Explore the Family Name Nilsen

The meaning of Nilsen

1. Norwegian: patronymic from the personal name Nils, a shortened form of Nikolaus. This form of the surname is also found in Denmark, but it is rare there. Compare Nelsen. 2. Altered form of Norwegian Nilssen, a variant of 1, and probably also of the Danish, Norwegian, or North German cognate Nielsen (compare Nilson). Some characteristic forenames: Scandinavian Erik, Nils, Alf, Bjorn, Lars, Per, Nels, Anders, Bente, Tor, Arnfinn, Astrid. German Hans, Kurt, Ralf, Arnulf, Otto.

Dictionary of American Family Names, 2nd edition, © Oxford University Press, 2022.

How common is the last name Nilsen in the United States?

Based on data from the Decennial U.S. Census, the popularity of the surname Nilsen saw a slight change in rank from 7951 in 2000 to 7956 in 2010, showing a minimal decrease of 0.06%. However, the count of individuals with this surname increased by 7.72% from 3860 in 2000 to 4158 in 2010. The proportion per 100,000 people decreased slightly by 1.4%, moving from 1.43 in 2000 to 1.41 in 2010.

Proportion per 100k1.431.41-1.4%

Race and Ethnicity of people with the last name Nilsen

In terms of ethnic identity, the Decennial U.S. Census data reveals notable shifts between 2000 and 2010. The number of Nilsens identifying as Asian/Pacific Islander, two or more races, Hispanic, Black, and American Indian and Alaskan Native all increased, with the highest increase seen in those identifying as Black (81.25%) and Hispanic (67.82%). In contrast, there was a slight decrease in the number of Nilsens identifying as White, from 96.01% in 2000 down to 93.72% in 2010.

Two or More Races0.93%1.39%49.46%
Asian/Pacific Islander0.62%0.91%46.77%
American Indian and Alaskan Native0.26%0.29%11.54%

Nilsen ancestry composition

23andMe computes an ancestry breakdown for each customer. People may have ancestry from just one population or they may have ancestry from several populations. The most commonly-observed ancestry found in people with the surname Nilsen is Scandinavian, which comprises 40.7% of all ancestry found in people with the surname. The next two most common ancestries are British & Irish (27.0%) and French & German (14.4%). Additional ancestries include Eastern European, Italian, Spanish & Portuguese, Finnish, and Ashkenazi Jewish.

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British & Irish27.0%
French & German14.4%

Possible origins of the surname Nilsen

Your DNA provides clues about where your recent ancestors may have lived. Having many distant relatives in the same location suggests that you may all share common ancestry there. Locations with many distant relatives can also be places where people have migrated recently, such as large cities. If a large number of individuals who share your surname have distant relatives in a specific area, it could indicate a connection between your surname and that location, stemming from either recent ancestral ties or migration.

Based on 23andMe data, people with last name Nilsen have recent ancestry locations spanning a few countries, mostly in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and Norway.

RECENT ANCESTRY LocationPercentage
Greater Manchester, United Kingdom66.20%
Glasgow City, United Kingdom66.20%
West Yorkshire, United Kingdom66.20%
Merseyside, United Kingdom66.20%
Greater London, United Kingdom66.20%

What Nilsen haplogroups can tell you

Haplogroups are genetic population groups that share a common ancestor on either your paternal or maternal line. These paternal and maternal haplogroups shed light on your genetic ancestry and help tell the story of your family.

The top paternal haplogroup of people with the surname Nilsen is R-M405, which is predominantly found among people with European ancestry. Haplogroup R-M405 is descended from haplogroup R-M343. Other common haplogroups include R-P312 and I-P109, which are predominantly found among people with European and European ancestry. Other surnames with similar common haplogroups are: Solberg, Lindgren, Knudson, Swenson, Olsen, Engstrom, Gilbertson, Sorensen, Christiansen, Monson.

The most common maternal haplogroups of people with Nilsen surname are: H1, T2b, H. These most commonly trace back to individuals of European ancestry.

nilsenPaternal Haplogroup Origins R-M343
Paternal Haplo Image

Your paternal lineage may be linked to King Louis XVI

The rule of France by men of the House of Bourbon began with King Henri IV in 1589 C.E. and continued until the beheading of his direct paternal descendant King Louis XVI in 1793. Several years ago, researchers analyzed a mummified head and a blood-soaked cloth that they believed might belong to the two kings, and concluded that the royal paternal line belonged to haplogroup G. In a more recent study, however, a different set of researchers tested three living men who are direct descendants of the Bourbon kings. Their efforts revealed that the male lineage of the House of Bourbon is actually a branch of haplogroup R-M405.

Your maternal lineage may be linked to Marie Antoinette

Because it is so dominant in the general European population, haplogroup H also appears quite frequently in the continent's royal houses. Marie Antoinette, an Austrian Hapsburg who married into the French royal family, inherited the haplogroup from her maternal ancestors. So did Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, whose recorded genealogy traces his female line to Bavaria. Scientists also discovered that famed 16th century astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus traced his maternal lineages to haplogroup H.

Maternal Haplo Image

What do people with the surname Nilsen have in common?

Spoiler alert: it's complicated. People with the same last name are usually no more genetically similar than a randomly sampled group of people from the same population. That said, people with the same surname are more likely to have similar ancestries than randomly sampled individuals. The reason is the tendency of people with similar cultural or geographical backgrounds to preferentially mate with one another. That's why people who share a surname may be more likely to share traits and tendencies in common than people within the general population. Check out the percentages below to see the prevalences of tastes, habits, and traits of people with your surname compared with prevalences among 23andMe users.



Chocolate Ice Cream

Prefers chocolate flavored ice cream over other flavors.

"Nilsen" Surname 45.3%

23andMe Users 41.3%




When sounds made by others, like the sound of chewing or yawning, provoke strong emotional reactions in an individual.

"Nilsen" Surname 29.8%

23andMe Users 27.9%



Sugary Drink

Drinks one or more sugary drinks per day.

"Nilsen" Surname 17.4%

23andMe Users 21.1%




A severe headache characterized by intense pain, sensitivity to light and sound, and often accompanied by nausea and vomiting.

"Nilsen" Surname 8.8%

23andMe Users 16.4%

Are health conditions linked to the last name Nilsen?

The short answer is that, if there is an association between surname and health, it's usually more about your ancestry than your name. Individuals with a given surname are no more genetically similar than the general population but often have similar ancestries. The populations of people associated with those shared ancestries often have sets of genetic variations, also known as alleles, in common. Some of those alleles are associated with a greater likelihood of developing certain diseases.

Disease variant frequency by ancestry

Disease allele frequencies in populations associated with the surname Nilsen are shown below. Important Note: not everyone with a disease allele will develop these health condition

Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Y402H variant

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the most common cause of irreversible vision loss among older adults. The disease results in damage to the central part of the retina (the macula), impairing vision needed for reading, driving, or even recognizing faces. The 23andMe Health + Ancestry DNA test includes the two most common variants associated with an increased risk of developing the condition: the Y402H variant in the CFH gene and the A69S variant in the ARMS2 gene. Learn more about Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Scandinavian 62.9%

23andMe Users 57.2%