Danish surname mystery

According to this list, the 20 most popular Danish surnames all end in “-sen” (meaning “son of”).  Surname #21 is Møller, and the next 7 surnames again end in “-sen“.  Surname #29 is Lund and of the next 21 surnames (ie, numbers 30 through 50 inclusive), fully 15 also end in “-sen“.

As I browsed this list, I thought of the characters in the TV series Borgen, a fictional series about Danish coalition politics.   I struggled to think of any characters with a surname ending in “-sen”.  The Wikipedia page for the series lists 28 recurring characters whose surnames we learn.  Of these 28, only 5 characters (18%) have surnames ending in “-sen”.  One of these 5 characters is the Prime Minister, Birgitte Nyborg, whose husband’s surname is “Christensen“; almost never in the series is she called by her husband’s surname.  Interestingly,  9 of the actors playing these 28 characters (32%) have names (which may be real or stage names) ending in “-sen“.

Here are the surnames of the 28 recurring characters in Borgen listed on the Wikipedia page, in alpha order.  Where the surname appears in the list of the top 100 Danish surnames, I include its position in the list in parantheses following the name. Thus, “Chistensen”, for example, is the 6th most common surname.

Christensen (6), Dahl (52), Diwan, Fønsmark, Friis (61), Hedegård (98), Hesselboe, Hesselboe, Holm (32), Höxenhaven, Juul (96), Kiær (48), Klitgaard, Kruse (92), Laugesen, Lindenkrone, Lund (29), Madsen (12), Marrot, Mørch, Munk, Nagrawi, Nedergaard, Nyborg, Saltum, Sejrø, Thorsen (89), Toft (71).

For comparison, I also looked at the character names of the Danish TV series The Killing.  In Season 1, there were 11 main characters, of whom only 2 (the victim’s parents) have a surname ending in “-sen”.  In Season 2, just 2 of the 13 main characters do, and in Season 3, not a single one of the 12 main characters does.

How very curious. I checked the list of current members of the Folketing, the Danish Parliament, and a mere 26 of the 179 members have names ending in “-sen”, just 14.5%.   The ranked list of surnames shows that, of the top 100 names, those ending in “-sen” or “-son” are held by at least 49.6% of Danes (2,774,269 out of 5,590,000). So perhaps having a relatively rare surname is an advantage in Danish politics.  I wonder if the writers of Borgen and The Killing were worried about their characters being mistaken for living politicians or other well-known people, or about foreign viewers not being able to distinguish one Mads Kaspar Somethingsen from another.

Or, perhaps, there is a class or status aspect at work here, with common surnames considered déclassé, and thus less likely to be used by screenwriters or actors. (HT: SP)

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