Patronymic & Matronymics

What is a Patronymic or a Matronymic?

Until the Middle Ages, a surname was rare.  Most places simply just gave a child a name like John and that was how the child was known through life.  Just John, no last name.  In some places, a naming form called patronymics was used.  This meant that a child was given a name attached to the father’s name.  If John’s dad was David, John was known as John, the son of David.

In most cultures, the phrase “son of” was replaced with a word meaning son of (or daughter of)

In Wales, there were separate patronymics for males and females.  If you were a female named Jane who was the daughter of David, you were known as Jane ferch David.  The patronymic is ferch.  Be careful.  As you do genealogy, you may see verch instead of ferch.  This is incorrect.  There is no V in the Welsh language, but the letter F as in Ferch is pronounced as a V.  So those not familiar with the Welsh Language thought they were hearing verch and wrote it done as such.  If you are entering the Welsh female patronymic in your program always enter as ferch.  Note that ferch is always lowercase.  (ferch not Ferch!).  Would you write Jane, Daughter of David?  No!  You would write, Jane, daughter of David in a sentence. Follow English language rules. 

The male patronymic is more complex.  It depends on if the father’s name starts with a vowel or consonant.   If a vowel, the patronymic is ab.  If a consonant, the patronymic is ap.  My father is Paul.  Thus I am Robert ap Paul.   If my dad was Owen, then I would be Robert ab Owen.  Again, follow English language rules.  Both ab and ap or always lowercase. 

As you enter information from other’s research, you will often find that the data will be entered incorrectly.  Plenty of capitalized Verch, Ap and Ab which must be entered as lowercase  Make sure you correct for your program or if entering information into FamilySearch, Ancestry, My Heritage or any database.  Don’t copy other’s mistakes. 

Other languages also use patronymics.  Hebrew ben for son, bat for daughter, In Aramaic, bar for son, barta for daughter.   Examples Hebrew:  Job ben Isaac, Sarah bat Isaac.  Aramaic, Job bar Isaac, Sarah barta Isaac.  Sometimes, you will see the name reversed.  Why.  Hebrew is written from right to left, not left to right as in English.  You may see Isaac ben Job, Issac ben Sarah.  A tombstone if in Hebrew will always be right to left.  Isaac ben Job, instead of Job ben Isaac. 

Slavic languages use patronymics.  Russia uses a combination.  The Father’s name is in the middle of the name, followed by a surname.  For males ovich or evich is added to the Father’s name.  For females, ovna or evna are added.   Examples:  Father’s name is Ivan.  Patronymics are Ivanovich and Ivanovna.  Father’s name is Sergey.  Patronymics are Sergeyevich and Sergeyevna.  However, calling a person by their patronymic is only done between friends and families.  If I were talking to Ivan Petrovich Kousla, I could call him Ivan Kousla, or Ivan Petrovich, but never just Petrovich. 

In France, the addition of Fitz to a name was a patronymic.

Many surnames were formed from a patronymic.  Wilson (Will’s son) Penry from ap Henry, Powell from ap Hywel, Rodriquez from Rodrigo, MacPherson, from mac Phers, O’Conner, etc.  In the U.S. we use the practice of passing our surname on to our children.  My children are all Penry (daughters until they marry).  Today, it is not uncommon for a female to retain her birth name at marriage.

In Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway, Sweden) and Iceland, depending on the country, the father’s name was appended with son or sen.  Or if a girl, then with dotter.  Thus, we get John Svensson, Christopher Jorgenssen, Olga Hansdotter.  Patronymics are still used in these countries, “son” in Sweden and Iceland, “sen” in Denmark and Norway. 

Matronymics (the child is given the mother’s name)

Today, a matronymic is often used for the birth of a child from an unwed mother.  Example: Lilly Jones gives birth to a son named Joey and the father is either unknown or Lily doesn’t want him named, the child will be known as Joey Jones. 

In Iceland, surnames are rare.  Boys usually get a patronym, and girls a matronym. 

In England, children were sometimes given a matronym even when the mother was married, especially if the mother was famous or royalty. 

If a surname is based on a female instead of a male, it is called a Matriname.  While once very rare, we are starting to see this occur based on ideas of gender equality.  The UN passed a resolution that both men and women have the right to choose a family name.  The U.S. has not ratified this.  However, we do combine patrinames and matrinames very often in marriage.  Mary Thomas marries  Samuel Smith and they become Mary Thomas-Smith and Samuel Thomas-Smith (or Mary Smith-Thomas, and Samual-Smith Thomas).  They then pass on this combination to their children as surnames. 

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