Re: Patronymics - Elida
Subject: Re: Patronymics
From: Elida
Date: May 17, 1999


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From:   INTERNET:[email protected],
INTERNET:[email protected]
TO:     PADUTCHgenONLY-L, INTERNET:[email protected]
DATE:   5/16/99 12:18 PM

RE:     Re: Re:Patronymics

Back when people lived in small clans or villages, everyone had just one
name -- what we would call a "given" name.  That's all they needed
because everyone knew each other.  As the population increased, it
became necessary to distinguish between people with the same given
name.  One obvious way to distinguish between, for example, two "John's"
in the same village, would be to indicate whose son they are.  In other
words, John, son of William, or John, son of Robert, or more simply,
William's son, or John, Robert's son.  These have come down to us as
Williamson, Robertson, and all the other "-son's" and "-sen's" in
several European languages, not just English.  These are the
"patronyms." ("Patronym" is a noun, "patronymic" is an adjective.)  At
some point in time, surprisingly late in some regions, the patronym
became fixed as a surname.  But before discussing the fixation of
patronyms as surnames, it's important to know how patronyms work.  

In the days before surnames, a person's given name (John, Ann, Matthew,
etc.) was followed by the name of their father, usually with a
grammatical ending indicating the name is a patronimic.  I'll use Danish
as an example, because I'm most familiar with Danish patronyms, so here
would be an example of a series of fathers and sons, before the use of
surnames began:

Søren Hansen
Niels Sørensen
Hans Nielsen
Lars Hansen

and so on.

There is a feminine ending for a daughter:

Søren Hansen
Agate Sørensdatter

Jacob Larsen
Christina Jacobsdatter

Peter Andresen
Katrine Petersdatter

and so on.

Danes were very late in adopting surnames.  They were not mandated until
ca. 1850.  I can use my own Danish ancestry as an example showing when
surname fixation took place, that is, the generation in which the person
did not use a patronym based on their father's given name, but instead
adopted the father's patronym as a fixed surname (distinguised in

Hinrich ?sen 
 Mathias Hinrichsen
  Søren Mathiesen (c1784-1840)
   Andreas MATHIESEN (1819-    )
    Carsten MATHIESEN (1842-1904)
     Andreas MATHIESEN (1867-1921)
      Arthur MATTHIESEN (1895-1967)
       Arthur MATTHIESEN (living)
        Diana MATTHIESEN (living)

As you can see, Søren used a traditional patronym, based on his father's
given name.  If the tradition had been maintained, his son Andreas would
have been called "Andreas Sørensen," but we can see that in this
generation, Søren's patronym was fixed as a modern surname.  (For
unknown reasons, the second "T" got added after immigration.)

There are some important ramifications from this process, other than the
obvious.  One is that people, today, whose surname is based on a
patronymic, may be totally unrelated to other people with the same

Picture, if you will, that ca. 1850, everyone in Denmark adopted their
father's patronym as a surname.  Two brothers, Mathias and Søren, now
have all their descendants named, respectively, MATHIESEN and SORENSEN. 
But these families are closely related!  Yet, two Søren's, on opposite
sides of Denmark, now both have all their descendants named SORENSEN,
but they are not related at all!!

The other important ramification is that once you've reached the point
where surnames disappear (as with my Mathias Heinrichsen), it becomes
extremely difficult, if not impossible, to trace your ancestry further
back -- unless you happen to be descended from nobility or royalty, in
which case your ancestry was carefully recorded.

Not all cultures dropped the use of patronyms when surnames were
adopted.  They simply added the surname, and the patronym became what we
would call a "middle name."  Russians follow this custom and are more
likely to call each other by their given name and patronym, than by
their surname.  Here is an example:

Ivan Petrovich ZOKOLOV
Sergei Ivanovich ZOKOLOV
Ivan Sergeivich ZOKOLOV
Anna Ivanova ZOKOLOV

Lastly, patronyms take many forms in different languages.  In
French/English, there is Fitz, as in FitzGerald, FitzAlan, etc.  There
is Scots Mac- and Mc-, Irish O', Welsh Ap, and so on...


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