This is a blog post with examples of name changes from the simple to the dramatic. Let’s begin with the simple.


Simple name changes often begin with a simple spelling error. There is usually nothing nefarious about them. The person speaks their name and it is recorded as the person heard it. This happened with my grandfather when he joined the Marine Corps. LUNDBERG became LUNDBURG and that’s the way he spelled it evermore. In the 1910 census it is spelled with an “e” and when he married in 1913 with an “e” and in 1918 recorded on US Marine Corps muster rolls with a “u” and on the 1920 census and all subsequent documents it is spelled with a “u.”

We are hung up about spelling. Let us remember in earlier centuries people were not at all concerned with it. The same name might be spelled 3, 4 or even 5 different ways in the same document! The idea was to get the point across—no worries about spelling names many different ways.


My German ancestors excelled in the art of simplification especially upon reaching American shores in the 1700’s. Or later even adding or exchanging letters. Some examples:







This one take the cake! My 3rd great grandfather was born Gustaf Bengtsson 11th of August 1801 in  Hakarp, Jönköping, Sweden following patronymic protocol he was the son of Bengt Jonsson. But when he married he had taken the name Gustaf WARNSTRÖM.

Gustaf WARNSTRÖM married Catherina HAKBERG December 27 1821 Hakarp, Jönköping, Sweden

His son my 2nd great grandfather was baptised Carl Gustaf WÄRNSTRÖM 18th of August 1829 Fässberg, Västra Götaland, Sweden. When Carl immigrated to America on the 9th of August 1854 he was listed on the NY passenger list as Carl WENNERSTRUM. A year later, 19th of May 1855, he is married in Chicago as Carl Gust. WERNSTROM to my 2nd great grandmother, Elizabeth Olson.

2nd entry May 19 1855 Carl Gust. WERNSTROM to Elizabeth Olson Chicago, IL

By the time they settled in Minnesota 2 years later in 1857 the name becomes Charles VANSTRUM. Incidentally this is the name that he continued to be known by, as well as his descendants.

1857 Redwing, Goodhue County, Minnesota Census Charles VANSTRUM

But not to leave well enough alone, in 1898 he returns on a visit to Sweden and he is registered as Karl WENNERSTRÖM. So here is the full listing of the progression of this name:

  • Gustaf BENGTSSON 1801
  • Gustaf WARNSTRÖM 1821
  • Carl Gustaf WÄRNSTRÖM 1829
  • Carl WENNERSTRUM 1854
  • Carl Gustaf WERNSTROM 1855
  • Charles VANSTRUM 1857
  • Karl WENNERSTRÖM 1898

7 different names in less than 100 years!


Asloûg Eliffesdotter aka Elizabeth OLSON Colorized by Lori Moser

My most confounding, difficult name change was that of my 2nd great mother Elizabeth OLSON. Her marriage entry to Carl VANSTRUM is shown above. My aunt and I searched for her in vain for nearly 40 years! We had her birthplace in Norway and the birthdates for her and her sister Sigrid. Letters to many, many archives in Norway. Ingen, nada, nilch, nothing! Then with some help from a Norwegian Research Facebook Group voilá Elizabeth OLSON was discovered to be none other than Asloûg Eliffesdotter. Apparently the lazy archivist in Norway couldn’t be bothered when the names did not match, Asloûg was there all the time! Never give up.

Asloûg Elivesdotter baptized 30 Mach 1827 Vinje, Telemark, Norway

Her father was Eliv or Eliff OLSSON. So when she Americanized her name to Elizabeth she was taking something quite similar to her father’s name. Eliff OLSSON = Elizabeth OLSON. Not so random after all.

Aslaug Eliffsdotter Emigation Record 14 Apr 1852 from Vinje Telemark Norway to Amerika

Name changes, happen. They happen for many reasons. It is unlikely that a name change took place on entry to a country. The ships passenger lists and immigration records at least in 20th C records are usually a match. Name changes most likely happen as people adapt to their new environment. The bottom line is keep an open mind. Take advantage of Soundex type tools that allow matches on similar sounding names. And please don’t insist they can’t be your relatives because they spelled their names differently.

Kelly Wheaton Copyright 2021. All Rights Reserved.

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