100 years of solitude? Norway and Sweden 1905-2005

Free flow of first names


When we look at the names that were in fashion in Norway and Sweden between 1989 and 2004, it is striking that almost all of the traffic is from Sweden to Norway. There is almost no effect in the other direction. Does this mean that Philip and Oscar are heading for the top of the Norwegian name list?

The choice of first names is clearly shaped by fashions. A name can be extremely popular for a while and then almost completely forgotten for a long time. But when a name starts being fashionable where does it come from and why? Trends spread like waves in water. From this perspective it is easy to see that there will be influences between two such close countries as Norway and Sweden.

The dissolution of the union in 1905 was reflected in the name statistics. The number of baby boys named Oskar in Norway that year plummeted. Historically, we know that the name trends in the two countries have to some degree been identical. From 1880 to 1905, Anna and Marie/Maria were popular names in both Sweden and Norway. In the 1940s, Jan was a popular name in Sweden, and was also a favourite in Norway in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Anne was a favourite name in Norway from 1940 to 1980, whilst Ann was fashionable in Sweden in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

Tomas was a fashionable name in Sweden in the 1950s and was one of the most common names in the 1960s. Thomas was in the top 10 in Norway from 1971 to 1995, and the top 3 from 1973 to 1990.

Camilla started to rise in popularity in Sweden in the 1960s. In Norway, Camilla was in the top 10 from 1976 to 1991. Thomas and Camilla are also examples of the types of names which, in Norway, first became popular in west Oslo/Bærum and then spread to the rest of the country.

Figures 1-4 illustrate the popularity trend in Sweden and Norway of four extremely pertinent names.

Popularity trend for the name Sara in Sweden and Norway. 1988-2003

Popularity trend for the name Emma in Sweden and Norway. 1988-2003

Sara was the decidedly most popular girl’s name in the 1980s in Sweden. In Norway, the name rose in popularity slowly but surely, and did not reach the top 10 until 2000. In 2002, Sara was the most popular name.

Emma was the dominant name overall in Sweden in the 1990s and was number 1 in 2003. Emma arrived in Norway some time later, but with a firm placing in 2003. This is the most popular girl’s name for 30 years.

Astrid Lindgren names

Is it simply the case that the Swedes are quicker to take on board international name trends than Norwegians, or are they exporters of their own names as well? The TV series “Vi på Saltkråkan”, with Tjorven and the fair Malin, was broadcast on Swedish TV in the 1960s and on Norwegian TV in May 1976. Malin was an unknown name in Norway until 1970, when it began to stir up interest, and since the beginning of the 1980s its popularity has gone through the roof. In Sweden, Malin was the second most popular name at the end of the 1980s but has since receded. In Norway, Malin peaked in 3 r d place in 1998. Malin is an example of a name that first gained popularity in øsfold.


"Emil i Lønneberget" was broadcast on Norwegian TV for the first time in February 1977. The story is the same as for Malin. The main difference is that Emil and Ida are “great grandparent names”, and would probably have regained popularity without the help of the rascal from Katthult and his sister. Emil was in the top 10 in Sweden in the 1990s, whilst in Norway the trend is still growing.


A book about Ronja Røverdatter was published in 1981 and the film of the same name was shown in cinemas in Norway in 1984/5. Ronja first appeared in the Norwegian name statistics in the 1980s and gradually increased in popularity, but was only in 63 r d place in 2003.

Popularity trend for the name Markus in Sweden and Norway. 1988-2003

Popularity trend for the name Tobias in Sweden and Norway. 1988-2003

Markus was the most popular boy’s name in Sweden for four years, from 1992 to 1995. During this time, the name steadily rose in popularity in Norway, and for four years, from 1999 to 2002, Markus/Marcus was the favourite.

Tobias is the boy’s name that has increased in popularity the most recently in Norway. In 2003, the name leapt 11 places to number two. In Sweden, Tobias is very common and was most popular in the 1980s and 90s.

Indications are strong that the name spectrum has become more international in recent decades. Names that are all the rage in one country can also be found in many other countries. Putting this down to television is not really the answer. The question is whether there are international tendencies that first come to Sweden, or whether the influence really crosses the Sweden-Norway border.

Astrid Lindgren's name. Popularity trend in Norway. 1880-2004

Only Liv and perhaps Tuva have come from Norway to Sweden. Liv was very rare in Sweden 25 years ago, and is now entering the name lists. Perhaps the popularity of the name is related to Liv Ullmann or her namesake Liv Tyler, an American actress famous for her role in the popular Lord of the Rings films. Tuva rose in popularity in Norway before Sweden, but interest is growing in Sweden, particularly since the TV series “Vi på Langedrag!” was shown on Swedish TV in the summer of 2002.

Nevertheless, if we can draw a conclusion from all of this, it must be that Swedish name lists contain a prognosis for the Norwegian lists. The most recent favourite names in Sweden have been Philip, Erik and Oscar. Overall, Erik is Sweden’s most popular boy’s name and seems to rise above fashion waves in both countries. On the other hand, Philip and Oscar are taking Norway by storm and we dare to predict a top spot within 10 years.

Sources :

Svenska namn ( http://www.svenskanamn.se/ ).

SCB: Birth figures 1989-2003.

SSB: Name statistics