Fun With Patronymics

I remember when Northern European patronymics was explained to me, I felt like a whole new level of reality had opened up.  Here was a system that gave us so many of the names that are still common among us today, and I’d never realized it!  Seems pretty obvious now. 

In some European societies, a boy’s last name would be derived from his father’s first name, with “son” added at the end.  For example, if a man named Peter Williamson had a son named Jack, the boy’s name would be Jack Peterson.  If Jack had a son named Stephen, his named would be Stephen Jackson.  Etc. 

There were female suffixes, too, but these don’t seem to have thrived in the U.S.—I’ve never met anyone with the “dotter” (daughter) ending on her name.  I’ve only seen this in people’s genealogical research. 

It’s fun, I think, to see how many names we hear constantly but don’t think about which fall into this pattern.  Starting with the examples I gave above, one hypothetical family line could run as follows:

Peter Williamson

Jack Peterson

Stephen Jackson

Andrew Stephenson

Matthew Anderson (Andrew in English; “Anders” is the proper Scandinavian name)

Paul Matheson

John Paulson

James Johnson

Thomas Jameson

Carl Thomson

Eric Carlson

William Ericson

Peter Williamson

There are many, many more like this, most of which clearly have a Scandinavian origin (eg, Larson, son of Lars).  It would be interesting to see this reintroduced with the most popular names in 21st century America!


2 comments on “Fun With Patronymics

  1. English names that end in ‘s’ are usually patronymics also. Williams, Peters, Stephens, Walters, Fredericks. Thomas and James, too; its just that they already end in ‘s’. I don’t know whether this is just a shortening of ‘son’ or was originally a possesive.

    Curiously, Spanish names that end in ‘z’ or ‘s’ are usually patronymics too. Hernandez is the son of Hernando. Gutierrez is the son of Gautier (Walter).

    Interesting post, Hewstonevich.

  2. Since you brought it up, Huston is a place-of-origin name, derived from “Hugh’s town,” a Scottish village.

    Some other names are like that, perhaps the most famous being Washington–“Washing Town”–named for a medeival English area. The descendants of the people from that area include our first president.

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