A patronymic is a component of a surname based on an earlier male ancestor such as the father or grandfather. Conveying lineage, patronymics names are still in use world wide. Patronyms pre-date the use of family names and can be found in many Celtic, English, Scandinavian, and Slavic surnames.Other cultures formerly using patronyms now pass on the father’s last name to his children, although patronymics are still commonly used as middle names in Russia.
In England, names ending with the suffix ‘son’ were often originally patronymic. The prefix ‘Fitz’ (from French for ‘son’), appears in English aristocracy from the time of the Norman Invasion, and in Anglo-Irish names. The name Fitzroy, meaning ‘son of the king’, was used by the illegitimate children of royalty, acknowledged as such by their fathers.
‘Mac’, meaning ‘son’ was prevalent in Scottish Gaelic, Irish and Manx, occurring as ‘Mag’ in Ireland. In Ulster, the Isle of Man and Galloway, ‘Mac’ was frequently anglicisized, eg ‘Qualtrough’ meant son of Walter and ‘Quayle’ meant son of Paul,(MacPhail). In Ireland, this truncation resulted in surnames such as ‘Guinness’. Colloquial Scottish Gaelic has other patronymics, still in use. An interesting crossover variation in the use of ‘Ó’ for grandson in Irish (anglicised as ‘O’) and ‘Ap’ for ‘son’ in Welsh. Thus ‘Howell’ from West Wales was derived from Uí Mhell of old Irish, which then became O’Well, then ‘Howell’ in their Welsh relatives.Thus ‘Ap Howell’ means ‘the son of the grandson of Mell’!
In Wales, before the 1536 Act of Union, all Welsh people used patronyms and matronym as the sole way of naming people. Welsh, used ‘Map’ which in modern Welsh is ‘Mab’, in contrast to the Celtic Scottish ‘Mac’. Up until the Industrial Revolution, the use of patronyms was still widespread, especially in the west and north of Wales. A revival of patronyms during the 20th century continues today. Because Cornwall was absorbed early on into England, patronyms are less common than toponyms or occupational surnames.
Meaning literally ‘son of the uncle’ in Old English , Eames meant maternal uncle. The term fell out of use after the Norman Invasion, although in the late 14th century poem ‘Sir Gawain And The Greene Knight’, the young Gawain addresses King Arthur as ‘myn em’. (part 1 line 356)
In the aristocracy or ‘courtly society’ there was a strong bond between uncle and nephew (Nave being a surname from the latter), and the forms ‘Eames’ and in America, ‘Ames’, probably survive from the relationship as a favorite or ward of an uncle. The alternative suggestion ‘son of Emma’ has been rejected, and the surname, ‘Neame’, certainly arises from the incorrect division of the customary form of address.
Mr H P Guppy in his ‘House of Family Names in Great Britain’ (1890), recorded Eames in only two counties, Bedfordshire and Somerset. ‘Numerous entries in the telephone directory show how tenaciously it has survived, spreading into North Hertfordshire’.
Bedfordshire Magazine Vol 17 number 129 Summer 1979.
© Ella Jo