Patronymic & Matronymic Surnames

The use of the father's name as a surname for his children is found in many cultures – such as the English surname Johnson, meaning son of John. These are known as patronymic surnames.

Less commonly, there are matronymic surnames with the mother's name.

Less commonly still, are surnames for the daughters of a father or mother – like the Icelandic Jónsdóttir, and Gaelic NicGregor


In England, this initially took the form of

Robert son of John

which evolved into the surname

Robert Johnson

In the late 12th/13th century, the full names of men of families who owned land, were in transition, changing from

son of


de .... (name of estate)

Generally, in this period, a man was called son of while his father was alive, or until he reached a mature age, and then de ..... after that. In a number of cases, the old tradition of son of continued to be used right through life, as appears to be the case with John de Stansfeld, who still appears in the late 1260s/1270 as John son of Elias de Stansfeld.

English surnames

This form of surname was common in the Danelaw. A great many surnames have this origin, including

South and west of the Danelaw, the form was simpler, just adding an S, as with

Norman-French patronymics use fitz, a form of the French fils de = son of, followed by the father's name. For example

Welsh surnames

In Wales, a similar process took place using the Welsh word for child, map or ap. This initially took the form of

Wyn ap Richard

which evolved and became anglicised into the surname

Wyn Pritchard

A great many Welsh surnames have this origin, including

Surnames ending in S – as discussed above – are also found in Wales

Scottish surnames

In Scotland, a similar process took place using the Gaelic word for child, mac. This initially took the form of

John mac Donald

which evolved into the surname

John Macdonald / John MacDonald

The female equivalent – nicdaughter of – is also found:

Siobhan nic Gregor

which evolved into the surname

Siobhan NicGregor

Manx surnames

Surnames in the Isle of Man were very much like the Scottish ones above, using the prefixes Mac & Nic. These forms disappeared by the 1600s, but in some cases, the K sound was retained, producing forms beginning with C, K & Q, such as

Irish surnames

Gaeilge, the form of Gaelic spoken in Ireland, is very much like the Scottish form. Some minor differences for our present purposes are

Matronymic surnames

Matronymic surnames are those which show the name of the child's mother

See Locational surnames and Occupational surnames

© Malcolm Bull 2023
Revised 14:50 / 30th December 2023 / 10634

Page Ref: X2090

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