Can a woman be a Fitz?

+4 votes
Soon after the Norman Conquest there was a woman named Mabel or Mabella.  Her father was Robert FitzHugh, which means "son of Hugh" in Norman French.  Mabella's current LNAB is FitzHugh, treating FitzHiugh as a surname passed down from one generation to the next, which it later became.  But she lived before 1100, which is too early for that.  

So I started to think, well, her father was Robert, so she'd really be FitzRobert (and made her CLN FitzRobert to try it out, since that's easy to change).  But Fitz means "son", not "daughter" so I don't think she'd be Fitz at all.  

Robert FitzHugh was Baron of Malpas and in Latin known as Rodbertus de Malupassu.  He had no sons so Mabella and a sister inherited the Malpas lands and the people on them.  One of those people was a man of Welsh descent named William "le Belward" or "the good tenant," and Mabella married him.  William and his descendants later became "de Malpas", of Malpas, by virtue of the lands inherited through Mabella.  Since her father Robert was Baron of Malpas when Mabella was born, might her LNAB better be "Malpas"?  Or Malupassu?  (But she is not designated as "Mabella de Malpas" in the earliest sources which refer to her simply as "Mabella, daughter of Robert FitzHugh" so this might confuse things more.

This all is of course arbitrary for the sake of WikiTree, because surely Mabella was just Mabella when she lived and everyone knew who she was.  But we might as well have our arbitrary designations be as close to the truth as possible!
WikiTree profile: Mabella de Malpas
asked in Genealogy Help by Jack Day G2G6 Pilot (242k points)
edited by Jack Day
Maybe once a line is established, why Not.

It happens all the Time today, i have a Female Cousin with the Last name

Of Fitzhenry.

Jack, are there comparable documents of the period where a female is named “fitz-any name”?  I suppose that there would to be some kind of documentary name for legal matters, but I’m thinking that in that time period a common identification would be something like just the forename and to differentiate between others it would be more likely that the father would be named, so-and-so of such-and-such a place, not just the fsther’s forename. So... maybe Malpas would be correct, if you had to pick a surname.

This is a great question. I’ll be looking through the answers.

I would add that in other patronymics you have pairs -- Welsh ab/ap for sons and ferch for daughters;  Scandanavian son or sen ending, some variatio of dotter ending.  So Fitz should have a feminine equivalent but I don't know of one and haven't seen it used...
We all know Ella Fitzgerald of course, but the question is perhaps when did patronyms like "Fitz-" become frozen? Is there any evidence for female Fitzes in the sources abt. 1100?
Well this is where Genealogy becomes murky. And I in no way am an expert on such issues of patronymic conventions. Alas! I wonder if records of the period (perhaps where the daughters are heirs-- perhaps minor heirs--whose parents predeceased them) reflect these names. Without giving into "expository material" It has been thought Strictly speaking, in medieval England a woman's identity rested upon that
of her male kin--primarily her father and her husband(s), secondarily her
brother(s) and son(s).

On further note if the use of "Fitz" is on the documents is that not the information we should be using? I say this because as with any names we always use conventions they used rather than are own.

Femine equivalent of Fitz. No real solution.!msg/soc.genealogy.medieval/TQCk5FylLqQ/dNZx13u7lkUJ

What do other secondary sources use?

We may strive for accuracy but if a name then becomes idiosyncratic, few will  be able to find the profile in a search.

And that’s hard enough as it is now!
Thanks so much, Helen, for the link to the discussion of the very same topic on soc.genealogy.medieval, with some experts weighing in on the topic.

One fascinating alternative that was proposed by some credible people -- in the absence of any other alternative, was that for the children of a Robert Fitz Hugh, the sons be named Fitz Robert but the daughters be named FitzHugh.  I don't like that alternative, but I take it as a sign of the desperation in coming up with something better!

The parallel Geni profile refers to the daughter as "of Chester".  I wish it had a source that showed some authority called her this 800 years go.  But she probably was indeed in Chester when she was born, so "Chester" has a degree of legitimacy for something WikiTree might assign to her.  Malpas was in Chester, so one could justify that as an LNAB also but Chester has the advantage of not being the LNAB one has assigned to her children.
Hey Anonymous

I'm a Fitzhenry and I'm always looking for more living Fitzhenrys that I may not have met. Please PM me and let my know who your female Fitzhenry cousin is.


Jo (Fitz-Henry)
Technically there were no Fitz names for either male or female in much of this time period.

