Peterson Surname Meaning, History & Origin
Scandinavian names of Petersen and Pedersen, most common today in
Denmark and Sweden and also to be found in Holland and Germany, derive
Peter (or Per) from the Christian Bible. Patronyms were the norm
countries during the Middle Ages. Thus the son of Per Jonsson
under this system in Sweden would be, for example, Johan Petersson.
surnames spread to Denmark and Norway from Germany in the later Middle
Ages, but it was not until 1844 that they became fixed and required. The English and Scottish surnames Paterson and Patterson come from a
different first name, Patrick instead of Peter. The Peterson name
is only really indigenous in the Shetland isles where the Scandinavian
influence has remained strong.
- Andrew Peterson. Andrew Peterson
Sweden to Minnesota.
- The Roth House. Home of
Atley Peterson, Wisconsin pioneer.
The Scandinavian influx to
America in the 19th century brought with it Scandinavian names like
Petersen and Pedersen. These names are most common in Denmark
(Pedersen is the fourth most common surname there) but also occur
elsewhere in Scandinavia and in Germany and Holland:
- 280,000 in Denmark (more Pedersen)
- 40,000 in Norway (more Pedersen)
- 120,000 in Sweden (more Pettersson and Petersson)
- 40,000 in Germany (more Petersen)
- and 5,000 in the Netherlands (more Petersen and Pietersen)
When these names came to America more often than not they became
Peterson. Peterson today accounts for 75 percent of these
names in the United States.
The largest number of these immigrants came from Sweden.
Surnames in the modern sense arrived late in the Shetland isles, as
they did in Scandinavia. Thus in a Shetland tale of the 1700’s
patronyms were still in place and the lad Robert Nicolson of Fetlar was
in fact the son of Nicol Peterson.
The Rev. Peter Peterson was
born in the Shetlands in 1790 and his son John Peterson was a merchant in
Edinburgh. One of John’s sons, Peter, became an eminent Sanskrit
scholar; another, William, was also an academic and was Principal of
McGill University in Canada from 1895 to 1919.
The Scottish surname Paterson has sometimes been rendered Peterson.
America. One Peterson
line in America can claim a Mayflower descent – via Mary Soule who
married John Peterson, an early settler in Duxbury,
Massachusetts. His origins are unknown. The 1916 book The Peterson Family of Duxbury by
E.B. Browne covered his descendants.
The wave of
Scandinavian and Peterson immigration to America began in the 1850’s
and continued for the next sixty years. The majority of these
immigrants came though receiving points such as New York and Chicago
and then moved onto the new farming land that became available in the
Midwest, in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska and Idaho in particular.
They came from northern Germany, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.
These were some of the Petersons and their stories:
from Holstein in northern Germany
- Casper Petersen emigrated to America in 1851, moved to Wisconsin,
and later settled in New Holstein, Wisconsin. Some of his
descendants moved onto California at the turn of the century.
- Hans Petersen, a shepherd in Holstein, had arrived with his
family in 1865 and later bought land to farm in Pierce county,
They were in the country early enough to see antelope grazing and to
witness many a prairie fire, although the family never suffered any
loss through them.
- J.H.C. Petersen came in 1872, tried to make a living farming in
Maysville, Iowa, but then moved to Davenport where he opened up a small
store. His sons expanded the business and by the early 1900’s the
store was being called “the finest department store west of
- Peter Petersen came to Nebraska in 1872 with his parents.
He was for many years postmaster of Donnebrog in Howard county,
- Hjalmar Petersen came to Askov, Minnesota in the early 1900’s and
ran the local newspaper, the Askov
American. He joined the Farmer Labor party in his state,
rose through its ranks, and was briefly Governor of Minnesota in
- William Peterson came to Dewitt, Nebraska, also in the early
1900’s. He failed at farming but succeeded as an inventor.
grip locking pliers proved a hit with farmers and he started
a factory to manufacture them in the 1930’s.
