February 17, 2023

What’s in a Last Name?

Hans Ringertz, MD, PhD


Ringertz Journal Clip 1835
The first mention of the name Ringertz is from a journal clip dated, Sept. 12, 1835, noting that the student, E. Ringertz, was a registered traveler! The note appeared in many different newspapers after this.
Nils Nilsson was the grandfather of my paternal grandfather. Born 1784, Nils was the son of a farmer near the border of Östergötland and Småland in the southeast of Sweden. His first wife, Anna Stina Andersdotter, had a brother (Erik) who was given the surname Ringertz during his military service, derived from Ringarum — the name of his village.


Sweden at that time was strongly influenced by German traditions, especially under military circumstances. Therefore, to create his last name, the German “-ertz” was added to the first part of the village name, resulting in: Ringertz.

Nils and Anna Stina gave their son the surname, Ringertz, as well. After he married, they had a boy (my grandfather), who — with his sister — survived to adulthood. The children were both born with the surname Ringertz, but the Nilsson family apparently detested the new given name and declared that if he kept the new name, he would not get any part of his inheritance from his father’s second wife (his stepmother). Thus, he and his wife went back to the old name, Nilsson, but the children did not.


N.C. Ringertz (Headshot 1911)The daughter got married and for a while, there was only one Ringertz in the world, my grandfather — Nils Conrad. He was assessed as capable of higher education and took a “class trip” from farmers son to the third, non-aristocratic officer in Sweden. In the beginning of his military service, he served for five weeks per year. According to expectations, the officer should spend the rest of the time at his estate.

Lacking an estate, he tried two alternatives: He entered the Stockholm Institute of Technology and became a civil engineer specializing in surveying, and in 1890, he married Gabrielle Monique Johns, the daughter of a German banker in Stockholm. The first alternative (becoming a surveying engineer) was more successful than the second alternative, because the German father-in-law banker declared bankruptcy. Thus, the father and mother-in-law came to live with Nils in his young, and relatively poor, military household in the Swedish city where Nils worked as an officer.


Chased By Creditors (Cartoon)During his military training, Nils seemed to have found the work very inefficient and would illustrate his life situation in ironic drawings. This one is called “chased by creditors.”