The Principles of Patronymics

Addison, son of Adam

Historic Names

Back when there was a very limited stockpot of names, and there might be, for example, two Roberts in a village who had to be distinguished from one another, they began to be identified by nicknames and by the names of their fathers: one would be known as Robert Will’s son, the other Robert John’s son, and soon an elaborate system evolved based on the names of grandfathers and great-grandfathers.

Similar patronymic systems, with names meaning “son of”, took root in most cultures. In Danish, the suffix added was sen, in Swedish son, in French de, in Armenian ian, in Basque ez, in Norman fitz, in Scotland Mac or Mc, in Ireland O’, Mac or Mc, and in Wales, simply the letter s–Jones meaning John‘s son.

Though all these surname names relate to paternal lineage, in these days of last-name-first and boys-for-girls, there are a lot of patronymics that can work for girls as well: Mackenzie and Madison are good examples that have already been totally accepted. Some of the many other possible “son of” names follow–those that have been used for girls are starred.


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34 Responses to “The Principles of Patronymics”

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Lola Says:

March 11th, 2009 at 10:45 am

This is one trend/fad I really hope dies quickly. Patronymics, by definition should be used on boys and any other use defies logic (at least to me). Seems like more mass stupidity, from my vantage point. But then, my surname is on this list and I’m quite annoyed that my boys now share a surname with a host of little girls with that as a first name.

Quinney strikes me as way too close to an unfortunate word and Bevis brings back memories of “the Lumberjack Song” by Monty Python – not for girls, Bevis, not in *my* universe! Boys names on girls, surnames on girls, blech. Surnames on girls should stay in the middle, where they belong!

But you guys knew I was going to rant here, didn’t you? 😀

Abby Says:

March 11th, 2009 at 11:39 am

One of our strollers is a Quinny. And yes, Lola – my sisters and brother-in-law all made that exact same comment. 🙂

I’m not opposed to masculine names for girls. If anything, I think it is a smidge unfair that boys have always been the ones to “carry on the family name.” Though I can’t understand choosing, say, Addison or Mackenzie for a child unless there was some personal meaning.

Here in DC, we know a handful of Southerners who use the mother’s maiden name for their firstborn regardless of gender. So we know a female Tucker and a male Catesby. *Shrugs.* I wouldn’t give my kid my crazy maiden name for all the tea in China, but if my last name were something lovely like Ellison? Maybe.

Kayt Says:

March 11th, 2009 at 1:08 pm

I don’t care for boy names on girls at all, and especially patronymic ones. The only one I can remotely stand is McKenna, but I prefer the unrelated Makenna, which is an African name meaning ‘joy’, according to I think it’s a much nicer meaning, and simpler to spell. I’m also going to third the Quinney comment!

linda Says:

March 11th, 2009 at 1:23 pm

Guess I really struck a (dis)chord with this one!

Tirzah Says:

March 11th, 2009 at 2:49 pm

I think these names should belong to boys *and* girls. After all, both males and females have the surnames McDonald and Stevenson. Even though it says “son,” it really means descendant of either gender.

In other words, just as Mankind really means Humankind, Johnson, doesn’t mean just *son* of John, it also can mean *daughter* of John. Otherwise, sons and daughters would have different last names, which does happen in some countries (but not here!).

BTW, my kids don’t have these types of names so I’m not biased either way.

Cissa Says:

March 11th, 2009 at 5:52 pm

My son is named Addison, after his father Adam, so just imagine our shock and horror when we seen this name climbing up the girls chart! He’s only 3 as well so all these little girls are going to be in his playgrounds too.

*sigh* Addison Raven seemed like such a beautiful, masculine name too. He’s going to hate us when he gets older.

rachelmarie Says:

March 11th, 2009 at 6:07 pm

I think that boy’s names turned to girl’s names are annoying.
For example: Mackenzie. Look at how high up it is in the popularity charts! It’s means “son of Comeley,” and SON is masculine. I adore the name Mackenzie for a boy, and if I ever did use it, it would be for a boy.
It just really bothers me when people do that.

