There are a number of times characters ask Jon Snow who he is, when he says his name many of them comment about him being a Bastard. How can people tell Jon Snow is a bastard just by his name?

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    Additionally, how do people know that northerners with the surname Snow are bastards, and not just the descendants of bastards? – Matthew Piziak Aug 17 '12 at 12:58
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    @MatthewPiziak, I assume that if a bastard married someone, he'd take her name instead of keeping Snow. Although that still leaves the question of two bastards who married each other. – cjm Aug 17 '12 at 17:33
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    @cjm They hyphenate... – Ryan Aug 17 '12 at 18:38
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    Joan Rivers Snow? – KutuluMike Aug 18 '12 at 1:10
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    For all of the tons of characters in the series, we actually do not see a whole lot of "commonors"; nearly everyone south of the wall is a member of a noble family. At certain points in European history, non-nobles simply didn't have a last name, so it would be logical that children of bastards did not either. – KutuluMike Aug 18 '12 at 1:16

"Snow" is the name used by all bastards in the north, as explained in the first chapter of A Game of Thrones:

the bastard who bore the surname Snow, the name that custom decreed be given to all those in the north unlucky enough to be born with no name of their own.

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    It should be mentioned that having a bastard last name also implies that one of your parents were noble. Commoner bastards don't get last names. – dwjohnston Jul 29 '14 at 23:46
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    Nobody cares whether a commoner is a bastard, because being a commoner is worse anyway. – user36551 Apr 8 '15 at 3:22

Bastards are given a specific surname based on where they lived in Westeros. It varies depending on where you are born.

From The Tower of the Hand:

  • The Crownlands: Waters
  • The North: Snow
  • The Iron Islands: Pyke
  • The Riverlands: Rivers
  • The Vale: Stone
  • The Westerlands: Hill
  • The Reach: Flowers
  • The Stormlands: Storm
  • Dorne: Sand

So since Jon lived in Winterfell (in the North), Jon Snow is the appropriate surname.

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    You'll note that all "Natural" children (i.e. bastards) have "Natural" names. – Kaz Dragon Aug 17 '12 at 9:55
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    @WardMuylaert, I suppose that fact is alleviated by the fact that there is a stigma associated with being a bastard child. Thus they might just never marry, or take the black to find honor and thus never have children. – ardent Aug 17 '12 at 17:14
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    Or in some cases become legitimized. – Corwin01 Aug 17 '12 at 17:47
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    @ardentsonata - in AFFC Jaime is interrogating the "chief undergaoler" whose name is Rennifer Longwaters. Rennifer explains that one of his ancestors was basely born and was named Waters. Then his son "put the 'Long' before the 'Waters' so men might know that he was not basely born himself". – Zottek Sep 6 '12 at 5:35
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    @WardMuylaert I believe bastards are only given bastard names if they are 1) highborn 2) acknowledge by their fathers. Thus Gendry is just Gendry, not Gendry Waters, because King Robert never acknowledged him. Maybe the same rule applies to "grandbastards". – Lou May 4 '14 at 18:19

Ned Stark being a Lord of House Stark was a well known and prominent man in Westeros. It was well known he bore a bastard son. I think the fact that Jon Snow's bloodline preceded him is the reason people know.

With the fact that news travels via Raven or Rider the name alone wouldn't identify him. People may not know who he is by look but certainly join the dots when they ask him his name.

Taken from ASOIF Wiki - Ned returned home, bringing with him a bastard son, Jon, about whose origins he refused to speak, even to his own wife; he quickly silenced rumors that the boy's mother was the Dornish noblewoman Ashara Dayne - Referencing chapter 6 - Catelyn

This would create rumours amongst the lessers, the traders - thus the information spreads. Maybe not his looks but definitely the fact that he bore a bastard. Catelyn did not hide her disgust for Jon either. This is due to the fact he is a constant reminder of Ned's infidelity.

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    What about those north of the wall? I can understand the southern kingdoms knowing him simply by his name, but Craster and even Ygritte call him a bastard right after he says his name. I don't see how they would know about Ned Stark's past. – onewho Aug 17 '12 at 1:07
  • Good point there @onewho I cannot remember a passage to answer that without searching the books. The only thing that I could think of would be the fact that those north of the wall knew any of the Nights Watch were bastards, murderers, rapists, and the like. – Pandom Aug 17 '12 at 1:10
  • @Pandom Benjen Stark wasn't [isn't?] any of "bastards, murders, rapists, ..." ;o – Ward Muylaert Aug 17 '12 at 16:11
  • @onewho as the warden of the North, Ned Stark would probably be the best known of the southern lords to those north of the Wall, and probably the only one the wildlings would keep tabs on. Mance, in particular, has actually met Jon, and liked to tell stories, he may have simply enjoyed spreading such a salacious tidbit to his buddies. – KutuluMike Aug 18 '12 at 1:13
  • "This is due to the fact he is a constant reminder of Ned's infidelity." Wasn't Jon conceived before Ned and Catelyn were married? – Acccumulation Feb 12 '18 at 20:27

So in this series there are a few rules surrounding bastards.

  1. If the Bastard has a highborn parent then so long as that highborn parent acknowledges the Bastard they can have a bastardy surname. EX: Gendry shouldn't have the last name Waters until Robert or the leader of his family acknowledges Gendry lives. So until Stannis agrees that Gendry is Roberts bastard he didn't have the right to call himself Gendry Waters.

  2. The surname is based of the region the mother is from. This is mostly the same area the father is from but not always. In the books King Robert has plenty of bastards from different regions having the last names Rivers, Storm and Waters.

  3. It is possible for two highborns to have a bastard, as such they will have the Bastard name of where the mother is from.

  4. Bastards cannot inherit nor wear their family's sigil. Because of this when fighting for their families bastards will invert the family colors to make their sigil their own. EX: House Targaryen has the sigil of a red three headed dragon on a black flag. House Blackfyre was founded by a Targaryen bastard and their sigil is that of a black three headed dragon on a red flag.

  5. A bastard can become legitimate should a king grant it. The lord parent can ask of this from the king and if the king believes this then it will be granted.

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Only bastards born from nobility have the name Snow, Waters, Storm, etc. Lowborn/commoners do not have last names, so it's a non issue for them. The children of bastards would just be commoners, so no last name. If they somehow marry into nobility their children take the spouses name.

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    Is there canon quotes/references to back that up? – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jan 9 '14 at 12:19
  • @DVK You honestly need sources to know that lowborn don't have last names? Common knowledge, but ok. Davos became Davos Seaworth after he became a lord. Bronn became Bronn Stokeworth after marrying into nobility. Gendry is a lowborn so has no last name, if his father acknowledged him he would be Gendry Waters. – King Jan 10 '14 at 19:35
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    What about Hot Pie? :-P – user24620 Jul 10 '14 at 0:29
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    The children of bastards are not commoners, and they do get their bastard father's name, even if their mother is nobility. For example, ser Aemon Rivers (awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/Aemon_Rivers) – Theoriok Jul 11 '16 at 11:09

Ramsey's is the bastard of lord Bolton and also has the surname Snow, just as Jon Snow is the bastard of lord Eddard Stark. The surname Snow refers to a bastard.

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    Hello Connor, and welcome to the SF & Fantasy stack. This site is a bit different from sites you may be used to. It's not like a message board or forum. We like to have answers to add value. Your answer doesn't provide any information that the other answers haven't already given. Also, we like our answers sourced, if possible. Perhaps you would like to take the tour or take a look at the help center? – SQB Feb 19 '15 at 7:17

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