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A matrilineal surname or matriname[1][a] is a family name inherited from one's mother, and maternal grandmother, and so on whose line of descent is called a mother-line, mitochondrial line, or matriline. A matriname passed on to subsequent issue is unchanged, as compared to a matronymic, which is derived from the first name of each new mother.

The term "matriname" was introduced by Prof. Bryan Sykes in his book The Seven Daughters of Eve, stating that "We would then all have three names: a first name, a surname and a new one, a matriname perhaps."[1][b]

The mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is inherited by biological motherhood whereas the matriname can be equally given after adoption or surrogacy.[1]

Single surname[edit]

The usual lack of matrinames to "pass on" in our patrilineal cultures makes traditional genealogy more difficult in the mother-line case than in the normal (father-line) case.[1] After all, father-line surnames originated partly to identify individuals clearly and were adopted partly for administrative reasons;[c] and these patrinames help in searching for facts and documentation from centuries ago. Patrinames are stable identity-surnames, surnames which identify an individual, whether now or in the past or future; and matrinames similarly are identity-surnames for women.

In the 1979 "Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women," CEDAW, the UN holds the view, in item (g) of its Article 16, that women and men, and specifically wife and husband, in a politically correct society have the same rights to choose a "family name" as in an economically just society to their profession and occupation.[2] These three rights are a small part of the document's long list of rights related to gender equality meant to ensure women have equal opportunities to men. However, the United States has signed but not yet ratified this UN Convention.[2]

Sykes argues choosing a "family name", or surname, should mean combining a matriname with a patriname, to avoid discriminating against either women or men. Some cultures have no surnames. If a culture has these then to not discriminate it can combine as mentioned or be randomly or arguably gender-symmetric ambilineal.

A system of combination (of patriname with) matriname is parallel to and symmetric with the pre-eminent norm use of patriname in each child's birth record.

Note that one's birth surname is one's legal surname, unless one changes the latter. In several purely patrilineal cultures, including most of Europe, women traditionally change to their husband's patriname at marriage: see married and maiden names and name change.

Double surname[edit]

Some cultures use both paternal and maternal surname, such as Spanish naming customs, Portuguese name, and naming customs of Hispanic America. Again, custom leans towards the mother's patriname rather than inheriting any mother's matriname, such as chosen after a lack of long-term relationship without any nod to the father. The patrilineal surname—patriname—taken from the mother in these patrilineal cultures does not qualify as a matriname. Instead, this practice is use of the maternal patriname.

Double surnames were discussed in The Seven Daughters of Eve.[1] Double surnames were used by an English family, along with the matriname "Phythian", as demonstrated and discussed in an online "feature" article.[3]

As a hypothetical example of double surnames, the mother has the birth double surname "Phythian-Jones", and the father has birth double surname "Una-Smith". They both choose to retain their birth double surnames unchanged throughout their lives. They agree to denominate all of their daughters and sons with the birth double surname "Phythian-Smith": The mother passes on her matriname (and mtDNA), and symmetrically, the father passes on his patriname. All of their sons have the Y-DNA of and, accordingly, the patriname "Smith" of their patriline, while all of the daughters have both the mtDNA of and, accordingly, the matriname "Phythian" of their matriline.[1][3] (Note that most societies give all children of a family the same surname, as in this example.) Each person has only one identity-surname, which in this example is either "Phythian" or "Smith". The identity-surname of each is stable throughout life and always half of whatever double surname(s) he or she assumes throughout life, including at birth and marriage(s).

Rather than keeping their own birth or legal surnames, the parents in this example might prefer at marriage to change their surnames to "Phythian-Smith" (or "Smith-Phythian"), the same as their children-to-be, so that the members of their nuclear family would all share this one family name.[4]

Of course, one's own identity-surname (here, the matriname "Phythian" or the patriname "Smith") would always be available as one's own usage name, such as in one's profession/vocation.

In summary, gender-symmetric single surnames are simpler and briefer, but if used alone, would give different surnames for members of the different genders in a nuclear family. In the double system, all of the children in a nuclear family tend to have the same double surname. Also, the system generally records on all legal documents the matriname and patriname. Where doing so, this helps the passage of family stories on both sides and genealogy.[1][3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The word "matriname" was used in scientific literature (referring to "maternal surnames", actually) for many years before Professor Sykes' 2001 book.
  2. ^ Sykes uses "matriname", only, and states that women adding their own matriname to men's patriname (or "surname" as Sykes calls it) would really help in future genealogy work and historical-record searches. This suggests the double surname ideal. Sykes states on p. 292 that a woman's matriname will be handed down with her mtDNA, the main topic of his book.
  3. ^ For a more complete historical background, see Surname § History, especially its first sub-section, Modern Era..


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Sykes, Bryan (2001). The Seven Daughters of Eve. W.W. Norton. ISBN 0-393-02018-5; pp. 291–2. Professor Bryan Sykes uses "matriname", only, and states that women adding their own matriname to men's patriname (or "surname" as Sykes calls it) would really help in future genealogy work and historical-record searches. This effectively suggests the double surname presented in this article. Professor Sykes also states on p. 292 that a woman's matriname will be handed down with her mtDNA, the main topic of his book.
  2. ^ a b UN Convention, 1979. "Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women", or CEDAW. Archived at WebCite [1] on 1 Apr 2011.
  3. ^ a b c Sarah Louisa Phythian-Adams, 20 Aug. 2008. "In the Name of... Archived 2011-04-01 at WebCite", an featured article by the author. (To find the family tree etc. of this pioneering matriname double-surname case, search the article for the word "proposal".) Archived at WebCite [2] on 1 Apr 2011.
  4. ^ Stannard, Una (1977). Mrs Man. San Francisco: Germainbooks ISBN 0-914142-02-X; pp. 334–37 on actual invented surnames and pp. 84–88 on double surnames.

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