Why is Sweden called Sweden? The Local answers Google’s questions

Why is Sweden called Sweden? Why is Sweden so depressing? Why is Sweden so rich?  In this series of articles, The Local answers some of the most common questions that appear when you type "Why is Sweden..." into the Google search engine.  

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Why is Sweden actually called Sweden? Let's find out. Photo: Google screenshot

The short answer to “why is Sweden called Sweden?” is that it’s not. It’s called Sverige

When The Local asked Henrik Williams, a Professor of Scandinavian Languages at Uppsala University, he also gave the question a short answer: “Because it’s inhabited by Swedes.” 

We can trace some form of the name back to at least the 13th century, when it was called Swearike in Old Swedish. That translates to “the kingdom of the Swear”.

Two thousand years ago, some of the people living in what is now known as Sweden were called Svear or Suiones, depending on which language you spoke and on how you spelled things (spelling varied greatly). 

The Roman historian Tacitus gives the first known description of the Svear in a book written in the year 93 CE, Germania

Everything comes down to this word, Svear, the name of the people. It means ‘we ourselves’. The Svear lived in Uppland just north of where Stockholm is now, until about the 11th century when they started expanding their territory. 

“It’s very common that people call themselves, either ‘we ourselves’ or ‘the people’” said Professor Williams. 

“We are ‘the humans’ and everybody else is something else. Everyone else is ‘them'”.

Of course, nobody uses the word in that way now, but it still forms the basis of the word Sweden.

The 8th century epic poem Beowulf gives the earliest known recorded version of the word Sweoland, land of the Swear

But at that time, there was no Sweden. Instead, the land was occupied by little kingdoms of Swedes and Goths (in present-day Götaland) and warring tribes of Vikings.

It’s unclear when the King of the Swear started referring to himself as the king of a country called Sweden, but it was probably around the time the country adopted Christianity in the 11th century. 

“Sweden” only came into regular use after 1750, when it replaced “Swedeland” in English. But in Scotland, “Sweden” had been used since the beginning of the modern era.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary in the early 17th century, people would use Sweden as the name of the people, and Swedeland as the name of the country. 

The first attested use of ‘Sweden’ was in a Scottish timber accounting log in 1503, which refers to “Sweden boards.” 

Most countries went from the Old Norse word Svíþjóð (which is still used to describe Sweden in Icelandic today) and turned it into something in their own languages, like the Old English Swíoríce, the Middle Dutch Zweden and High German Schweden

But it’s not called Sweden everywhere. 

In Finnish, Sweden is Ruotsi, in Estonian it’s Rootsi, and in Northern Sami Ruoŧŧa.

This comes from the root-word Rod, as in modern day Roslagen the coastal part of Uppland. It means rowing, or people who row. And because Finland was invaded by people from Roslagen, that’s how Finns referred to them. 

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Everything you need to know about Swedish bomb shelters and where to find them

Sweden has over 65,000 shelters to be used in the event of war. Find out how to find your nearest shelter, and how you'll know when to use it.

Everything you need to know about Swedish bomb shelters and where to find them

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Sweden’s 65,000 shelters have enough space for 7 million people, and are mainly for use in larger towns and cities which can be difficult to evacuate. You can recognise them easily – all shelters display a sign comprising of a blue triangle inside an orange square, over the word skyddsrum in capital letters.

Which shelter do I belong to?

You are not assigned a specific shelter, but are advised to attend the shelter closest to your location. They are often located in apartment cellars, but can also be found in metro stations or commercial buildings.

Don’t worry if your apartment building’s shelter is currently used for another purpose, such as bike parking or for storage. Shelters are designed to be used for other purposes in peacetime, and must be emptied within 48 hours’ notice by the building’s owner in the event of an alarm.

A full list of Sweden’s shelters is available here – just type in your address in the top left-hand corner under sök skyddsrum to find out where your nearest shelter is.

How do I know when to go there?

Have you ever heard an unexplained loud honking noise around 3pm on a Monday? That’s “Hoarse Fredrik”, Sweden’s alarm system used for warning the population in the event of a life-threatening situation in peacetime.

The siren system is tested in populated areas all over Sweden, on the first Monday of March, June, September and December at three o’clock on the dot. If you hear Hoarse Fredrik outside of these times, he’s warning the public of danger such as a big fire or an explosion. 

But this signal (seven-second blasts interspersed with 14-second silence, followed by a longer signal which indicates ‘hazard over’) does NOT mean you should head to your nearest shelter, only that you should go inside, close all windows and turn on Swedish public radio.

In wartime, on the other hand, the air raid alarm (which consists of a signal with regular two-second bursts, lasting for a minute in total) will instead be used, and when you hear that you should head to your nearest shelter, and again, turn on the radio.

What facilities are there in a shelter?

In a shelter which has been correctly prepared, there should be water, heating, ventilation and toilets. There is no food. The Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency recommends that you take the following with you:

  • a torch
  • bottled water
  • food which can be stored at room temperature
  • hygiene products
  • toilet paper
  • medicine
  • first aid kit
  • warm clothes
  • valuables (ID card, cash, debit or credit card)
  • keys
  • mobile phone and charger or powerbank

A complete checklist is available on pages 10 and 11 of the agency’s brochure, “If Crisis or War Comes”.

Shelters are designed to protect against gases used in war, as well as shockwaves and shrapnel from a bomb weighing up to 250 kilos. They should be able to provide shelter for up to three days.