- P.F. Peterson came to America in the early 1850’s and initially
headed out to California in search of gold. He subsequently moved
to Burt county, Nebraska where he was an early settler in
Tekamah. His daughter Emma was said to be the first white woman
born in that
Peterson was a Wisconsin pioneer. He had arrived with
his parents in 1854, settled in Soldiers Grove, and during his time
there served as a state legislator and state railroad commissioner.
- Peter Waldemar Peterson came to America in 1865 and settled, like
many of his compatriots, in Crawford county in Iowa.
- Another “little Sweden” was Oakland in Nebraska, where Henry and
Hermanda Peterson had settled. Their son Val Peterson rose to
become Governor of Nebraska in 1947.
- John Peterson came to Nebraska in 1868 but then moved with his
family onto Tarrant county, Texas to farm.
- Another John Peterson arrived in Holt, Minnesota with his family
in 1893. They had come with other Peterson relatives who settled
elsewhere in Minnesota and in Canada.
There was a rags-to-riches Peterson story with Peter Peterson, who was
born in Nebraska in 1926 and left to make his fortune on Wall
Street. But he was, interestingly, born to Greek immigrant
parents. His father ran a diner in Kearney, Nebraska after having
changed his name from Georgios Petropoulos to George Peterson.
Peterson was a Lutheran minister who moved north from Pennsylvania in
the 1820’s to minister to the German settlers in Markham in the
Waterloo area of Ontario.
Later Peterson immigrants from Sweden tended to settle further west as
Canada began to advertise cheap homesteads in the Prairies.
August and Anna Peterson travelled north from Minnesota to take up land
in Saskatchewan in 1906. Ed Peterson moved out to Revelstoke
in British Columbia in 1911 and then settled in Salmon Arm where his
family started an apple orchard business.
Australia. Danish Petersens are very much associated with
the history of Queensland.
Peder Pedersen and his wife Maren had arrived there as assisted
migrants in 1872. They worked as field laborers before striking
it lucky with a gold mine at Edmonton near Cairns in the early 1900’s.
of the Petersen presence: Petersen Road serves the southern end of the
town and runs up to Petersen Park, a street has been named after Maren,
and a Humbolt Street after the ship on which they made their journey
Meanwhile, Bjelke-Petersen is the name of a family in Australia –
stemming from Georg Peter Bjelke-Petersen, a Danish farmer and
master-builder (born plain Petersen, he had hyphenated his name some
time in the 1860’s). Carl Bjelke-Petersen, a Lutheran minister,
had come to Queensland with his family in 1913. His son Johannes
(or Joh) Bjelke-Petersen started out in Queensland as a peanut farmer
and became a very controversial politician – one who dominated
Queensland politics for years, serving as its Premier from 1968 to
Petersons, Petersens, and Pedersens. The following are the approximate number of Petersons,
Petersons, and Pedersens in the English-speaking world today.
There is also Pietersen, an Afrikaan name, that was brought to South Africa by the Dutch.
John Peterson and Family in Edinburgh in 1861. In the 1861 census, the Peterson family were recorded as living at 25
Buccleuth Place, St. Giles Edinburgh. John Peterson had been born in
Walls, Shetland and had moved to Edinburgh in 1828 to start a grocer’s
shop in Leith.
The family in 1861 was as follows:
Grace M.A. Peterson, aged 36, his wife
Annie Peterson, aged 15
Peter Peterson, aged 14
Barbara M. Peterson, aged 9
Magnus Peterson, aged 6
William Peterson, aged 4
Alexander A.G. Peterson, aged 3
Franklin S. Peterson, aged one month
Mary Douglas, aged 24, servant.
Peter and William went on to have distinguished academic careers.
William’s son Maurice was a noted British diplomat in the inter-war
Atley Peterson in Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin. Atley Peterson was often described as the person who did more to
promote the early growth and general welfare of the village of Soldiers
Grove than any other man. He had been born in Norway in 1847 and
had come with his parents to America as a young boy.
In 1869 he established the village’s first post office. He owned
a store, sawmill, and a lumberyard in the village. He was also a
farmer and he won first prize for the best tobacco grown in Wisconsin
in 1907. And he was co-owner of the electricity plant which
enabled Soldiers Grove to be the first village in the Kickapoo Valley
to have electric lights.
