and Thorsson, provide a snapshot of the regions and people that shaped Viking society.

Geographical and occupational surnames, such as Skane and Smith, reflect the rich diversity of Viking culture. Meanwhile, descriptive surnames like Blauaugu (blue eyes) and Haraldsdottir (daughter of Harald) offer insights into Viking physical features and family relationships.

Even today, Viking surnames have enduring significance. Many people with Scandinavian ancestry proudly bear these names, and they continue to inspire modern artists, writers, and filmmakers. The legacy of Viking surnames is a testament to the lasting impact of Viking culture on world history.

As we explore the world of Viking surnames, we can gain a deeper appreciation for this rich and complex civilization. By learning about their naming conventions and the meanings behind their surnames, we can better understand the Vikings and their place in history.


What were common Viking surnames?

Common Viking surnames included names derived from patronymics, occupations, physical features, and geographical locations.

How did the Vikings approach naming?

Viking names typically consisted of two parts – a given name and a patronymic surname, which indicated the individual’s father.

What are patronymic surnames?

Patronymic surnames were common among the Vikings and were formed by adding “son” or “dottir” (daughter) to the father’s name.

What are the top 10 Viking surnames?

The top 10 most common Viking surnames were typically derived from patronymics and included names like Eriksson, Jansson, and Svensson.

How were surnames related to geographical locations?

Viking surnames often reflected the places the Vikings called home, with names like Olafsson (son of Olaf) or Ragnarsdottir (daughter of Ragnar).

What are occupational surnames?

Occupational surnames were often associated with Viking professions, such as Skaldsson (son of a skald or poet) or Fisker (fisherman).

What are descriptive surnames?

Descriptive surnames referred to physical characteristics or personal qualities, such as Haraldsson (son of Harald) or Bjornsdottir (daughter of Bjorn).

What is patronymic adoption?

Patronymic adoption was the practice of individuals with non-Viking backgrounds taking on Viking surnames to assimilate into Viking society.