But, I do love those types of names, as well as first names for last names for boys. On my favorites right now:
Anderson, Macaulay, Jackson, and Dawson

Seriously, though, I think masculine names need to stop being used on girls.
Addison, Mackenzie, Makenna, Emerson, Jameson, Parker, Ryan, etc. (I know Parker and Ryan aren’t on your post, but it’s part of my rant) aren’t girl’s names. They are boys names and have a place.
I know that other people have different opinions, but I think that you should definitely do a post discussing “unisex” names, because I know that’s definitely a big issue.

Ha ha pardon my rant…

linda Says:

March 11th, 2009 at 6:14 pm

We will do a post–and we also have a long, in-depth treatment of the current state of unisex names in our next book, BEYOND AVA & AIDEN, due out in a couple of months. This certainly is a subject that seems to arouse stronger feelings than almost anything else.

smitty Says:

March 11th, 2009 at 7:17 pm

Boys names are so hard to choose and when they are being used for girls it makes it so much harder! I like a lot of these names, for boys though.

smitty Says:

March 11th, 2009 at 7:18 pm

Also! Linda, I am really looking foward to Beyond Ava and Aiden!!!

rachelmarie Says:

March 11th, 2009 at 8:05 pm

Linda –
cool I’m excited. People are very opinionated about that, and so am I!
I’m excited for the next book, I love getting new ideas for names.

Andrea Says:

March 11th, 2009 at 8:21 pm

I may have a niece named Delaney sometime this fall. My sister-in-law says she can’t picture the name on a boy, so she’ll be looking for other names if the baby turns out to be a second son. I normally don’t like trendy surnames, but these are the types of names that I can only see on girls. On boys they sound kind of wimpy. If the baby is a girl, chances are good she’ll be a very pretty, tall, pony-tailed blonde, soccer and basketball playing little jock like my sister-in-law’s four nieces. On that sort of kid, the name Delaney sounds appropriate. It’s also got a pretty nickname in Laney.

Andrea Says:

March 11th, 2009 at 8:27 pm

I should add that I don’t mean I can’t see the above names on boys, just names in the style of Delaney or Mackenzie or McKenna or the like that are already used more for girls than boys. I think the “ee” or “a” ending makes a name sound feminine. Addison is another that is so similar to Madison, which is almost entirely female, that I have a hard time seeing it as a boy’s name any longer. Every Addison (and I’ve seen a number of them under age 10) I’ve met is a girl.

peach Says:

March 11th, 2009 at 8:35 pm

I don’t understand the appeal of boys last names on girls, why?! I agree with a previous poster that these names generally belong in the middle, not first name spot! As first names, I prefer just the name, without the -son: Morris, Hugh, William, James, Jeffrey. Those that are more acceptable as is include Ellison, Addison, Niles, Pierce which don’t sound as much like last names as most of the others.

Jill Says:

March 11th, 2009 at 8:55 pm

No words can express my hatred for boys’ names on girls (well, some words can, but I won’t post them), and Addison, for me, is the worst of them all. In addition to being a masculine name, it’s the name of a horrific adrenal disease, Addison’s disease! AAAAHH!!!

Jillian Says:

March 11th, 2009 at 8:57 pm

i am dying to know “the unfortunate word” that is close to Quinney. Is it that obvious that I am just not seeing it? Give me a hint!

Jill Says:

March 11th, 2009 at 11:28 pm

Jillian, I’m dying to know, too! Hmm….

Jenny Says:

March 12th, 2009 at 1:32 pm

Is Quinney too close to a word I may have picked up reading The Other Boleyn Girl? Urban Dictionary’s “most hilarious slang term” for the lady bits?

Abby Says:

March 13th, 2009 at 11:50 am

It’s British slang. Chop off the “y” and change the “nn” to an “m.” You now have a vulgar term for female genitalia.

Honestly, I don’t think Quinney is that close to the word. And I don’t think the word is that well known in the US. But if my *stroller* caused my nearest-and-dearest to comment, I suppose it would be one of those unfortunate teasing names for a child.

But every name has drawbacks. The connection is lodged in my brain, but if it is news to you, you could probably happily overlook it.

RaiulBaztepo Says:

March 28th, 2009 at 5:39 pm

Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language 😉
See you!
Your, Raiul Baztepo

PiterKokoniz Says:

April 7th, 2009 at 6:49 pm

Hello !!!! ^_^
My name is Piter Kokoniz. Just want to tell, that your blog is really cool
And want to ask you: is this blog your hobby?
Sorry for my bad english:)
Thank you!
Piter Kokoniz, from Latvia

linda Says:

April 7th, 2009 at 8:32 pm

Thanks for writing!

linda Says:

April 7th, 2009 at 8:37 pm

No, this isn’t really a hobby–the two of us have authored nine books on baby names, with another one coming out soon.
We’d be interested in knowing what names are popular in Latvia these days.

