A patronymic is a surname based on the given name of the father e.g. Fred Johnson (now a popular English surname) is the son of John. A matronymic is the female version: these can be seen in Scandinavian and Icelandic names such as the footballer whose surname is Helguson (Helga's son) or the novelist Guðrún Eva Mínervudóttir (Minerva's daughter).
But patronymics/matronymics are not always that simple. Try 'Powell' (ap Hywel), or Rodriguez (son of Rodrigo). How about FitzGerald (child of Gerald) or O'Connor (from "Ó Conchobhair", meaning grandson/descendant of Conchobhar)?
Nowadays - in the UK, US, and Australia at least - the child will inherit the father's surname, if the father and mother are married. If they are not, English law states that the child should take the mother's surname. What a delightful proposition for future genealogists...NOT! Some families join the parents' surnames to make a double-barrelled name. Some individuals (when they are adult) change their entire name by deed poll.
Where did you get your surname from? Was it a simple inheritance from your father? and was it a patronymic originally?
© Ros Haywood
School of Surnames
Next week's letter is 'Q'. Has anybody got any interesting snippets that marry up Q with surname studies? If so, please send them to Ros Haywood at sos [at] surname-society.org
letter P courtesy of openclipart.org