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A matronymic is a personal name based on the name of one's mother, grandmother, or any female ancestor. It is the female equivalent of a patronymic. In patriarchal societies, matronymic surnames are far less common than patronyms. In the past, matronymic last names were often given to children of unwed mothers. Other times when a woman was especially well known or powerful, her descendants would adopt a matronym based on her name.





The matrilineal communities in South India and Nepal, namely the Nairs, Bunts, Newars, have family names which are inherited from their mother.


The Minangkabau of Indonesia are the largest group of people who use this naming system.


Filipinos take their mother's maiden name as their middle name; this is also the usual practice in Brazil. Some Vietnamese names also function this way, not as a "tradition" of sorts, but as a style or trend, in which the mother's maiden name is the middle name of the child.



Although many English matronyms were given to children of unwed mothers, it was not unusual for children of married women to also use a matronymic surname. For instance, it was traditional during the Middle Ages for children whose fathers died before their births to use a matronym, and it was not unheard of for children to be given a matronym if the father's name was foreign, difficult to pronounce, or had an unfortunate meaning. A child of a strong-minded woman might also take a matronym, as might a child whose name would otherwise be confused with that of a cousin or neighbour. Common English matronyms include Beaton, Custer, Tiffany, Parnell, Hilliard, Marriott, Ibbetson, Babbs, and Megson.[1]


In the old Finnish system, women were standardly given matronyms, while men were given patronyms, for example, Ainontytär (female) or Pekanpoika (male). Since the 19th century the system of inherited family names has been used, however, and today nearly all Finlanders have inherited surnames.


Some Icelandic people, like Heiðar Helguson, have matronyms. (See Icelandic name.)


Matronymics also appear in medieval Irish and Welsh tales such as Cath Maige Tuired and the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi (the children of Dôn).


Family names derived from matronyms are also found in Romania, especially in the region of Moldavia. Examples include: Aioanei, Ababei, Acatrinei, Ailincăi.


The Scots use the suffix -ina to indicate matronymic names, e.g. Intireina would be the equivalent for the patronymic McIntire.[2]

Middle East


An example of an Arabic matronymic is the name of Jesus in the Qur’an, ‘Īsá ibn Maryam, which means Jesus the son of Mary. The book Kitāb man nusiba ilá ummihi min al-shu‘arā’ (The book of poets who are named with the lineage of their mothers) by the 9th-century author Muḥammad ibn Ḥabīb is a study of the matronymics of Arabic poets.[3] There exist other examples of matronymics in historical Arabic names.[4]


Most characters in the Bible are referred to with a patronymic. However, Abishai, Joab, and Asahel - the sons of Zeruiah, sister or stepsister of King David - are invariably referred to as "Sons of Zeruiah" and the name of their father remains unknown. Also the Biblical Judge Shamgar is referred to with the matronymic "Son of Anat".

There are indications of a Jewish history of matronymic names. [5]


  1. ^ Bowman, William Dodgson. The Story of Surnames. London, George Routledge & Sons, Ltd., 1932. No ISBN.
  2. ^ See example.
  3. ^ Levi della Vida, Giorgio. Muḥammad Ibn Ḥabīb's "Matronymics of Poets". JSTOR: Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 62, No. 3 (Sep., 1942), pp. 156-171. Retrieved 2009-02-28.  
  4. ^ See
  5. ^ Cross, Earle Bennett. Traces of the Matronymic Family in the Hebrew Social Organization. JSTOR: The Biblical World, Vol. 36, No. 6 (Dec., 1910 ), pp. 407-414. Retrieved 2008-05-12.  


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