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A follow-up to this question. In A Song of Ice and Fire, bastards "who have no name of their own" get a surname like Snow, Rivers, or Stone, based on where they are from. Does this apply only to the illegitimate children of nobles, or to the illegitimate children of the small folk as well?

Presumably, in a feudal society commoners do not have surnames at all, so it would be strange if their bastards did.

Just to clarify, I was thinking about cases when it is not known for a fact whether the child is a bastard of a noble. For example, Mya Stone was not acknowledged by her father, yet she is still a Stone. So then we have an interesting situation in Westeros: people who have last names are either nobles or bastards (with or without noble blood).

  • A good question, however how exactly would they know who is a child of a noble and who isn't. This especially applies bastards of noblemen and lowborn women, since the identity of the father may not be known at all. – Goran Jovic Aug 17 '12 at 14:46
  • For what it's worth, I can't think of a single lowborn character who doesn't also hold some position of power that has a surname. It seems to come with either being noble, or rising to power in some way. I tried to think of a good example of the latter, but am coming up dry. Vargo Hoat maybe? – Kyle S. Aug 17 '12 at 15:00
  • @GoranJovic, that's exactly what I was thinking of. What about those cases when it is not known whether the child is a bastard of a noble? – Dima Aug 17 '12 at 15:36
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    @dima Gendry does not have a surname. – TLP Aug 17 '12 at 18:02
  • @TLP. Good point. – Dima Aug 17 '12 at 18:44
16

No

As per an e-mail correspondence, George RR Martin confirms that the bastard names are given to nobles' children, and not peasants (as they would not have last names):

Bastard names are given only to bastards with at least one parent of high birth. So the bastard child of two peasants would have no surname at all.
Thus a bastard name like "Snow" or "Rivers" is simultaneously a stigma and a mark of distinction. The whole thing with bastard names is custom, not law.

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You're pretty much spot-on with the observation that common folk probably wouldn't have a last name. Westeros appears to follow a vaguely medieval European system for styles and names, and for most of that time only nobility had a "family name". The use of the names like Snow and Rivers for bastards is likely meant for acknowledged, or at least known, bastards of nobles. These children would qualify for a family name as noble children, and their bastard status would not remove that, but they would not rightly belong to their father's house (thus, for example, cannot inherit).

I don't think we have ever seen anyone in the story who was definitively born out of wedlock to a non-noble father and mother. As such, we have no canon answer to how they would be named. However, we have seen cases where people we know to be illegitimate noble children are not generally known in-universe to be such.

It's a mostly open secret that Mya Stone is Robert's bastard, but even unacknowledged, we don't know who her mother was. She could have been a noble herself, which may also qualify Mya for a surname. And of course, it's openly acknowledged that Robert is also the father of Edric Storm. His other bastard children, like Gendry and Bella, are not commonly know to be noble bastards (Bella knows she is but it's not clear how many people believe her), so they are not Gendry Waters and Bella Rivers. They are clearly bastards -- their mothers are not married -- but that alone doesn't qualify them for surnames.

3

Presumably, in a feudal society commoners do not have surnames at all

There's confirmation that regular peasants have no surnames in the short story The Sworn Sword (published as part of A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms).

I'm being careful to not include any spoilers since many people won't have read it yet...

There's a scene where two knights are interacting with a group of peasants. Several of the peasants have the same name, and it gets very confusing, so the knights decide to assign them surnames based on the crops grown in the villages they come from (for example, I think there was a Wat Barleycorn).

The peasants are very excited at being given what they call "Lord's names". Clearly, surnames are normally for nobles only.

Weirdly, two brothers were both called Wat, no other distinguishing names. I genuinely don't understand how that works.

so it would be strange if their bastards did.

Commoner bastards often never even find out who their parents are, at all, and they certainly don't have surnames, even if they're knighted, unless they earn one by being granted lands and a household title. This is also confirmed in the same story. Small character-development spoiler:

Dunk discovers a high-born friend has anti-bastard prejudices, and chastises him, explaining that he himself never knew who his parents were, and therefore was most likely a bastard, left to fend for himself.

As a commoner who presumes himself to be a bastard, he doesn't take his region's bastard surname, and instead, on becoming a knight, invents himself a title based on attributes ("Ser Duncan the Tall"). Other knights similarly lacking surnames use attributes like where they're from, e.g. Ser Arlan of Pennytree.


If there's a dispute about surnames, it seems like the benefit of the doubt is given in as afar as people are granted the bastard surname if it's likely they had one noble parent, even if they can't prove it.

For example, there's a character in The Mystery Knight whose mother was a prostitute and who never knew who his father was. He gives himself the surname of the famous, long-dead knight from an extinct family who he believes to be his father (who is too dead to argue), but he's announced using the generic bastard surname of his region. Arguably, this is a courtesy since there isn't any known proof at this time that his father wasn't a commoner, but he takes it as an insult.

  • You can use spoiler tags >! for the spoilers – Shevliaskovic Feb 26 '16 at 12:29
  • I know, and I did at the end :-) but when a spoiler is not necessary to make a point, it's easier to just not include it at all – user56reinstatemonica8 Feb 26 '16 at 12:30
  • So you've read the Dunk and Egg novellas? Nice! – Möoz Mar 7 '16 at 0:17
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    @Mooz Now that it's possible to buy them as a set without buying several hulking great anthologies of other stories! They're pretty good, and also make for a neat illustration of GRRM's changing writing style... Hedge Knight (1998) is a sharp, tight, well-paced story with many twists and turns, Mystery Knight (2010) is a barely-structured onslaught of minor characters that opens more questions than it closes... (still enjoyable but requires patience and lots of 'who was this guy again' flicking back) – user56reinstatemonica8 Mar 7 '16 at 9:12
  • "Weirdly, two brothers were both called Wat, no other distinguishing names. I genuinely don't understand how that works." You yell: "Wat, bring me a horn of ale!" And you get two horns. It works the very best :) . – jo1storm Sep 11 at 8:08

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