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"A patronym, or patronymic, is a component of a personal name based on the name of one's father, grandfather or an even earlier male ancestor. A component of a name based on the name of one's mother or a female ancestor is a matronym. Each is a means of conveying lineage."

A Patronymic is thus not a Surname but will change for each generation, and be gender dependent.

Western Europe

Scandinavian Patronymics

In Norse custom patronyms and matronyms were formed by using the ending -son (later -søn and -sen in Danish and Norwegian) to indicate "son of", and -dóttir (Icelandic -dóttir, Swedish and Norwegian -dotter, Danish and Norwegian -datter) for "daughter of". This name was generally used as a last name although a third name, a name based on location or personal characteristic was often added to differentiate people and could eventually develop into a kind of family name. Some Early Modern examples of the latter practice, where the patronymic was placed after the given name and was followed by the surname, are Norwegian Peder Claussøn Friis, the son of Nicolas Thorolfsen Friis (Claus in Claussøn being short for Nicolas) and Danish Thomas Hansen Kingo, the son of Hans Thomsen Kingo.

Eventually, most Nordic countries replaced or complemented this system with the prevailing "international" standard of inherited family names. In Norway, for example, the parliament passed a family name act in 1923, citing the rising population and the need to avoid the confusion of new last names in every generation. The law does allow a person to retain a patronymic as a middle name in addition to the surname, as was common in Early Modern times; this is not a common practice, but does occur, a modern example being Audhild Gregoriusdotter Rotevatn). In Iceland, however, patronymics are still used as last names and this is in fact compulsory by law, with a handful of exceptions.

The Norwegian Naming System

(This is a copy of an article by Johan I. Borgos, slightly adapted.)

The Norwegian naming patterns have changed through history. There are also regional differences. This text will try to explain the historical changes, and mostly with regard to the basic population.

It is convenient to look upon the first name as the real name. This was given to the child when it was christened. Way back in history only one 'first name' was the rule, but already before 1800 one can find many persons with two such names. Later on a child could be given three or even four 'first names', but only one of them was in use, perhaps two. Hyphenating two 'first names' is a newer custom.

The earlier use of 'last names' often confuses the genealogist of today, but was quite logical. Almost every person had a patronymic or father-name. If a man named Anders (first name) got a son called Jon, then the boy would be called Jon Anderssen, that is: Jon, the son of Anders. In some dialects the patronymic could be Andersson or Anderssøn, but the meaning is the same.

If Anders had a daughter called Anne, she would be called Anne Andersdatter, that is: Anne, the daughter of Anders. The spoken form, however, was more like Anne Anderste or Anderstet. Today Norwegian genealogists often use Andersdtr as an abbreviated form. The women used their patronymic all the life, married or not, but this custom began to change around 1900 or a little earlier.

Genealogists should use the patronymic as a clue for further search. If you find an ancestor named Ingeborg Nilsdtr, then you know for certain that her fathers first name was Nils. This helps to narrow the search. But of course it can be confusing to find a family where the fathers name is Anders Jonsen, the mothers name Ellen Hansdtr, and the children are named Jon Anderssen and Anne Andersdtr.

I should add that the patronymic could be dropped in the upper classes. In certain regions the patronymic was the only last name for most people, but as a rule one more 'last name' was added. They fall in two classes.

The most common pattern was adding the farm name, or 'address'. Let's use the example mentioned above. If Jon Anderssen settled on a farm called Bakken, he would be called Jon Anderssen Bakken, that is: Jon Anderssen, who lives at Bakken. If he moved to a farm called Vik, his full name would change to Jon Anderssen Vik.

Some families had a hereditary last name, a surname, often very old and in most cases of foreign origin. This was often the case in the cities or among high officials elsewhere in the country. If the family had a last name of this type, there was no need for a farm name. The hereditary names were seldom geographical names, as in the case of the farm names.

In the last decades of the 1800s a new pattern emerged, or rather two patterns. One was a radical change: A married woman could take her husband's patronymic. Anne Jonsen, that is: Anne, the son of Jon. Quite illogical! But the common people only copied the naming custom used by the richer people, they with the hereditary last names.

The other new pattern was this: The children got their father's last name instead of a real patronymic. But in a 'transition period' that lasted until 1923, one can find old and new patterns side by side, even inside families.

In 1923 it was ordered by law that each family should have a hereditary last name and only ONE last name. Some families took a patronymic, others a farm name, and of course the old hereditary names lived on. But the result was great amounts of Olsen, Hansen, Nilsen and names like that - old patronymics. Later on many last names of this type has been replaced by constructed names to avoid confusion.

It's not necessary to say that the fathers last name also became the family name. The women lost their last name. Today the wheel has turned again. The women as a rule keep their last names after marriage. Yes, even the old custom with a real patronymic can be seen. Anne Andersdatter lives again!

