Who Are the Thorins?

In the early days of the industrial revolution of Sweden, it became a popular practice for families to adopt unique surnames unrelated to those of the previous generations. In fact, before adopting a new name, families often went by the patronymic system of lastnames (see fig. 1).

 Unless you were royalty, or a soldier with a common last name, the chances are that you had a patronymic name (imagine having to yell commands to a soldier named Andersson—you’d get the whole squad’s attention in Sweden!).

Though this made it easy to remember your father’s name, it quickly lost fashion with the turn of the 20th century. From thence forward, some families kept a particular patronymic surname as the new family name while others adopted completely new words.

Lindqvist, Lindberg, Lindström, Söderlund, Söderberg, etc., are all examples of names created from features that defined the home lands of various families. (Lind means “linden” [a kind of tree]; qvist, “twig”; berg, “mountain”; ström, “stream”; Söder, “south”; lund, “grove”.)

But what about Thorin?

That leads us to the big question: where did the Thorin surname originate? Unlike other, adopted Swedish surnames, Thorin is unique: it does not have a reference to nature; it is not a name characteristic of a military past; and it is not royalty. The word thorin does not appear in any Swedish dictionaries. So where did it come from?

Let’s take a look at the genealogy to gain some clues:

1. Joseph Johansson

Joseph Johansson was born in the cold winter of 1822 near Tranemo, Sweden, the first child to poor, newlywed cottagers from the same area. But despite being poor, Joseph’s life was filled with happiness from the many siblings he helped raise. The moment he was able to leave his mother and father and cleave to a wife, he headed out with a strong desire to have children of his own.

Örsås Kyrke BW
The church of Örsås, Sweden.

In the white winter days of 1842, a son was born to him and Margaretha Gabrielsdotter. They named him Johannes, after Joseph’s father. Tragically, only one month before his son’s first birthday, Joseph died of a fever, leaving behind a young, heartbroken wife and a child who would grow up with no recollection of his father.

Until age 13, Johannes was raised by his single mother, living with relatives and knowing only a meager existence working the land the interdependent family leased. But in 1855, Margaretha married a local crofter named Anders Johansson, who, though unmarried, was very nearly the same age as Margaretha. Together they had three more children, including a brother for Johannes who his mother lovingly named Josef, in remembrance of her first love.

2. Johannes Josefsson Thorin

Margaretha’s union with Anders would prove the end of hard times for the young Johannes, and at age 17 Johannes was given the opportunity to leave home and become an apprentice sacristan and organist under the tutelage of Josef Sjöstrand. The opportunity for this sacred, secondary education would prove to be a great turning point for the family—and possibly for its name; this is when the surname “Thorin” first appears and the patronymic pattern ends.

Johannes Josefsson, now Johannes Josefsson Thorin, spent the next few years probably helping with the farm work at his step father’s farm, which went by the name of Thoresåsen. Life on the farm may have been very prosperous during this time as there is some indication that the name “Thorin” was derived from the family farm name. Supporting this idea is the fact that Johannes’ step siblings also took upon themselves the new surname. Had the name been bestowed as a sign of Johannes’ educational accomplishments, it is doubtful that all the immediate relatives would have taken the name as well.

In 1866, Johannes attained even greater educational heights by graduating from the Göteborgs Folkskollärare Seminarium (“Gothenburg Elementary School Teacher Seminary”). Two years later he would marry Lovisa Larsdotter and establish himself as the elementary school teacher, sacristan, and organist of the rural village called Örby on the northern banks of the Västra Öresjön lake. Here they would raise eight children and eventually be buried.

Johannes Josefsson Thorin (second from left, back row) stands with other school teachers in the Örby/Kinna area of Sweden.
Johannes Josefsson Thorin (second from left, back row) stands with other school teachers in the Örby/Kinna area of Sweden. c.1895, age 53

Before his death, Johannes rose to a degree of political prominence. Though he was not elected, he even ran for a position in the Swedish parliament in 1896, campaigning on a platform of educational reform. A Swedish teachers journal, Svensk Läraretidning, quoted Johannes as he stated his main points:

“Children should principally be taught in Christianity—[even] before reading, any writing and arithmetic. This [change] would be sufficient, as things are now done in the elementary schools, for all [children] to become scholars.” [link]

Johannes Josefsson Thorin
c.1912, age 70

Despite his brief touch with public fame, Johannes’ greatest interest would remain his faith and his musical education. This is attested to by his gravestone, which is listed as a Kulturhistoriskt viktiga gravvårdar or  a “culturally and historically important tombstone” in the book Kulturhistorisk inventering av begravningsplatserna i Örby – Skene församling (“Cultural-historical inventory of cemeteries in Örby – Skene Parish”), as it is located in a prominent place very near the his beloved church with the single word Orginisten (“Organist”) written upon it.

Organisten Johannes Thorin 15/11 1842 T 1/1 1920 Lovisa Thorin 6/2 1841 T 15/8 1925 Dottern Maggie 1/7 1873 T 15/10 1944
Organisten  Johannes Thorin  15/11 1842 T 1/1 1920
Lovisa Thorin  6/2 1841 T 15/8 1925
Dottern Maggie  1/7 1873 T 15/10 1944

From this man sprang many of the Thorins now located in the American midwest.

To know their history—and to continue this story—read the history of the family immigrants on the page “Immigrants to America.”

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