When is a patronymic a middle name?

+6 votes

There's a helpful chart on what information to add to a profile's data field, developed several years ago, I believe, by the EuroAristo project.


I was struck by the statement that patronymics are to be treated as middle names.

I believe an evolution has taken place since the chart was created -- first the Cymru Project won a variation where the patronymic form, including ap, ab and ferch, became the LNAB.  Indonesia Project followed suit for those groups in Indonesia that use patronymics, which follow the precedent in Arabic names.  

I believe Scandanavian projects are now using patronymics as LNAB where the individual himself or herself used a patronmymic rather than a modern surname.  

Do we still retain cases where a person known by a patronymic would have something else placed in the LNAB field, and the patronmic relegated to a middle name?

in Policy and Style by Jack Day G2G6 Pilot (338k points)
retagged by John Atkinson
This question and ones like it all go back to fundamental and basic errors in the underlying setup of WikiTree: using a user-entered, variable field as part of the unique database identifier, and assigning and labeling the name fields according to the (not-even-official*) usage of a specific narrow time and place (the modern U.S.).

*Did you know that the U.S. Social Security Administration does not consider middle names to be part of your official name?

5 Answers

+5 votes

There are plenty of cases in (at least early, read: medieval) Scandinavian profiles where I'm finding patronymics used as a middle name, other name, or a second first name and an anachronistic surname as the LNAB. In general, the patronymic should be used as the LNAB given that what we moderns use as a family grouping label, or what their descendants in the 16th/17th century decided to use as a more fixed name, had nothing to do with anyone at the time the people in question were alive. There are cases where there is contemporary evidence for a person at the time using a non-patronymic but these are either foreign nationals (or descendants thereof; e.g. Hemming Tanne; Anund Hatt) or the name was assumed later in life as a sort-of nickname.  If no patronymic is known, then these would be appropriate instead.

I'm not sure if any profiles using a non-patronymic for LNAB when a patronymic is more appropriate are retained intentionally, but they're sure around...

by Matt Engdahl G2G6 Mach 1 (13.1k points)
Many published genealogies for New Netherland families apply the modern family name to early generations whose members exclusively used patronymics. This is erroneous, but to help ward off new duplicate profiles, we often show the modern family name as an "Other Last Name."
+3 votes
The Euroaristo guidelines are for the Euroaristo project. They do not necessarily apply across the rest of WikiTree.

The New Netherland Settlers Project treats the patronymic name as the person's last name if there's evidence that the person used it as a last name, and did not have a modern-style surname. For New Netherland people who started out life using a patronym (for example, at baptism and marriage) but later adopted a modern-style family name, the patronym will be the LNAB and the family name will be the Current Last Name.

If we determine that the person had a modern-style family name as their LNAB and also used a patronymic name, we treat the combination of their given name and patronym as their first name (for example, a man might have the first name "Hendrick Andriesz", where Hendrick is the given name and Andriesz is the patronym). Based on advice from our Dutch cousins, we do not put patronymic names in the middle name field.
by Ellen Smith G2G Astronaut (1.1m points)
Under current policy(?) any creating or editing of pre-1600 profiles should follow (or at least read) either the EuroAristo naming guidelines or the Welsh naming guidelines.

Hmm... I recall G2G discussions during my first year as a WikiTreer (I joined in 2014) in which members working with people of various European places and extractions (I particularly recall it in connection with the Dutch) expressed consternation about those naming conventions that were created for the aristocracy (particularly in Britain) and did not reflect naming practices for the people and cultures we were working with. There is much good generic guidance on those help pages for aristocratic names, but aristocrats are a special situation -- and to my simple mind, a difficult one -- due to peculiarities such as hereditary titles and the use (or adoption) of family surnames that were foreign to the place where the person lived.

In a number of places, church recordkeeping of baptisms, marriages, and burials began before 1600. By no means all of those records survive, but when they do, we have many ancestral lines that start with "ordinary people" who lived in the 1500s and who followed the common naming practices of their cultures (not the peculiar naming practices of the aristocracy). In the years since 2014, several excellent help pages have been created regarding naming conventions for various groups outside the scope of the Euroaristo project.
+4 votes

I'm going to preface my answer by saying that this discussion really should be about naming guidelines for medieval profiles (pre-1600)

I'm not opposed to changes to naming standards/guidelines, but I think there are a couple of issues involved.

I suspect for early medieval names, that it is far more likely that we are retrospectively applying patronymics when they didn't actually use them themselves.  

We certainly come across documents in latin where they might use Willelm filius Odonis, but that is just a way of identifying one William from many others, and this particular William may be referred to by the place he originated or the land he owned in other documents. There are certainly examples where siblings are known by different names indicating they weren't using patronymics as a surname.

The other issue is, if we use patronymics or matronymics as the LNAB how do we connect families given each generation would have a different last name, or more importantly how do we decide between one Urraca Fernandez who might be from a totally different family from another Urraca Fernandez?

I have no idea what the correct answer is but I think with medieval profiles there will always be issues in trying to follow our Honor Code about Accuracy with having a database where people can actually find profiles.  A discussion about accuracy over pragmatism.