Peterson built his residence in the village on Pine Street in
1896. The main floor boasted large elegant rooms and there were
rooms for each of the six children on the second floor. The top
floor housed the servants’ quarters. The house stayed in the
Peterson family until 1946. It has now been transformed it into a
bed-and-breakfast that is still redolent of the Victorian era.
A Tragic Accident in Adams County, Nebraska. James Peterson and his family lived in a farmhouse near Hastings.
The November 17, 1909 Hastings Republican told this terrible
11 miles southwest of Hastings near the county poor farm was the scene
of a most horrible accident yesterday. A shot gun in the hands of
a farm hand was accidentally discharged, the entire charge literally
blowing the head off the 3-year-old son, Lloyd, who was standing near,
scattering the brains and portions of flesh all about on the walls,
ceiling and floor.
The facts are as follows: Mr. Peterson had been hunting the day before
and had set the gun down in a corner of the kitchen. The hired
man picked the gun up to examine it and in raising the hammer his
fingers slipped off and when the hammer dropped the gun was
discharged. All members of the family – father, mother and two
other children – were witness of the dreadful tragedy. The father
and mother are almost crazed with grief.
Undertaker Livingston called in the case said that he had never looked
upon a more sickening and heart-rending scene. He said that the
walls and ceiling in the room were all spattered with brains and
blood.” Elizabeth Kleier, the closest neighbor, has told of
hearing the shot and the anguished mother’s screams.”
William Petersen and His Vise Grip Locking Pliers. William Petersen came to America from Denmark just
after the turn of the century. He tried his hand at farming, but
he was in incurable inventor. At one time, he even tried to build
and sell early motorcars. Each of those enterprises failed.
In the early 1920’s, he arrived in Nebraska and opened a blacksmith
At some point, he realized his job would be a lot easier if he had a set of pliers that would clamp down and hold the piece of metal he was
working on “in a vise-like grip.” He figured out that a screw
mechanism in the handle could adjust the opening of the pliers.
Later, he figured out a way for the other handle to lock it in place.
He built several prototypes, first out of cardboard and then
wood. Finally, he hammered one out of metal on his forge.
He got his first patent for a primitive version in 1921. The
patent for the locking lever was issued in 1924. He built an inventory
and starting selling the Vise-Grip Pliers out of the trunk of his car
to farmers and mechanics in the surrounding towns. Gradually, he
built a business. In spite of hard times, the tool was
popular. The Petersen Manufacturing Company was formed in
1934. Yet it wasn’t until 1938 that they opened their first
official manufacturing plant in a defunct drug store in Dewitt.
That first plant had a staff of 37.
This plant lasted for seventy years until it was closed in 2008 and
production moved to China. There remains a local historical
Petersons in Northern Manitoba. The Peterson family has been a fixture on Reed Lake in northern
Manitoba for more than 80 years; and the history of Peterson’s Reed
Lake Lodge goes back nearly as far.
Perhaps the most famous and definitely the most colorful member of this
family has been Corky Peterson, a second-generation Peterson who was
born in a primitive cabin on the north end of Reed Lake. Now in
his mid-70’s, Peterson still spends most of his time at Reed Lake.
Select Peterson Names
- Val Peterson became Governor
of Nebraska in 1947.
- Oscar Peterson, born in Canada of a Caribbean family,
was a well-known jazz pianist.
- Joh Bjelke-Petersen was the controversial Premier of Queensland from 1968 to 1988.
- Peter Peterson was US Secretary of Commerce under Nixon and an investment banker who co-founded the
private equity group Blackstone. He was born in Nebraska of Greek immigrant parents.
Select Peterson Numbers Today
- 10,000 in the UK (most numerous
- 130,000 in America (most numerous
- 34,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada).
Select Peterson and Like Surnames.
These were originally Scandinavian patronymic surnames, with conversion usually from the Scandinavian “-sen” and “-sson” to the American “-son” on arrival or soon afterwards. Here are some of the Scandinavian surnames that you can check out.
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