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Sweden: New Law Regulating Names Adopted

(Dec. 15, 2016) On November 9, 2016, the Swedish Parliament (Riksdagen) approved a new law that regulates how names are acquired in Sweden. (En ny lag om personnamn [A New Law on Personal Names], SVERIGES RIKSDAG (last visited Nov. 25, 2016); Lag om Personnamn (SFS 2016:1013) [Act on Personal Names] (New Name Law), Nov. 17, 2016, SVERIGES RIKSDAG.)  According to its legislative history, the purpose of the law is to make the law clearer to people and to give Swedes more freedom in determining their own names. (Statens Offentliga Utredningar [SOU] 2013:35 [government report], Addendum 4, REGERINGSKANSLIET; Civilutskottets betänkande [Committeee Report] 2016/17:CU4, En ny lag om personnamn [A New Law on Personal Names], at 1.)

The law will enter into force on July 1, 2017. (SVERIGES RIKSDAG, supra.)

Name Changes

Changes in the law include scrapping the limits on how many times a person may change his or her name to allow individuals to change their names an unlimited number of times; the previous law’s section 11 limited the number of times a person could change his or her surname to one apart from at the time of marriage, and required special reasons for additional changes. (New Name Law [no limiting provision]; 11 § Namnlag [Name Law] (Svensk författningssamling [SFS]) 1982:670.)

Restrictions Eased on Adoption of Surnames

Moreover, the law removes protection for surnames that are carried by at least 2,000 persons, making these names available for adoption by all. (16 § New Name Law.)  Under the Name Law currently in force, a person can only change his or her last name to a name that has a connection to him or her through family or marriage.  (Id. 5-14 §§.)  The ten most common last names in 2015 were:

  1. Andersson, with 241,854 persons;
  2. Johansson,   241,685;
  3. Karlsson,      214,920;
  4. Nilsson,        165,106;
  5. Eriksson,      143,219;
  6. Larsson,        120,795;
  7. Olsson,          109,964;
  8. Persson,        104,111;
  9. Svensson,       97,761;
  10. Gustafsson,   94,403.  (Vanligaste efternamnen, SCB (last visited Nov. 29, 2016).)

Surnames with less than 2,000 users will continue to be available only to those with a family or marital connection.

Double Surnames

Another novelty is that under the new law, persons are also allowed to have two last names, known as “double surnames.” (20 § New Name Law.)  Currently the practice of persons keeping their maiden names while also taking their spouses’ name is resolved by the persons adding one of the surnames as a middle name.

As no automatic surname is given at birth, parents will be able to decide to give their children two surnames. (Id.)  The surname of each newborn must be reported to the Swedish Tax Authority within three months of birth.  (Id. 5 §.)  Surnames that the child can be given are either parent’s current or previous name, a combination of the parents’ names (i.e., two last names), the parents’ first name with the addition of -son or -daughter (e.g., Elinson or Elinsdotter), or a name that a sibling with the same mother and father already carries (thus, in theory, siblings can have different last names).  (Id. 4 §.)

Remaining Restrictions

Despite the legislators’ intent to make the adoption of names freer, certain limitations still exist. Famous surnames or names used by historical persons and members of the nobility may not be used.  (Id. 15 §.)  A parent also may not pass along a name acquired through marriage to a child born outside of that marriage (i.e., a divorced parent cannot pass on a name from a former marriage to a child born subsequently).  There are also limits on the creation of new names, including names that can be perceived as offensive or that can create discomfort in the person carrying the name.  (Id. 14 §.)

Other Provisions

The new law also consolidates all government authority over the use of personal names with the Swedish Tax Authority. (Id. 3 § & 36 §.)  Currently, authority over name changes is split between the Tax Authority and the Swedish Patent and Registration Office.  (5 § & 11 § Name Law.)  Decisions made by the Swedish Tax Authority will be appealable to the administrative court system.  (42 § New Name Law.)

The law will also provide an opportunity for a person to sue for the removal of someone else’s name, if the use of the name is damaging to the petitioner. (Id. 21 §.)