Sunday, March 02, 2008

What's Your Matriname?

I just finished reading the Seven Daughters of Eve by Bryan Sykes. I'm not going to do a formal review of the book at this point. I will have more to say on it in the near future. But I would like to bring up one idea that Brian proposes for genealogists. It sounds like a good idea to me but I would like to hear your thoughts on the subject. Here's what Bryan had to say:
The common practice of women adopting the husband's surname on marriage rather than retaining their maiden names makes it very difficult to trace a maternal lineage, for women's names change at every generation. But neither would retention of the maiden name resolve the problem, because a maiden name is, after all, only another surname -a father's name rather than husbands. Against this background it is no surprise that it comes as a revelation to many people that there actually is such a thing as a maternal family tree, a mirror image of the traditional paternal version. I have certainly never seen one drawn out.

Genetics does help to reconstruct detailed maternal trees even within the existing records, but the best solution for future generations of genealogists would be to create a new class of name altogether. Everyone would get this name from his or her mother. Women would pass it on to their children. It would be, in effect, an exact mirror image of the present system with its surnames which people get from their fathers and, if they are men, passed on to their children. We would then all have three names: a first name, a surname and a new one, a matriname perhaps. A man passes on his surname to his children; a woman gives her matriname to hers. Since they follow a maternal line of inheritance, these names will closely correspond with mitochondrial DNA. They will also reflect biological relationships more accurately than surnames, because there is only very rarely any doubt about the identity of a child's mother. In time people would be able to recognize their maternal relatives with the same matriname in just the same way as they can now link up to their paternal family through a shared surname. But until that time comes, if it ever does, reconstructing maternal family trees through written records alone will be much harder then drawing the male equivalent.
So what do you think of Bryan's idea of matrinames? Do you think it would make your genealogy research easier? More confusing? If your genealogy database program of choice allowed a separate entry for matrinames would you use it? I'm thinking that we would all have to develop a convention of using the surname of our earliest known matrilineal ancestor for all of her known descendants. If that were the case, what matriname would you be carrying these days? Each new generation discovered back in your matrilineal line would require a change in the matriname of all her descendants. But that certainly would be easy enough to change in a genealogy database program if it were designed to do that. I think the idea of matrinames is a good one. What do you think?

By the way, my matriname would be Pełc.

Sykes, Bryan. The Seven Daughters of Eve. New York: Norton & Company, 2001. 291-292.


  1. I agree, we need all the help we can get to keep track of the maternal side. I, as I think many of us do, have many first name only females in my tree. My matriname would be KAUTZMAN. I can trace my direct female line back to Susannah Kautzman b: ca 1760.

  2. An interesting topic Jasia and one that has always fascinated me. Given my current struggle with MacEntee/McEntee, I have been playing the "name game" quite a bit now.

    I am going to do a post highlighting your post - I have too much to say that would clutter up your comment secion!

  3. I like this very much...My matriname would be (if my research is correct) Miller, from Catherine (Miller) Frick, born about 1735, probably in Pennsylvania.

  4. Jasia,

    Don't millions of folks of Hispanic descent do this already? I know many Puerto Ricans and while they are starting to adopt the US custom of using your father's surname as yours, many still use their mother's maiden name. Or, they use a hyphenated combination of the two like Sykes suggests. I wish we followed this custom since I would have been Pater and I wouldn't have to spell my last name all the time!

    What's Past is Prologue

  5. Hmm. The furthest back in my direct
    West line would be Arvilla Ames,born
    1810 and the wife of John Cutter West.

    That would make me William West Ames?

    Interesting topic, Jasia!

  6. I like the way the Dutch have done it, although I'm not sure they still do it this way today. It is similar to the Scandinavian way. The women always keep their maiden name throughout their lives. So I would be Miriam Bryans Robbins (Miriam, Bryan's daughter, of the Robbins family). Then you would just need to find Bryan Robbins' marriage record to discover that he married Faith Williams Valk. Locating William Valk's marriage record tells you that he married Ruth Johns Hoekstra. And so on and so on. Using this method and the records available online at the Dutch National Archives online and various Dutch provincial archives online, I have been able to trace my Dutch lines back a good eight generations or so!

  7. My matriname is Renfro, at least as far back as I can trace my matrilineal line -- to Hannah Renfro born 1802. However, I don't have either of her parents' names. I smell a new project! Like Thomas, when I get a chance, I will do a post about this. Thanks for the inspiration.

  8. If we'd been doing this right along I wouldn't be at a brick wall with a matriname of Graham - 1852! I just recently found a record that her mother might have been a Dougherty but I need more. Hopefully my trip to MI will answer this one. A great idea but a computer program would be necessary to keep changing it as you move back through generations. This would also help separate all of the cousins named Daniel and John.