In this aspect WikiTree is no different from many genealogical programs where you have to enter a Last Name at Birth (LNAB) and don't have a lot of fields to enter other names?

by John Atkinson G2G6 Pilot (429k points)

Agreed.  I was inspired to create a profile yesterday to house biographical information about Orderic Vitalis.  We know for certain that Vitalis was given him as a name when was sent to the monastery of Saint Evroult at age 10, but that's how he is universally known now and I was pragmatic and used that as an LNAB (thinking, "I just don't want to deal with LNAB right now, if someone comes up with something better, we'll add a tiny glitch to WikiTree's computers and change it")  

Interestingly, some of his contemporaries were known by patronymics using the "Fitz" construction, including Robert FitzHugh, a base son of Earl Hugh d'Avranches of Chester who was a child oblate at Saint Evroult probably at the same time as Orderic, and we know Orderic's father's name, but I had no temptation to make his name be Orderic Fitz Odelerius, because I've not seen anything presenting him that way..

The issue of patronymics for Moorish Spain came up earlier -- https://www.wikitree.com/g2g/681188/lnab-in-al-andalus-patronymic-or-dynasty  in connection with https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Abbadid-2

 I see we went with a dynastic name rather than patronymic, because "it was more stable."  Which gets to the pragmatic argument.

But while the Arabic culture involved typically uses patronymics, I see that a patronymic was not included as a middle name on that profile.  I guess my question here would be, "is that something we want to happen?" on ancient profiles like this, or should it be considered optional?

+2 votes


We have modern instances where patronymics (or names appearing to be patronymics) will appear in the middle names of Danish profiles.  

Under modern Danish name law, the middle name is a special type of name used to save names which a person is later entitled to choose to use as his or her inheritable family name (slægtsnavn). This name is not the person's last name at birth, but it could become the person's official last name later in life or maybe not if the person decides not to change slægtsnavn, so it doesn't fit in other last name or current last name. We reserve the middle name field strictly for this type of name. It is typically used to preserve the name of a parent, grandparent or godparent or person of importance to the child or to preserve a family name from the mother's line or to preserve a tilnavan used for several years that did not become the family slægtsnavn.  Because of past naming law and custom, these middle names sometimes look like patronymns, but they really are not true patronyms even when based on the child's father's given name.

However, because of the special status of the real middle name in Danish naming law and the important clues it can give to family history, Project Denmark would very much prefer that the middle name field not be used for any other purpose with Danish profiles of any time period.

Project Denmark generally incorporates Danish naming law into its guidelines on what goes in the LNAB field.  In regard to nobility, inheritable family names as slægtsnavn have been required in Denmark since 1526 which goes back before the official start date for Project Denmark, so by our guidelines what is in the LNAB for all aristocrats officially falling within the scope of our Project should not be a true patronym.  Whatever name the aristocratic family adopted as their inheritable slægtsnavn is what goes in the LNAB field.  Since 1526, that name is rarely a patronym, true or apparent.

For those who were not noble, names that are based on a frozen patronym are still the most common form of slægtsnavn or surname or family name.  When it switched from a true patronym changing at every generation to an inheritable family name depends upon what area of Denmark is involved and whether or not the clergy and family followed the royal decrees on naming. Whatever that time was, unless the profile is for someone born in the 20th century who has a true middle name, no name at all, much less any name looking like a patronym, should appear in the middle name field of a profile for a person born in Denmark during the scope of Project Denmark (and to our preference even before the time).

We can't change what guidelines European Aristocrats has or adopts, but to our way of thinking, no profile for a person born in Denmark prior to the 20th century should have any name in the middle name field.

We haven't finished all our guidelines on where to put which types of names for Danish profiles.  But based on our discussion and decision regarding tilnavn (use names), it is most likely that we will decide that once the time has passed at which a family was required to and did adopt an inheritable surname, any true patronym that was used by a person will go in the other last name field. 

We don't like the terms first, middle and last name at all as they don't fit either Danish naming custom or law.  We prefer to use the Danish terms for types of name or to generalize to given names instead of first names and surnames instead of last names.  The translations are what cause the confusion.

Given our discussion on tilnavn, I seriously doubt that Project Denmark would ever favor putting any form of patronym in any type of first name field (including Preferred Name) as patronyms are clearly not now and never have been any form of given name.

Project Denmark takes no position on what the Last Name at Birth should be for Danish nobility prior to 1536.  We look to European Aristocrats for guidance on that point.  But it appears to me that putting patronyms, or anything looking like a Danish patronym, in the First Name, Preferred Name, or Middle Name fields is asking for confusion. They don't really fit in Nicknames either, but that would be more suitable than Middle Name, First Name or Preferred Name.  Such names appear to be a much better fit for the Other Last Name Field when they are not the LNAB or the surname when the person died (which is what goes in Current Last Name).

So by process of elimination, if European Aristocrats is interested in my views and those expressed in Project Denmark's discussions, we would prefer these names be moved to the Other Last Name field.

by Mary Jensen G2G6 Mach 9 (92.3k points)
edited by Mary Jensen
+6 votes

"Do we still retain cases where a person known by a patronymic would have something else placed in the LNAB field, and the patronmic relegated to a middle name?"

Well, Matt has spoken for the medieval families - perhaps Maggie A or Lena will also chime  in.

I'd just like to say something for the somewhat later times, post 1600/1650, when there were families with inheritable family names, where the individuals may be in the sources alternately with their family name, with their patronymic or with their patronymic + family name.

In those cases the patronymic sits best in the middle name field - where thanks to the recent improvements of the search functions you can now search for it and get results. The family name, when it existed in the person's lifetime, is the appropriate LNAB.

There are still lots of LNABs of the form patronymic+familyName around (mostly because gedcom export-import works that way) - but we don't approve of them.

by Eva Ekeblad G2G6 Pilot (375k points)

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