Norwegian Names on Geni

For people with a three-part name, that is: most Norwegians born before 1900, excluding northern Norway and immigrant families with hereditary surnames, we write the names:

  • first name: all given names
  • middle name: patronymic
  • last name: farm name at birth, or surname if used

If you only have information giving a first name and patronymic:

  • first name: all given names
  • last name: patronymic

Swedish Naming Practices

Most people used patronymics, but they could also have additional names. See Hans Högman's overview.

The Names act from 1901 made hereditary last names mandatory, abolishing the patronymic system.

Types of additional or alternative names:

  • Latinized patronymics, typical for clergy
  • Names derived from heraldry, for nobility
  • Crafts names, guild names
  • Nature or topographical names
  • Soldier names
  • Farm names

Danish Naming Practices

This is an excerpt from Diana Gale Mathiesen's page on patronymics, link under References.

"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!] ... 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."

Finnish and Karelian Names on Geni

See: Finland and Karelia project - General naming standard

  • It is important that a standard name is used at least in one language page of the profile, because Geni is a common family tree database. Otherwise there is a risk that later we have to merge enormous "shadow trees". The standard names vary typically by region and by religion-cultural background of a person.
  • About standard names: the spelling of Finnish or Karelian first names is standardized as carefully as possible to their Finnish and Karelian general form. Such a procedure brings benefits: avoiding false guesses about popular forms of names, and avoiding formation of double profiles in Geni, and facilitating the creation and use of directories and Geni database. More about this subject (in Finnish): Sirkka Paikkala: Etunimet sukututkimuksessa. Sukutieto 1997:1, s. 19-24. Standard names by region and by religion-cultural background for the Finland and Karelia project are developed by project Finland and Karelia - Normalized first names by region. It is of outmost importance to note that the standard names are different from straightforward "translation to Finnish" of a name. It is also important to note that Swedish-language baptismal names for Swedish-speaking persons have a standard name in Swedish.
  • Use of language pages of a profile: There two schools of though among the Finnish genealogists: some would like the names to be standardized into Finnish, and some would like them to stay as in the baptismal records. We use a solution, where both schools are taken into account: the names are added in both ways, using Geni's profile language pages. This solution also prevents the creation of double profile branches ("shadow trees").
  • Known name: If the name used by a person is known, this name is used instead of the standard name.
  • Different spoken language w.r.t. the baptismal record language: If the person spoke Finnish or Karelian, and the baptismal record is in Swedish or Russian: Insert the name in the Finnish or Finnish-Karelian standard form on the English and/or Finnish and/or Karelian language page. Insert the name in Swedish or Russian on the Swedish or Russian language page (the Russian name with Cyrillic alphabet)
  • The language used by a person is not known: If the language used by a person is not known, and he/she is clearly from a region where two or more different languages are very likely to be spoken languages (especially the Ostrobothnian coast), the baptismal name for the Swedish or Russian language is primarily recorded according to the church book language.
  • Surnames: The last surname used is entered in the upper surname field. The birth surname and previous surnames are entered separated by commas in the lower surname field. For women, only birth surnames are written - they kept their original names from their birth to the end of their lives. There are two exceptions to this: (1) women whose surnames are changed to their husbands' surnames (this habit became more common in upper class of the society in the 1800's), and (2) women who died after the beginning of 20th century (and especially after the surname legislation).
  • Other name forms: Other name forms, such as different name forms present in the church books, can be added to "Known also as" field. The old Finnish female names ending with -tar or -tär can be written here.
  • No slashes: It is not recommended that different name forms are combined with slash (e.g. Valborg/Valpuri/Wappu/Walborg Kinnunen/Kinnutar/Kinnu) -- this only increases the work load of people carrying out merges in the tree.
  • Patronyms: Patronym (or matronym in the case of children born outside of marriage) is written normally only to persons who were born before year 1900.
  • Names in Olonets, White Sea, Tver, Tikhvin and Valdai Karelia: If the person in question was born or lived in Olonets, White Sea, Tver, Tikhvin or Valdai Karelia, the name is in the format: Firstname Patronym Finnish-Karelian surname-Russian surname. For example, "Arhippa Ivaninpoika Maaninen-Manijev" to the Finnish language page, and "Архип Иванов Маниев" to the Russian language page. In the Russian patronyms, the form used before the Russian Revolution is used, like Ivanov, Ivanova (Иванов, Иванова), not Ivanovitš, Ivanovna (Иванович, Ивановна).
  • first name: all given names without contractions.
  • middle name: patronymic. Do not contract the patronymic. E.g. Erkintytär should not be contracted as Erkintr. Please note that the wife never took his husbands patronymic or vice versa. E.g Henrik Eriksdotter is an impossibility. Children born outside marriage were often given the biblical patronym Adamsson/Adamsdotter/Adami, when the father's name wasn't known.
  • last name: surname if used. Do not put patronyms in both middle and last name-fields. Farm names as surnames have been used in some areas of Finland, but by no means everywhere.

Scottish Patronymics

Eastern Europe

Slavic Patronymics

See also



Wikipedia on Patronymics

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