He’s short, simple and yet terribly exotic.
Thanks to UrbanAngel for suggesting Sven as Baby Name of the Day.
Sven isn’t actually a Swedish version of John, but does tend to get used as an everyman name for anyone of Scandinavian descent. He actually comes from the Old Norse for boy, or possibly squire, originally spelled Sveinn. The same root led to the English word swain, as in suitor – shades of recent Baby Name of the Day Beau!
You’d expect to find Sven in Sweden or Norway, and indeed, you would. But Sven is even more popular for newborns in the Netherlands, where he’s a Top Twenty pick. He’s also in Slovenia’s Top 100, and heard elsewhere in Northern Europe, like Germany, too.
As in the Russian Svetlana, sv makes for a curious combo in English. It isn’t difficult to pronounce, but it is clearly an import – and a rare bird. But while Svetlana is stark, evoking vodka and supermodels, there’s something vaguely comic about Sven.
That’s probably thanks to the Sven and Ole jokes, like this one:
Sven and Ole got a job putting in telephone poles. After the first day, they were talking to the foreman. The foreman asked how many poles they had put in.
“Two,” said Ole.
“Only TWO?” said the foreman. “All the other crews put in eight to ten.”
“Yah!” said Ole, “but did you see how much dey left sticking out?”
Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion has also served to popularize Sven as a comic figure.
But plug the dated Ken or oh-so-common Ben into Nameberry’s Coolator for Boys and out comes Sven. And Scandinavian boys like Leif and starbaby Axel are well-received. In fact, Axel seems poised to reach the Top 100 this decade. So why not Sven?
Tons of athletes, politicians, musicians and other notables in Scandinavia and elsewhere in Europe have worn the name. The handful of successful American Svens were mostly immigrants, like clog entrepreneur Sven Carlsson.
Record-setting Dutch speedskater Sven Kramer is better known after his victories during the Vancouver games – but also for his surly attitude during an interview. Still, it isn’t the kind of strongly negative association that might sink a name.
If you’re looking for an offbeat way to honor your Scandinavian heritage with a name that is familiar and obscure at once, Sven might just work.