They Call You WHAT?: The Linguistics of Swedish Names

Ever do a doubletake when a foreigner tells you their name means “sweetness” or “blue mountain” or “all tires 50% off”? Coming from a society full of Jachs, Kyles and Jons, it just seems natural. Names aren’t supposed to mean something — they’re simply sounds we throw together and sometimes misspell to make our kids “unique” (or, better, Yooneak). The day we start calling ourselves “Sunshine” and “Elf Warrior” is the day we unplug grandma and let the government take our guns…there’s a Hindu’s Chance in Heaven it’ll ever happen!

Since Sweden is one giant experiment in everything non-American, it only makes sense that they’d be unhappy with a normal name like “Brad.” Here are two of the most popular names I’ve seen here and their secret hippie meanings:


Meaning: “deer lover” (maybe)

Breakdown: if the name is originally from Irish, it’s a combo of os (deer) and cara (friend). That second part actually has the same etymology as two very surprising words: charity and whore. Double package!

Charity we get from Latin cāritās, which comes from an extinct root that looked something like *karo– in prehistoric Europe. That very same root became “whore” in the Germanic family, because the change k—>h happens all over Germanic languages (e.g. Latin centum but our hundred; Greek kuon but our hound).

Verdict: Oscar, we’re going to refer to you as the charitable whore from now on. You’re practically a Dostoyevsky character!


Meaning: from Old High German Hlūtwīg (“famous/loud” + “battle”)

Breakdown: The first part of the name (hlūt) means “famous” and eventually dropped its h sound to become our word “loud” (in fact, that h dropped out pretty much everywhere in Old English — we simplified hlaf to loafhring to ringhwaet to what, etc.) If you go back far enough in time, the same root that gave us hlūt also created Old Irish clúas (“ear”), Greek kles (“fame”, as in the name Perikles), Sanskrit sravah (“fame”) and even our word “client.”

The second part “wīg” means “battle” and has the same origin as the Latin word “vincere” (to conquer — think “veni, vidi, vici) as well as the Greek Oikos (“house”) and the German prefix Weih- (“holy”, as in the word for Christmas “Weihnachten”). Ain’t that some shit?

Verdict: Louis and Louisa, we know your names mean “Loud Battle” — but personally we’re gonna have to rule in favor of “Chad.” Sorry. It just sounds cooler.

So there you have it — two reasons to give your kids names from the frozen north. As our Lord said in Genesis (and I say whenever someone insults me): go forth and multiply yourself!