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.