Monday, February 25, 2013

Matrilineal Monday: What's In A Name?

Kari Belle Myren, ca 1898

Lately, I've been trying to learn more about my Great Grandmother Kari Belle Myren.  Sure I can find her listed in a number of records, but each record seems to have her listed with a different name.  Depending on where I looked, she is listed as Carie, Carrie, Cary, Karen, Kari, or Karie for her first name and Belle, Myren, Pederson, Peterson, Petterson, Siem, Sivertsdatter, or Syversdatter as her last name.  Such are the ways of an Norwegian ancestor!

A self-published family history, Overli-Belle-Siem Family by Marion Myhre Chappelle, lists my Great Grandmother as Kari Belle Siem, the daughter of Syver Hanson (Overli) Belle.  To me, my Great Grandmother will always be Kari since that was the way my mother spelled her Grandmother's name.  Below is a quick look at how Kari is listed in various records.  This variety of names is part of why it sometimes takes a while to locate information about Kari.

  • 1853    Norway, Baptism Record, Lesja Parish              Karie Sivertsdatter
  • 1865    Norway, Census, Lesja Parish                            Cari Syversdatter
  • 1868    Norway, Confirmation Record, Lesja Parish       Kari Belle
  • 1885    Dakota Territory Census                                    Cary Petterson (now married)
  • 1900    U.S. Federal Census                                          Karie Myren (same husband)
  • 1910    U.S. Federal Census                                          Kari Myren
  • 1915    Census of North Dakota                                     Carrie Myren

Kari's variety of names reflects her Norwegian birth.  Born in Norway in the mid 1850s, her name reflected the patronymic naming custom used at that time.  Simply put, a child's last name was determined by the father's name and the sex of the child.  Kari's grandfather's first name was Hans and her father was Syver, Han's son, so her father was known as Syver Hanson.  Because her father's first name was Syver, Kari's last name was a form of Syver's daughter, sometimes written as Sivertsdatter or Syversdatter.  All of Kari's sisters had the surname of Sivertsdatter/Syversdatter; all of her brothers were Sivertson/Syverson.  At least this made it easy to know who the father of a child was.

Another part of Kari's name was Belle or Siem, names of two farms that had been owned by Kari's father through the years.  The farm name became attached to Syver Hanson's name and to the names of his children, like Kari.  This helped to distinguish between the Syver Hanson family who lived on the Belle farm and another Syver Hanson family who lived elsewhere.  The Belle as part of Kari's name also suggests that the family might have been living on the Belle farm when her name was recorded as Kari Belle in 1868.

These Norwegian naming conventions took a while to click with me,  but once I grasped the concepts, it has been helpful  in tracing the family back through generations.  A person's name often has clues as to a parent's or grandparent's first name, and the names can also point to where the family lived.  To help us all, has a clear explanation of these Norwegian naming customs here.

Final interesting name fact about Kari.  About 1881 in North Dakota, Kari married another Norwegian immigrant, my Great Grandfather Peter Peterson Myren (you got it, Peter, son of Peter, from the Myren farm).   Of their nine children, only one had a name drawn from generations of family back in Norway.  New country, new ways, new names.


  1. How interesting, Mary! I didn't realize this. When reading this my first thought was how hard it would be to research your great-grandmother; then as you went into more detail and shared the fact that it has really helped, I see the advantages. Thanks for this great post.

  2. Thanks for your kind comment. One thing I didn't mention is how having an ancestor's date of birth make it SO much easier to locate information. The name may have many variations, but a date is more constant. I found the three earliest records listed above by searching primarily by date, then skimming until I found how she was listed in that record.

  3. I think we all have some relative with more names than we know how to deal with -- how cool that you can link her numerous names to her Norwegian heritage. Fascinating!

  4. I am so excited to have stumbled on to this information. My Great Grandfather was Hans Syversen Overli Belle, born 12-4-1833 in Lesja, Norway. My records indicate he was the 2nd oldest of the siblings to Kari Sivertsdatter Belle, born 1-15-1853. Kari is listed as subsequently married to Peter Myren. Kari apparently was the 9th child of her family. I am very excited to learn more about my family and have been given a fairly detailed copy of our branch of the Belle family tree. I would love to know more about the other branches of our tree and especially family stories. I would be very pleased if we could correspond.