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Nielsen is a name. A surname. A Danish surname. A patronymic.

With 4.8 % of the population as of 1st January 2012, it is the second most common surname in Denmark. Jensen (also 4.8 %) is marginally more common, Hansen (4.0 %) somewhat less.

It means "Niels's son".

The Scandinavian context

Nielsen fills a similar place in the Danish landscape of names to what Nilsson does in Swedish and Nilsen in Norwegian. Those Scandinavian alternatives may be less common but are nevertheless among the top 10 surnames in their respective home countries.

This microcosm of names demonstrates some of the differences in naming conventions in Scandinavia:

  • In Danish names, it is a fairly common practice to add an e for decorative purposes behind a vowel.
  • The Swedes use -son, not -sen, in patronymics.
  • And they maintain the s'es from both parts of the name, where Danes and Norwegians leave one out.

Beyond Scandinavia

The most obvious English parallels may be Nelson and Nicholson.

Worth knowing

Some notable individuals named Nielsen: Carl Nielsen (composer), Asta Nielsen (silent movie actress), Jakob Nielsen (web usability guru).