"Messelt" Surname

Over the years, this sponsor has requested and received occasional information on his name and this site is meant to collect that information and make it available to those interested throughout the world. Of course, suggestions, additions, and corrections are eagerly requested.

Norwegian Coat of Arms

The "Messelt" name is not common like the English "Smith" or the Spanish "Lopez." The name comes from Norway and is the name of a farm.

In my life, my surname has been sometimes troublesome as when a person meeting me for the first time would attempt to pronounce it and say something like, "mezz-let" or "mes-sault." Correct pronunciation is "mess-ELT," in case you wondered. However, my name has also become a source of pride because it is so different. That made me and my family unique and therefore, having a special sense of identity. I hope that those of you who share this name also share that feeling.


The Facts

So what about the Messelt name? In the Scandinavian countries a person took a second name (but not, technically, a "surname;" see below) from their father. Bjorn, the son of Ole, would be known as "Bjorn Olsen." Karen, Bjorn's sister, would be known (until she got married) as "Karen Olsdatter." Of course, when Karen became married to Peter Olafsen, she became known as "Karen Olafsen." There are other traditional rules of naming children after grandparents and so forth.

The Norwegian surname system is a bit different from more southern cultures. In Scandinavian countries and Holland, a person's full name would be their given name (first name), perhaps a middle name, and a patronymic - "father's name." However, to resolve any ambiguity, the name of the farm that the person lived at would also be given as their address. A person's real name was their given name plus the patronymic. The farm name did not have any legal standing as a name.

The Messelt name comes from the Messelt farm located in central Norway, north of Oslo and near Koppang. The one farm has been divided into three called: Perstu, Nordstu, and Sondre. "Bygdebok for Stor-Elval II" pp. 571-609, Bidrag til bygdeus historie av Anders Fosvold (1937).

One very important implication of this fact is that many of the people with the Messelt name are not related by blood.

However, though that answers the question of where the name came from, it does not tell us anything about what the name means. I asked a local historian about the meaning, if any, of the word, messelt:

There are many explanations to the name MESSELT. About the year 1500 it was written MIDT-SÆTER = the farm situated in the middle (midt) sæter = set: has to do with the verb (å sitte) to sit or a seat: a place where someone had settled = selt. Another significance is IMSAR-HOLT: named after a small river Imsa + hold = a group of trees (forest)* [*a grove] close to the river. There is also a word in Norwegian: SYLT that means an area which is a bit swampy. Then you may choose among:

  1. me = middle selt from sæter = set, a settled place MIDT-SÆTER
  2. mes = ismar, selt = holt IMSAR-HOLT
  3. me = middle, selt = sylte: a swampy area MIDT-SYLT

I have consulted a couple of persons. Often the most simple explanation is the best: the settled farm in the middle (1)

Of course it is a Norwegian word of a place where people settled long time ago. Later it divided into north and south. Later a farmer named Per bought a part of one of the original farms.

Per Åsmundstad in a letter to Eric S. Messelt, 31May1994.


Another Norwegian (Mr. Dag Hoelseth, email, 22Aug98) did not agree. He said that "Messelt" means really "middle seat" (i.e. farm in the middle), which seems to agree with the geographic idea.

The Speculation

The personal opinion of this author is that Mr. Åsmundstad may be attempting to spare the author's dignity. It rather seems that "Me-sylt" is closer to "Messelt" than is "Midt-sÆter". So -- of those options -- "Messelt" probably means the middle of a swamp. Those in my American audience may conjure up images from the movie, "Deliverance."

However, Mr. Hoelseth's interpretation seems most likely: The Farm In The Middle.

None of this was known to me until about 1994. What you may enjoy is some of the stories my father told me about the origin of our name. First, he pled ignorance about the ultimate meaning and origin of the Messelt name. However, he did offer some theories.

One of the first comments I usually hear is that the name sounds French. My father speculated that the Messelts came to Norway from France fleeing religious persecution. That sounded very exciting, but there's not a shred of evidence to support the theory.

The best story he told was that the progenitor of the Messelt surname was a Viking who had but one name. But this imaginary ancestor decided to go a'Viking to -- literally -- make a name for himself. So, the story goes, he chose the first letter of each city he invaded. Thus:


Now these are not the cities my father claimed our ancestor invaded, these are listed just to illustrate the idea. Very romantic, but again not a shred of evidence except in my father's fertile imagination.

By the way, my father had a name for one of our ancestors: a certain Viking by name of Berger Bergersen. He was over seven feet tall and was a fierce, Mead-drinking, berserking, warrior of blood-thirsty, yet heroic, proportions. Now this stretched even my credulity and I challenged him on the reality of this ancestor around whom seemed to swirl the mists of Thor, Valhalla, and the Grendel-beast. My father claimed that this Berger Bergersen did, in fact, appear in the genealogical records for the Messelt family.

It turned out that my father did have a basis in fact. Those who know of the history of the Messelt farm in Norway will recognize the name of Berger, son of Berger, as a name of a series of owners of the Messelt farm. I seem to recall seeing a picture of one of these Bergers in a book chronicling the farms in that area of Norway. This particular volume must have been the same one my father had come across. He stretched the truth a bit to make a history of local farms into a genealogical record -- which they very well could be. However, these Bergers lived within the last century and looked very much like the farmers they were. None of them looked unusually tall or blood-thirsty. They looked, actually, rather tired from working the farm all day.

(Sigh) One more youthful myth shattered.


Link to other Messelt internet sites:
Webmaster's genealogical request for information site.