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Patronymics and Other Naming Patterns

Naming patterns can be confusing, especially when the last name changes from generation to generation. Here are some tips for understanding various surname patterns.


Content Details

Type: Article
Resource: GenWeekly
Prepared by: Melissa Slate
Word Count: 364 (approx.)
Labels: Surname Origin 
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Patronymics is the naming practice children that involves using part of the name of the father, a grandfather, or other ancestral male, followed by the suffix "son" or "sen" to form the last name. Other suffixes could be "se," "sd," or simply "s". Patronymics is found among many countries and ethnic groups and can make tracing ones origins especially troublesome, if one is not aware of the practice. For example, John son of Peter Schmidt would be named John Peterson or Petersen. Patronymics is very prevalent among the Dutch, as is still in use in Iceland.

Other naming practices also existed. Sometimes the last name would occur as a result of the locality or community from which one originated. Names that are connected with localities frequently have the prefix "Van." Therefore, the name John Peterson Van Keulen would translate as John, Peter's son, of Cologne.

Another naming practice involves the use of trades or occupations as family names. Names that arise as a result of occupations frequently are accompanied by the prefix "de". Thus, in our example John Peterson de Schmidt would translate into John, son of Peter, the blacksmith.

If all this is not confusing enough, consistency between records may be lacking. The same person may be known as John Peterson on one record, John Van Keulen on the next record, and John de Schmidt on the third.

Gradually, most European countries mandated the use of consistent surnames and patronymic surnames became a thing of the past; although, Russia now commonly uses a patronymic middle name, while keeping a consistent surname.

Patronymics also has implications for people who are searching for family in the United Kingdom. English surnames started to be used in the 11th century, but did not become widespread until the 13th or 14th centuries. English used naming patterns from trades and occupations commonly. Sometimes the suffix son was shortened to "s" or "es", i.e. John Williams, meaning John, son of William, but these endings were also very commonly used by the Welsh as well.

Patromymics is so important in genealogy that one should study the naming practices of their ethnic or cultural origins. This knowledge may be instrumental to overcoming brick walls in your research.

Source Information: GenWeekly, New Providence, NJ, USA: Genealogy Today LLC, 2010.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Genealogy Today LLC.

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