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?

His history is considerable.  King Sweyn I of Denmark conquered Norway and even invaded England in 1002, briefly reigning as king in all three countries.  Also known as Svend, Svein and even Swegen, it is believed the surviving place name Swansea is a reference to the ruler – Sweyn’s Ey.

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.

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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  1. I’ve lived in the upper midwest most of my life and it’s pretty rare to hear such a stereotypical Scandinavian name on a young person. Typically this is the type of name our ancestors changed in order to be more “American.” I do think this is changing, as I’ve heard Lars, Gustav, Olaf and Odin in birth announcements and Soren is becoming downright popular. But the only Sven I’ve heard of is Sven Sundgaard,
    a popular meteorologist in Minneapolis. He’s a bit of a local celebrity and so I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to hear he has a inspired a few namesakes.

  2. I really like Sven. Cool. Crisp and masculine. However, I can only picture this name on someone of Scandinavian Heritage, as it seems to be an on-going classic over there.

  3. I love love love Sven. It’s got just the right mixture of exotic/familiarity. I think it would be a great way to honor a Steven (my father is a Stephen) and It also sounds amazing with my last name. I’ve never known a Sven but when I hear it I visualize someone who is just a really slick together guy. Thanks for making Sven NOTD!!!!

  4. Funny how media can influence our opinions. I kept wondering why Sven made me think of a monkey: in the video game Breath of Fire II there is a monkey character named Stenn. Not the same, but too close for comfort. If Sven were a nickname (maybe for Steven?) I think I’d like it more than as a given name.
    As for Svetlana, I’m reading the Night Watch series by Sergei Lukuanenko (I highly recommend if you’re into dark, modern fantasy) and Svetlana is a warm, good-hearted and pure character with only positive associations (as opposed to models or vodka, which are inexorably bad). I love Russian pet forms of names. Sveta sounds so affectionate.

  5. Here in England, Sven would make most people think of the old England football manager Sven Goran-Eriksson. He’s pretty famous and would be the first Sven who comes to mind for most people. He doesn’t manage England anymore (managing the Ivory Coast now) and I think it would turn most people off this name here!

  6. Sven was the name I gave my ginormous bass drum when I was in high school! I was so happy to see this as the NotD. I would probably not use it for my own kids name, but if I saw it on someone else’s kid, I would be thrilled. One of my mom’s co-workers recently named her baby Hans, which was unusual, but since they almost went with Squire, I think Hans was the better choice!

  7. Sven’s okay. Swansea… New Year’s… good times… crazy times! I’d entertain Swansea as a middle… maybe. We actually tried to find an England reference, but failed (went through Christchurch, Boscombe, Bournemouth, Dorset, Avon, and several other places of significance to us, but never thought to include Swansea on the list). But Sven – not for me, but I’d be happy to meet one.

  8. If I remember correctly, the oldest brother in The Great Brain series of books by John D. Fitzgerald is named Sweyn.

    1. I looked that up too! The oldest was Sweyn, then Tom (The Great Brain) and John. Loved those books when I was about 8 or 9.

  9. I never used to really like Sven. It used to be a bit too ‘movie Russian bartender hitmanish” to me (NO OFFENSE MEANT); however, I now completely REVOKE that statement & I do like it. I wouldn’t use it, but it’s got an offbeat quirkiness that I like & it’s one of those names that’s fun to say. I also opened my newspaper one day & there was a photo of a group of kindergardeners (I’m that MUCH of a geek that I actually read the newspaper just to see what names the people have) & one of them was this angelic looking kid named Sven.The other kids with him were Cade,Zane,Thean & Emma. It just always stood out to me.Overall, I never used to like it & now do, but I’d never consider using it.