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|Patronyms and Patronymic Surnames|
|Historically, when people lived in clans or small villages, everyone
had just one name: a "call" name or what we would now describe as
a "given" name. One name was all they needed because everyone knew
each other. As population increased, it became necessary to distinguish
between people with the same call name.
There are a number of ways individuals with the same surname could be distinguished. One was by occupation, for example, John, the baker, became, John BAKER. Another was by location, for example, Robert, of the woods, became Robert WOODS. And another was to distinguish between them by the identity of their father, for example, John, son of William, or John, son of Robert; or more simply, John, 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 cultures and languages, not just English). At some time, surprisingly late in some regions, especially Scandinavia, these occupational, locational, and patronymic names became fixed as relatively unchanging surnames, though phonetic spelling variations abound.
Denmark is one of the cultures using patronymics, and my own surname, MATHIESEN, is a Danish patronym. Surnames became mandatory in Denmark in 1526, but only for the nobility. In 1771, surnames became mandatory in Slesvig-Holsten, DK. In 1828, surnames became mandatory throughout Denmark, but the law was largely ignored. Then, in 1856, the legal mandate to use a surname was strengthened, forcing the holdouts to give in and finally adopt a surname, making Danes among the last in Europe to adopt surnames, though not the very last. Surnames were not commonly used in Sweden until ca. 1900 or in Norway until 1923, and they are still not commonly used in Iceland.
But before discussing the fixation of patronyms as surnames, it's important to understand how patronyms work.
|In cultures using patronyms, a person's call name (John, Ann, Matthew,
etc.) is followed by the name of their father, usually with a grammatical
ending indicating the name is a patronym. Using Danish patronyms
as an example, here would be a series of fathers and sons, before the use
of surnames began:
Father: Søren HansenFor daughters, the ending is -sdatter/-datter:
Father: Søren HansenWhile "-datter" is the typical ending for a Danish female patronym, there are regions where you will find that female patronyms follow the same pattern as males (i.e., with the -sen ending or, in some cases, with just the abbreviated "-s" ending). For example:
Father: Jes LarsenI can use my own Danish ancestry as an example showing when surname fixation took place, that is, the generation in which the child was not given a patronym based on the father's call name, but was, instead, given the father's patronym as a fixed SURNAME (distinguished here in ALL-CAPS).
Hinrich ?senAs you can see, Mathias and Søren were each given a traditional patronym based on his father's call name. If the tradition had been maintained, Søren's 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. This surname adoption is actually rather earlier than most, and I can only presume it was because these were "city people" a family of tailors. People in rural areas tended to hold on to their naming traditions later than urban dwellers. As for the second "t," I can only guess that it was added in the U.S. because the English patronym of the same derivation (viz., Matthewson/Mattheson) is spelled with two t's.
There are some important ramifications resulting from this process. One is that people, today, whose surname is based on a patronym, may be totally unrelated to other people with the same surname. Picture, if you will, that ca. 1856, everyone in Denmark was mandated to use a surname and most adopted their father's patronym as a surname. Two brothers, Mathias and Søren, now have all their descendants surnamed, respectively, MATHIESEN and SØRENSEN yet these families are closely related. In contrast, two unrelated men named Søren, on opposite sides of Denmark, now both have all their descendants surnamed SØRENSEN yet they are not at all closely related. It is for this reason that, as a Danish MATHIESEN, I feel no "sense of clan" with other Danish MATHIESENs, beyond my near relatives. A "reunion" of MATHIESENs in Denmark or in America would simply bring together a lot of unrelated strangers, hence there isn't likely to be such a gathering. For my family, it would make much more sense to have a reunion of "Danes from Visby," our home town in Denmark where my great-great-grandfather's house still stands and is still lived in.
The other important ramification is that once you've worked back to the point where surnames disappear, it becomes essentially impossible to trace your ancestry any further using traditional methods, unless you happen to be descended from nobility or royalty. What can be used beyond this point is DNA analysis, which opens up a whole new world of possibilities for researchers who have hit this wall. However, one other ramification of patronymic surnames is that Y-chromosome DNA surname projects are meaningless for them because, as I mentioned above, so many individuals with the same surname are not related while many with different surnames are related. The only logical way to organize Y-DNA projects for those with patronymic surnames is regionally, at the outset, and then genetically, after test results are known, as is the case in the Danish Demes Regional DNA Project. But back to the subject of patronyms
Not all cultures dropped the use of patronyms when surnames were adopted. Some 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 given name and surname. Here is an example of four generations, from father to son to son to daughter:
The vast majority of Russian surnames were, however, themselves formed from patronyms; so, from a grammatical point of view, it's likely to appear someone has two patronyms, as in the example above where Zokolov also looks like it could be a patronym. But the true status of the last name as a surname will be apparent because it will be passed (relatively) unchanged from generation to generation, while the patronym will keep changing.Ivan Petrovich [or Petrov] ZOKOLOV
Here are some examples of patronyms in different languages (the list
is not exhaustive):
|There is, lastly, the question of how to enter patronyms in your genealogy
software. In my opinion, the patronym should be treated as a middle
(given) name, not a surname. For those individuals who have only
a patronym and no surname, the best course, in my opinion, is to leave
the surname field blank, just as I believe that is the best course to take
when the surname is simply unknown. [Please, never put the
husband's surname in the wife's surname field just because you don't know
the wife's maiden name!]
If you want to distinguish between people whose surname is simply unknown and those who had no surname, you need to use some consistent designation. For example, the most common designation for someone whose surname is unknown is "LNU." All but the most novice genealogists are aware that "LNU" is the standard acronym for, "Last Name Unknown." As far as I know, there is no standard acronym for there being no surname, at all, but let me coin one here: "SNU," for "Surname Not Used." Anyone who knows what LNU means can likely surmise what SNU means.
In actual practice, instead of LNU or SNU, I use a line of five underscores to signify no surname is used and a line of four underscores plus a question mark to indicate the surname is simply unknown:
Surname Not Used (SNU): _____But any system will do as long as you apply it consistently and it's intuitively obvious what you are doing. TMG, The Master Genealogist software program (the gold standard for genealogy software), uses --?-- for an unknown surname (two hyphens, a question mark, then another two hyphens).
One advantage to not putting the patronym in the surname field is apparent when viewing an alphabetized index of your database because all those without surnames will be grouped together, in alphabetical order by their call names. If you put the patronym in the surname field, not only will these individuals will be scattered throughout the index, it will not be apparent for whom the name is a patronym and for whom it is a surname, not unless you consistently enter patronyms in Initial Caps and surnames in ALL-CAPS, which is at least a viable alternative and one I strongly recommend if you insist on putting the patronym in the surname field.
|© 1999-2009 Diana Gale Matthiesen|
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