They were still using Latin as the main language on written documents, so it would have been 'Robert filius Hugonis' or 'Mabella filia Roberti'

Given we don't want to start using Latin names or phrases, I can't see any reason not to use Fitz names for both males and females as an alternative.

4 Answers

+3 votes
Best answer
Excellent question, I would be tempted to use Malpas because she would probably been known has Mabella daughter of Robert of Malpas (Malpas being a place name)

But I believe she uses that name after marriage and having a maiden name the same as a married name doesn't transcribe well on wikitree - It doesn't show Mabella Malpas previously Malpas JUST Marbella Malpas so looks like the data is incorrect :/
answered by Heather Jenkinson G2G6 Mach 1 (18.6k points)
selected by Melanie Paul
This seems to be a rather early use of FitzHugh as a family surname, it is more likely specific to the individual.
0 votes
You are dealing with a period in history when, generally speaking, people did not have last names. As an example, Robert d''Ivry only meant he was from Ivry de la Baitaille, in Normandy. If the person changed residence location in their lifetime, often the name would change accordingly, i.e. Robert d'Ivry to Robert de Courcelle; (Courcelle sur Mer in Normandy.) It was not until the 13th. century that surnames started to consolidate into one word, (Fitzgerald ). or the intro preposition was dropped or attached, Courcelle, LeFort. Your best bet is to go with the earliest written recording of the persons name and attached to notes an "AKA"
answered by George Churchill G2G6 Mach 5 (58.9k points)
edited by George Churchill
+1 vote


As a female Fitzhenry doing the Fitzhenry One Name Study, this is a question that has vexed me for a long time! And the past is very much a foreign country where surnames are concerned in Norman and Plantagenet England.

The previous answers and comments have shown what a minefield this is.

Men who had a personal rather than hereditary Fitzhenry surname (literally the son of Henry, or Henri if it was really early) float around in my database connected by blood line but unconnected by name to their parents or children, rather like Icelandic naming conventions today ("sson" and "dottir").

Women at that time spent their lives as possessions of their fathers or husbands. Hence descriptions such as (Christian name) daughter of Sir Y or wife of Lord Z. Some independent single women may have had descriptive surnames but these would have been purely personal and would not have been hereditary. And they wouldn't have had them at birth.

The written female version of Fils de or Fitz de would be "Filia de"

From my own personal database point of view (highlighted showing what I do offline), I put the father's Fitzhenry surname in the daughter's surname field, but this is more to keep the database tidy than for historical accuracy for pre-hereditary surnames, and I wouldn't do this on Wikitree.

If the family has got to the stage of hereditary surnames (which will vary depending on the family and the place - Wales was a very late adopter of this), then using the father's surname for the daughter is fair game I think, especially if I can find a parish record that gives her a surname.

If Wikitree would allow one to leave LNAB blank, or enter the name at birth as "daughter of X" this would be perfect. 

I would say "hope this helps" but it probably hasn't... sorry!


answered by Jo Fitz-Henry G2G4 (4.4k points)
Hi Jo - did you mean you are doing the Fitzhenry One Name Study with the Guid, rather than on WikiTree?
Yes, with the Guild of One Name Studies.(GoONS)
+1 vote
I just gave her a CLN of "de Chester".  LNAB is a big deal, but CLN is a minor edit.  So I figure, let's play with that for a bit and see what the pros and cons are...
answered by Jack Day G2G6 Pilot (242k points)
I think using Chester is problematic as she isn't related to the Earls of Chester

Related questions

+6 votes
5 answers
+4 votes
1 answer
88 views asked Jun 15, 2017 in Genealogy Help by Jack Day G2G6 Pilot (242k points)
+5 votes
1 answer
+8 votes
2 answers
233 views asked Oct 5, 2018 in Genealogy Help by Andrew Lancaster G2G6 Mach 6 (68.6k points)
+3 votes
2 answers
80 views asked Oct 4, 2018 in Genealogy Help by Jack Day G2G6 Pilot (242k points)
+26 votes
3 answers
+10 votes
4 answers
+2 votes
1 answer
52 views asked Dec 28, 2018 in Policy and Style by Andrew Turvey G2G6 Mach 2 (20.4k points)
+3 votes
3 answers
226 views asked Nov 1, 2018 in Genealogy Help by Susan Anderson G2G6 Mach 1 (16.5k points)

WikiTree  ~  About  ~  Help Help  ~  Search Person Search  ~  Surname:

disclaimer - terms - copyright