The History & Meaning of the Name Pensgard / Pensgård / Pensgaard

Pensgard is a family name. It is my last name. It is a farm name that can be translated into a geographical meaning. In what follows I give an in-depth description of every facet of the name.

What stands out first to most readers of the name is the ring over the "a." This is simply a unique letter form in Norwegian. It is a full-fledged letter in Norwegian, like a dotted "i" in English. Its pronunciation varies depending on the other elements of the word it is found within. I will return to pronunciation in a moment, but for now, let me consider the meaning and the type of name it is.

The name "Pensgard" translates roughly as "beautiful land" and refers to a specific plot of land in Norway (see map below). It is not very old, it was created to fill a specific need in the 1800s.

In Norway, in the days of yor, folks were given a last name that indicated who their fathers were. For example, Leif Ericson, the most famous Norwegian, was the son of Eric the Red... thus he was called "Eric's Son" = Ericson.

At some point this became impractical and the Norwegians began giving their children a permanent family name following the paternal line. But, this is a fairly recent practice. As a result, many family names only go back a few generations. This transition occurred for most families during the 1800s.

Parents were faced with a tough choice during this period. They had to invent names that would stick not only with their children, but with every child afterward. Many parents struggled to come up with a name. Some just kept the name they had, like "Ericson," others invented totally new names. These creative folks commonly chose to take the name of their city or farm. 

However, it seems that none of this was done with strict regularity. Sometimes brothers and sisters were given different last names within the same family! In addition, both naming systems were used simultaneously for a few generations.

With "Pensgard," not only was the new family name used as a last name only for some children, but the father's name was often retained in the form of a middle name. For example, the earliest known Pensgard was Jens Johnsen Pensgard, born in 1814/15. His father's name was John, so he was given a middle name according to the old naming system . . . John's son = Johnsen. Jens (pronounced like "Yence") had 5 siblings, but none of them bore the last name of Pensgard. He was the first Pensgard! And, even though he had siblings, he was the only Pensgard of his generation.

A Farm Name

The name "Pensgard," itself, is a farm name. Thus, the Pensgard heritage is not only genetic and familial, but also geographical. The farm is located in the small peninsula shown in the picture below. The location of the farm is approximately N 59.386372 by E 5.400272. It is on the eastern shore of the Forresfjorden only a few miles southeast of the port city of Haugesund.

"Pensgard" means "Beautiful Land"; "Pens" means beautiful and "Gard" means land, farm, or yard. "Gard" is related to the English term "yard," but denotes a homestead, field, or some contiguous piece of land. Thus, the English term "yard" seems to have a size-limiting connotation that "gard" does not have.

"Gard" is also found in other Germanic languages with the same meaning. For example, the last name of Soren Kierkegaard, a famous philosopher from Denmark, means "Church Yard." "Kierke" means "church" and you know the rest. Incidentally, a Church Yard is also synonymous with "Graveyard." So, "Kierkegaard" is a very foreboding name to have! In contrast, "nice land" or "pretty field" is a much more welcoming name!

Where in Norway?

My friend and relative (second cousin once removed) Torgrim Pensgard Eide has done some research into the family name and has translated some of the public records for me. The following is a commentary on this information regarding the name and its origins:

The first that settled at one of the five cotter´s farms that was pioneered at the south oriented part of the farm at Sørvågen [Sorvagen] was probably John Baarsen [and his wife] Karen Jensdotter. They probably came before 1815 from Vikedal, Prestesogn. The cotter´s farm they pioneered was called 'Pensgard'. There is some doubt about the name. A few think it was 'Pinskar' and that the name is due to a narrow gap between two hills close to where the houses were raised, and that the southeast wind was forced between ('pine'), and thereby called 'Pinskar'. However, most Pensgards, including Daniel Kallevik (Gardshistorie for Stegabergkrinsen) thinks that it is very reasonable that John and Kari [nickname for Karen] gave the place the name 'Pensgard' because it was actually very nice ("pens") here. Their relatives in Haugesund write the name either 'Pensgård' [Pensgard] or 'Pensgaard'. [Note: I have edited this comment slightly for readability.]

Before moving to the Pensgard farm, the family of the paternal line came from the areas shown on the following map. You can visit the genealogy page for a moveable map of the same area.

before pensgard farm

See Also: Pronunciation of the name "Pensgard" || Meaning of the name "David"