Ex Back Says:

April 9th, 2009 at 1:55 am

My fellow on Facebook shared this link and I’m not dissapointed at all that I came here.

How to Get Six Pack Fast Says:

April 15th, 2009 at 11:23 am

I read your posts for a long time and should tell that your posts always prove to be of a high value and quality for readers.

mfarr Says:

September 17th, 2009 at 10:15 am

As a mother of a little girl named Addison, I find some of your responses a little offensive. I assume most of you are mothers of boys. Why should anyone care what someone else names their child? Most modern girl names originated from boy names. Should girls only be limited to Emily, Victoria, or Sarah? It is the 21st century. Get over it…

Valerie Says:

October 10th, 2009 at 1:35 am

Addison is a beautiful name for a girl!

Sarah Says:

March 23rd, 2010 at 6:38 pm

The only Addison I know is male and I don’t really prefer boys names on girls, but I agree names do change camps. They do it all the time. Before the sixties Ashley was almost exclusively male. Now I would be pretty shocked to meet a little boy named so.

holly Says:

April 16th, 2010 at 9:30 pm

Wow, I didn’t realize what other people name their children could be held in such distain others! But then, I named my son Casey (after my grandfather) and my daughter Mackenzie. In my eyes, and ears, the names fit them perfectly.

Addies Mom Says:

May 12th, 2010 at 9:03 am

As the Mother of a pretty red head named Addison my feelings are truly hurt. No she didnt get named after the Greys Anatomy character but I did give her a not so girly name on purpose. When and if she decides to climb the corporate ladder her resume and name wont hold her back. My other child is a boy named John..after his Dad and not my choosing. Lets not be so boring people. I didnt name her Apple Dumpling….or star dust.

Marisa Says:

July 4th, 2010 at 12:51 am

I’m not crazy about hearing masculine type names used for girls either. It often just smacks of simple trendiness and lack of real research and thought. I hope it’s a trend on the way out! 🙂

Elle Says:

August 16th, 2010 at 2:05 am

I guess I understand wanting to name your daughter something unisex because of the idea that a feminine name will hold her back later in life (I think this sounds odd btw) but don’t you think names like Mackenzie and Addison are dominated by girls now? If I was reading a resume and it said Addison Harris or Mackenzie Jones I would think they belonged to women. The idea of giving girls more masculine names to help them along in life probably would have worked 15 years ago but at this point any name seems up for grabs. I’ve heard people naming their little girls Jaxsyn (jackson)…so no name seems to be truly masculine anymore.

Adrian Says:

December 28th, 2010 at 3:45 pm

When there are so many pretty girl names out there already, I don’t understand why so many parents insist on slapping boys’ names on their little girls. The male-line surnames are the worst. There’s nothing cute about naming your GIRL “son of Maud” (Madison), “son of Adam” (Addison), or “son of Kenneth” (McKenzie).

If anyone thinks having a feminine name will “hold a girl back” in life, then feminism has been a failure. If parents take that attitude, they’re implicitly telling their girls that their femininity is a handicap, rather than something to be embraced and cherished, and that the only way to make your way in the world is to try to be as masculine as possible. What a sad commentary.

estelluxx Says:

March 14th, 2011 at 11:00 pm

Wow. I am a 26 year old woman, and my first name is a last name. I have searched facebook and google and found 3 other people with my first name, as a first name. 2 men and a woman. That’s it. It’s unlikely my name will ever be in the top 1000, or even close – generally people don’t think of my name as an option for a first name until they meet me, and if they do, it is masculine or neuter. And I love it.
I lurk on this site often but am consistently turned off by the attitudes about surname names here- we’re not all Mackenzie’s and Addison’s. My parents aren’t trendy, I was born in the 80’s. My sister, with an even more unusual surname first name was born in 1970.
I just feel like the view of surname-first names on this site is very narrow. And yeah, it hurts my feelings.
No, my user name is not my name. And yeah, my mother is a Southerner.

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