I remember when Northern European patronymics was explained to me, I felt like a whole new level of reality had opened up. Here was a system that gave us so many of the names that are still common among us today, and I’d never realized it! Seems pretty obvious now.
In some European societies, a boy’s last name would be derived from his father’s first name, with “son” added at the end. For example, if a man named Peter Williamson had a son named Jack, the boy’s name would be Jack Peterson. If Jack had a son named Stephen, his named would be Stephen Jackson. Etc.
There were female suffixes, too, but these don’t seem to have thrived in the U.S.—I’ve never met anyone with the “dotter” (daughter) ending on her name. I’ve only seen this in people’s genealogical research.
It’s fun, I think, to see how many names we hear constantly but don’t think about which fall into this pattern. Starting with the examples I gave above, one hypothetical family line could run as follows:
Matthew Anderson (Andrew in English; “Anders” is the proper Scandinavian name)
There are many, many more like this, most of which clearly have a Scandinavian origin (eg, Larson, son of Lars). It would be interesting to see this reintroduced with the most popular names in 21st century America!