I have read up to the third book, so the answer may be far ahead in the series, but I have always wondered if there is a reason or a story on the vast lore that explains why giving the last name Snow to illegitimate sons, like Jon Snow or Ramsay Snow...

  • 2
    Is the naming tradition for bastard children not mentioned in either A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings OR A Storm of Swords? I have a very, very hard time believing that.
    – TLP
    Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 22:25

2 Answers 2


Some are.

Bastards from the North are named "Snow", but those from other areas have different surnames, summarized here: http://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/Bastardy#Surnames

Region          Surname     Example Character
Reach           Flowers     Ser Robert Flowers
Westerlands     Hill        Joy Hill
Iron Islands    Pyke        Wex Pyke
Riverlands      Rivers      Walder Rivers
Dorne           Sand        Nymeria Sand
North           Snow        Jon Snow
Vale            Stone       Mya Stone
Stormlands      Storm       Ser Rolland Storm
Crownlands      Waters      Aurane Waters
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    That's interesting (and off topic, I know) but doesn't "Ser" imply knighthood, which I thought wasn't possible for bastards, unless they were legitamized (like Ramsay Snow/Bolton). I'm only familiar with ASOFAI through the show and I've read half the first book so far, so my knowledge is limited.
    – Monty129
    Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 20:37
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    Being a knight isn't limited to nobles, it's just much easier for them (they're trained from a young age specifically to be a knight).
    – KutuluMike
    Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 21:43
  • @Monty129 - Plenty of bastard knights running around. A lot of them are motivated to do a good job in the hopes of becoming landed knights (i.e. they own and rule a small strip of land) and thus start their own family name. Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 22:20
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    @Monty129 Being noble and being a knight are two different things. You can be a lord, or even a king without being a knight. And you can be the lowest of the low and still become a knight, such as is described in the Dunk and Egg novellas, where Dunk, the orphan from Flea bottom becomes knight. (Well, not really)
    – TLP
    Commented Apr 8, 2014 at 22:29
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    One interesting thing is that most regions use geographical features to name bastards. The Ironborn bastard name is the name of an Island. This suggests that the Ironborn don't have a culture of bastard names, but were forced to adopt a system of bastard names, perhaps after Aegon's conquest... Commented Apr 9, 2014 at 6:53

In legal terms, a "base-born" child, or bastard, is someone whose parents were not legally married at the time of their birth. A person whose parents were married when they were born were considered legal childen, or "true-born." Since the inheritence laws of Westeros are built around inheritence by birthright, it became neccesary to distinguish a nobleman's legal childen from his illegal children.

Therefore, all bastards of noblemen in Westeros are given a special surname to reflect that they are baseborn, and to distinguish them from someone's legally-born children. Bastards with no known relation to a noble house have no surname, like other smallfolk.

As far as why it's specifically "Snow," custom decrees that bastards are given a surname based on the region in which they are born. The names generally reflect the geography of the region. For the North, it's "Snow." Parents may give a bastard a different surname if they choose, however.

It's interesting to note that "natural childen" (a polite way of saying "baseborn") are given "natural names."

  • Huh, I hadn't made the connection of "natural children" being given last names relating to elements of nature! +1 Other than Pyke, which was pointed to be an island in any case
    – m1gp0z
    Commented Jan 29, 2019 at 20:12

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