Danish names

This page provides some basic information about traditions regarding Danish names. This may be helpful when searching for Danish ancestors.

Foreign names

If you know that an ancestor was born in Denmark about 150 years ago and had a name such as "Mary", "Jean", "Henry" or "Lawrence" you can quite sure that this was not the original Danish name. Foreign (English) names were not generally popular in Denmark prior to the beginning of the 20th century.

There are no strict guidelines that would indicate the original version of a name. However, often people would choose a name that bore a similarity to their original name.


Until about 1850 to 1870 most ordinary people used patronymics instead of surnames. Patronymics are constructed from the Christian name of a person's father, followed by "sen" (= son) or "datter" (= daughter). So, for example, Jens Nielsen's daughter Maren's full name would be "Maren Jensdatter", and his son Søren would be "Søren Jensen".

Patronymics were legally abolished in 1826 since authorities wanted people to use family surnames instead. Nonetheless, it took several decades before patronymics stopped being used. Regarding any person born in Denmark from about 1826-1870 it is impossible to be sure whether their last name is a patronymic or a family surname unless, of course, you already know the name of that person's parents.

Christian names

In earlier times the choice of Christian names was much more restricted. Partly due to the tradition of naming a newborn baby after a deceased family member, a large percentage of the population was given one of the 20-25 most popular names.

Often a certain pattern was followed when naming a baby, and understanding this pattern can give you some insight when researching your ancestors:

How Christian names were used
Examples of names for boys
Examples of names for girls