Word of the Month: Patronymic


David Zapatka

At the urging of friend Betz Wyllie, I’ve acted on my intrigue with genealogy. Betz is a genealogical whiz and offered to help with my family history. In what seemed to be a relatively short period of time but certainly a ton of work for Betz, she produced about 200 names for my family tree. In our conversations, the word, patronymic came up. Being unfamiliar with this word, it quickly became the focus of this month’s column.

Patronymic – pat·ro·nym·ic/ˌpatrəˈnimik, noun.

A name derived from the name of a father or ancestor, typically by the addition of a prefix or suffix, e.g., Johnson, O’Brien, Ivanovich.

A patronymic, or patronym, is generally formed by adding a prefix or suffix to a name. A few centuries ago, the male patronymic of Patrick was Fitzpatrick (“Patrick’s son”), that of Peter was Peterson or Petersen, that of Donald was MacDonald or McDonald and that of Hernando was Hernández. Today, of course, each of these is an ordinary family name or surname. In Russia, both a patronymic and a surname are still used; in the name Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Ilyich is a patronymic meaning “son of Ilya.”

First known use – 1612. Origin and etymology – ultimately from Greek patronymia, from patr- + onyma.

Examples of patronymic used in a sentence:

For much of history, Danes used a patronymic naming system, so that the son of Jens would have the last name Jensen and Jens’s daughter would have the last name Jensdatter.— Julie Beck, The Atlantic, “All the Julie Becks and Me,” May 15, 2017

Growing up in Chicago, I heard legendary announcer, Jack Brickhouse Hey! Hey! call Cubs, Sox, Bulls and Bears games. His name is a common local patronym. — David Zapatka, Sun Lakes Splash, December, 2018

In the Scottish Highlands, the patronymic system was still in use in the first quarter of the 18th century, and even later in the Shetlands. There is an example in 1841 of a girl named Bruce Matthewson, daughter of Matthew Bruce, and one of a 1907 bride’s ancestry quoted by Diack as: Charles Hoseason s/o Hosea Anderson s/o Andrew Johnson s/o John Francisson s/o Francis Johnson s/o John Lawrenceson s/o Laurence Sjovaldson s/o Sjovald of Aywick. (s/o is an abbreviation for “son of.”)

The movie and television series titled The Highlander featured the immortal and fictional character Connor MacLeod, who could only die if his head was severed from his body. He was one of few immortals left on earth and should he sever the head of the last remaining immortal at “The Gathering,” he would win “The Prize,” resulting in ultimate power and knowledge. His surname, MacLeod is an Anglicization of the Gaelic patronymic name Mac Leòid meaning “son of Leod.” This Gaelic name is a form of the Old Norse personal name Ljótr which means “ugly.”

Please submit your patronymic experiences, any thoughts on this month’s column or any word you may like to share along with your insights and comments to [email protected].