Difference Wiki

Surname vs. Patronymic: What's the Difference?

By Harlon Moss & Aimie Carlson || Updated on May 20, 2024
A surname is a family name passed down through generations, while a patronymic is a name derived from the father's given name, indicating lineage.

Key Differences

A surname, also known as a last name or family name, is inherited and shared among family members. It is commonly used in many cultures to signify familial connections and heritage. Surnames often originate from occupations, locations, or ancestral names. A patronymic, on the other hand, is a name derived from the father's given name, indicating lineage specifically from the father. This naming practice is prevalent in cultures such as Russian and Icelandic, where a person's name reflects their father's first name with a suffix indicating "son of" or "daughter of."
Surnames are static and generally do not change with each generation, making it easier to trace family history and maintain a consistent family identity. For example, the surname "Smith" remains the same across generations regardless of the first names of the family members. Patronymics change with each generation, as they are formed based on the father's given name. For instance, if a father's name is Ivan, his son might have the patronymic Ivanovich, and his daughter might be Ivanovna. This dynamic nature reflects direct lineage rather than a family identity.
In Western cultures, surnames are more commonly used and legally recognized as identifiers in documents and records. In contrast, in cultures that use patronymics, these names can provide a rich context of immediate ancestry but might not be used as official family names in modern legal contexts.
Surnames can provide information about a person's family origin, profession, or geographic roots, while patronymics offer a direct indication of one's paternal lineage. Both naming conventions serve to connect individuals to their family histories but in distinct ways.

Comparison Chart


Inherited family name
Derived from the father's given name


Static across generations
Changes with each generation

Cultural Usage

Common in Western cultures
Common in Russian, Icelandic cultures


Indicates family heritage
Indicates paternal lineage

Legal Recognition

Widely recognized in official documents
Less commonly used as legal identifiers

Surname and Patronymic Definitions


A permanent family identifier.
She changed her surname after marriage.


A dynamic name component.
Each generation in their family gets a new patronymic.


A family name passed down through generations.
Her surname is Johnson.


Indicates paternal ancestry.
Her patronymic, Petrova, shows her father's name was Peter.


The last name of an individual, indicating family membership.
His surname, Smith, has been in the family for centuries.


Used to reflect lineage from the father.
The patronymic system is prevalent in Iceland.


A hereditary name used for identification.
The surname Williams is very common in the region.


A name derived from the father's given name.
In Russian culture, Ivan's son might have the patronymic Ivanovich.


A name shared in common to identify the members of a family, as distinguished from each member's given name. Also called family name, last name.


Of, relating to, or derived from the name of one's father or a paternal ancestor.


A nickname or epithet added to a person's name.


A name so derived.


To give a surname to.


Derived from one's father.


(obsolete) An additional name, particularly those derived from a birthplace, quality, or achievement; an epithet.


(by extension) Derived from one's ancestors.
A patronymic denomination


(obsolete) An additional name given to a person, place, or thing; a byname or nickname.


A name acquired from one's father.


The name a person shares with other members of that person's family, distinguished from that person's given name or names; a family name.
James is my first name, and Smith is my surname.


(by extension) A name acquired from one's father's, grandfather's or earlier (male) ancestor's first name. Some cultures use a patronymic where other cultures use a surname or family name; other cultures (like Russia) use both a patronymic and a surname.


(Classical studies) The cognomen of Roman names.


Derived from ancestors; as, a patronymic denomination.


A clan.


A modification of the father's name borne by the son; a name derived from that of a parent or ancestor; as, Pelides, the son of Peleus; Johnson, the son of John; Macdonald, the son of Donald; Paulowitz, the son of Paul; also, the surname of a family; the family name.


(transitive) To give a surname to.


A name derived with an affix (such as -son in English or O'- in Irish) from the name of your father or a paternal ancestor


(transitive) To call by a surname.


Of a patronymic name


A name or appellation which is added to, or over and above, the baptismal or Christian name, and becomes a family name.


A name that changes with each generation.
His patronymic suggests his father's name was Nikolai.


An appellation added to the original name; an agnomen.


To name or call by an appellation added to the original name; to give a surname to.
Another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord, and surname himself by the name of Israel.
And Simon he surnamed Peter.


The name used to identify the members of a family (as distinguished from each member's given name)


A name shared among family members.
All the siblings have the same surname, Brown.


Do surnames change with each generation?

No, surnames are generally static and do not change with each generation.

What is a surname?

A surname is an inherited family name passed down through generations.

What is a patronymic?

A patronymic is a name derived from the father's given name, indicating lineage.

Can a surname indicate profession?

Yes, surnames can originate from professions, such as "Smith" or "Baker."

Are surnames used in legal documents?

Yes, surnames are widely recognized and used in legal documents.

Can a patronymic indicate profession?

No, patronymics specifically indicate paternal lineage, not profession.

Do patronymics change with each generation?

Yes, patronymics change with each generation as they are based on the father's given name.

Which cultures commonly use surnames?

Surnames are commonly used in Western cultures.

Are patronymics used in legal documents?

Patronymics are less commonly used as official identifiers in modern legal contexts.

Which cultures commonly use patronymics?

Patronymics are commonly used in Russian and Icelandic cultures.

How are patronymics formed?

Patronymics are formed by adding a suffix to the father's given name, indicating "son of" or "daughter of."

Can a person have both a surname and a patronymic?

Yes, in some cultures, individuals can have both a surname and a patronymic.

Are patronymics common in the United States?

No, patronymics are not commonly used in the United States; surnames are preferred.

What is an example of a patronymic?

An example of a patronymic is "Ivanovich," derived from the father's name Ivan.

Do surnames provide information about family origin?

Yes, surnames often provide information about family origin or history.

Do patronymics provide information about family origin?

Patronymics provide direct information about paternal ancestry.

What is an example of a surname?

An example of a surname is "Johnson," which is passed down through the family.

Do patronymics reflect maternal lineage?

No, patronymics specifically reflect paternal lineage.

How are surnames formed?

Surnames can be formed based on family origins, occupations, or ancestral names.

Are surnames common in Iceland?

No, Icelandic culture primarily uses patronymics.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Co-written by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

Trending Comparisons

Popular Comparisons

New Comparisons