My grandfather was born in Sweden in 1877 and he was a Johansson. He came to the U.S. in 1891 and the next record I can find is his Naturalization and his name is now Erickson.

Where did he get his name changed?

Is there a formal document that makes this change legal?

  • 1
    Welcome to G&FH SE! As a new user be sure to take the Tour to learn about our focussed Q&A format which is quite different from bulletin boards, discussion forums and other Q&A sites you may be used to. When did he get naturalized? Knowing that will narrow any search for when he may have changed the name by which he went.
    – PolyGeo
    Mar 7, 2021 at 21:39
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    Hi, welcome to G&FH.SE! It would be much easier to answer your question if you could tell us where you found his naturalization papers and when he was naturalized. All we know right now that it is sometime after 1891, and presumably he naturalized sometime after 1896. Did he naturalize before or after September 1906? Whether documents exist for a name change depend on the laws in effect at the time, so knowing the time period can really make a difference in how we answer.
    – Jan Murphy
    Mar 8, 2021 at 0:14
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    While you are waiting for an answer, look at other questions tagged name-change to see if you can get some ideas to help you. Try to collect more documents and record all the name variants to see what names were used when. You can add more information to your question at any time by using the edit link under your question. I have changed your question title because you don't say what location your ancestor naturalized in, and before 1906 the answer may differ, depending on which state he lived in.
    – Jan Murphy
    Mar 8, 2021 at 0:17

1 Answer 1


You don't say where you've seen that your grandfather's name was "Johansson". Maybe that is only in Swedish records, and he has always been "Erickson" in US records? Then that would be very typical.

I assume that your grandfather's father was called "Johan Eriksson". Then the thing to understand is that when your grandfather was born in 1877 "Johansson" wasn't a family name in Sweden. It was really not a name, but rather a designation of what his father's name was – a patronymic. So he was Johan's son = Johans son = Johansson. If he had a sister she was Johan's daughter = Johans dotter = Johansdotter. It meant nothing more, nothing less.

Some people in Sweden had family names, but most didn't, and used this system of patronymics. But ... right at this time the system started to crumble, and many families took family names, often by making family names out of the patronymics. For emigrants to the United States there was an extra incentive, since the Americans didn't understand the patronymic system and assumed that there would be an 'Ericson family' where everyone was an Ericson, and might think the children were born out of wedlock if you didn't do it like that.

So in particular if your grandfather emigrated together with his family (which I assume he did, since he was around 14) they probably would all redefine themselves to be an 'Ericson family' (including "Mrs. Ericson" who before would carry her own patronymic and might be for example "Lisa Henriksdotter" if her father was named Henrik).

The same might have happened if the family had stayed in Sweden for that matter. Not long afterwards the patronymic system had almost died out.

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