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Matronym (also matronymic) is a combination of Ancient Greek μήτηρ (meter) = 'mother' and ὄνομα (onoma) = 'name'.

It literally means 'named from the mother'. See also Patronym ('named from the father').

Primary Matronyms

Primary matronyms or real matronyms were used in the Nordic countries until naming laws forbid their usage when the use of hereditary surnames became mandatory:

  • Denmark: 1828
  • Sweden: 1901
  • Norway: 1923

Nowadays, it is possible again to use real matronyms, as the name laws have changed again.

In Iceland, on the other hand, primary patronyms or matronyms are mandatory while secondary patronyms or matronyms and other surnames are forbidden.

Primary matronyms are not hereditary and refer directly to the name of the mother.

Matronyms are not frequently used. Patronyms are much more common (both in former times and also today). Sometimes, if the mother is especially well-known or if the father is not part of the family, matronyms are used.

To create a Nordic matronymic name, the following suffixes are usually added to the genitive form, sometimes (often in Danish) to the nominative form of the first name of the mother.

Language Suffix 'son' Suffix 'daughter'
Old Norse Old Norse -son -dóttir
Denmark Danish -sen -datter
Faroe Islands Faroese -son -dóttir
Finland Finnish -poika -tytär
Iceland Icelandic -son -dóttir
Norway Norwegian -sen/-son/-søn -datter/-dotter
Sweden Swedish -son -dotter

A new neutral suffix was introduced in Iceland in 2019. Since then, persons who are officially registered with non-binary gender are permitted to use the suffix -bur ('child of') instead of -son or -dóttir.

Secondary Matronyms

Secondary matronyms are "frozen" primary matronyms which became hereditary.

When the use of hereditary surnames became mandatory in Denmark, Sweden and Norway, people who did not already had a surname just "froze" their primary matronym so that their children could inherit it. The female suffixes meaning 'daughter' were abandoned and only the suffixes meaning 'son' survived (with a very few exceptions).