  9. I'm going to give this some thought - and perhaps read the book. My matriname would be Hartley, as my mother's mother's mother's mother was Sarah Ann Hartley, born abt 1836. However, I know next to nothing about Sarah's parents except Sarah claimed to be 1/8 Choctaw.

  10. In response to what Donna said earlier - yes, many Hispanics do use their mother's maiden name in their names. Also, going back a couple of centuries, Spanish women often kept their maiden names - family surnames were important then. Going back four to five hundred years ago, children would often be given their mother's, or grandparent's surnames rather than their father's.By the way, my matriname would be Tenorio. My sixth great-grandmother Josefa Tenorio was born circa 1757.Of course, there is still the problem that she probably got her surname from her father....

  11. My matriname would be Bauer,
    1850's in Southern Germany.
    This is a very interesting
    post. Made me think about
    all the ladies who came
    before me on my mothers
    direct lineage!

  12. I agree with Miriam. I have done quite a lot of research in Denmark records for my Hansen family and before about 1900 the women kept their maiden names and in all the records I searched they also listed her place of birth. The records for the males worked the same way, but males had one more record, military which registered the males at birth for the draft.


  13. Thanks everyone for sharing your comments. I wasn't aware of the Danish or Hispanic way of recording names. I have to admit, I'm partial to the idea of using both a matrilineal surname and the typical patrilinial surname myself since both family lines would be apparent. I like the idea of women keeping their names for life too.

    I'm curious... can anyone share how you enter the additional family name (for Hispanics, Dutch and Danish) in your database software? I use Legacy and it only gives you the option of "Given name" and "Surname". There is an "aka" option but that name/entry isn't shown on reports or on screen unless you intentionally pull it up.

    I enter middle names or initials along with the given name. I suppose that's how you'd do it with a matriname as well.

  14. Jasia, that's funny -- that was what pushed me out of Legacy and into the Master Genealogist, so that all the variants I saw fit to enter would be right there in the names list. There is probably a way to customize for the Dutch naming tradition but I haven't tried to figure it out yet.

  15. Jasia The Danish used patronymics till about 1850 (later in the farm areas) So my grandfather Anton Mikkel Hansen's father as Hans Mikkelsen all of Hans' children were Hans Sen or son of Hans. His mother was Karen Jorgensen or Son of Jorgen (earlier on she would have been Jorgensdatter or Jorgensdtr). People have asked me is it not harder to research Patronymic names, but the Danish records make it very easy. In my grandfathers birth record it listed his father, fathers place of birth, occupation and age. It also listed his mother Karen Jorgensen her place of birth and age. Then going to that parish it listed her parents and place of birth. The hard part of Danish research is finding the parish your family lived in. I was lucky I found my grandfathers address book and it listed the parish, and also he was in the Danish IGI.

  16. And I thought it was usual in the US for married women to hypenate their maiden name followed by their new husband's surname, and give this name to the children... So this could be a throw-back to my friend's Dutch origins?

    I have one somewhat perverse line (in Wuerttemberg) along which for several generations I can follow the maternal line; the men seem to marry into this family from an outside location and I cannot trace their origins (yet)! An insightful friend also pointed out that you can be almost certain that the named mother is indeed the mother.

    Jasia, thanks for being so efficient and able to bring such breadth of information into this technophobe's genealogical life!!

  17. I realize this is an old post but I don't think the blogger or commenters really get it. If you go back and choose the maiden name of the furthest back female ancestor, you are still just choosing a patriname, an ordinary paternal surname, it is just that female ancestor's dad's name. The only way to accurately do a matriname would be mother's clan name, and since most of us don't have that information, it would be the mitochondrial DNA clan mother. So the best approach if you don't come from a culture that retains a clan affiliation for your mother, would be to have your mtDNA tested (both men and woman have mtDNA) and find out who your mitochondrial clan mother is. For now, the only names available linked to these would be those scientists have applied and use for these clan lines, but it does then identify which one belongs to all future female lines, eliminating the need for repeated genetic testing to determine the child's clan name each generation. Adopted children would need to be tested if they prefer to go by their biological clan mother's name rather than the clan name of their adoptive mother, though traditionally one can be adopted into a clan and pass that clan on culturally.

  18. Also, I wanted to add that the Hispanic convention is not a matriname situation, since the name the mother passes on is her father's surname, not a motherline name from her mother, mother's mother, mother's mother's mother, and so on back to original mother clan. There are true matrilineal cultures and the name they pass on as the mother name or matriname is always from a mother- the father of a child would have that name in common with his neices and nephews by his sisters, not with his own child (in a bilineal system that father would also pass on his patriname to his children, but it would not then pass through his female children to his grandchildren as in the Hispanic naming system- instead all his female children would bear their grandmother's matriname and their own father's patriname). Passing on two patrinames is still just an extension of the patrilineal naming system.