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Lets just say this particular last name/surname took birth in 1800s and is carried on by a dozen families today (in 2024). They all live in the same town. If this last name indicates a person's paternal lineage (not maternal) what are the chances of it being around in the year 4000 considering historical cultural shifts around the world?

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    $\begingroup$ There's no objective way to answer this. We have no idea about the cultural shifts in the next 2000 years in your fictional society. You're the only one who can decide on that. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 9 at 9:41
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    $\begingroup$ In many (or maybe even most?) countries a man is perfectly allowed to change his family name upon marriage and take the family name of his wife. When you meet Mr and Mrs Lastname, it is only usually the case that it was Miss Maidenname who changed her name into Mrs Lastname upon marriage, but it can also be the case that is was Mr Boyname who changed his name to Mr Lastname. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jan 9 at 10:05
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    $\begingroup$ Naming conventions change over time. In most European countries family names came into use some 1,000 years ago or even in much more recent times. King Alfred the Great (9th century) did not have a family name; he was just Alfred. Two thousand years from now, who knows what the naming convention will be? $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jan 9 at 10:16
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    $\begingroup$ Counterpoint Alex: Chinese Surnames used to be up to 24000 recorded that are currently in use, some of them very old, such as Feng, allegedly the oldest, while Li and 99 others account for 85% of all surnames. $\endgroup$
    – Trish
    Commented Jan 9 at 10:48
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    $\begingroup$ Our robot overlords will have replaced all surnames with unique ID numbers by then. Or surnames will be unnecessary with only 20 human survivors. Or any other possible scenario, it depends on your story for what happens in the next 2000 years. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 9 at 13:05

4 Answers 4

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If the name has meaning and power behind it then it can last indefinitely. My chiefly name is several hundred years old and was given to an ancestor by a king for something he did which we'd deem insanely dangerous at best. But some other names in my culture stretch back for over a thousand years.

In some Polynesian societies there are names which denote various statuses and some have huge amounts of land under their control. So a High Chiefs title may include the rights to a whole villages land with several thousand people living on it.

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Infinitly if the culture lives on.

It's simple: the Sikh religion has two parts of surname that denote gender and adult status: Singh for all males, Kaur for all females. As long as people adhere to that cultural dogma, people will continue to have those as parts of their surnames.

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    $\begingroup$ We don't need to go to exotic cultures for this; English has the same thing, Mr for men, Miss (unmarried), Mrs (married) or Ms (no indication of marital status) for women. (You will note that a word which applies to all men or to all women is not really a name, but a title.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jan 9 at 13:18
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    $\begingroup$ For sikh, it is a surname though - it can replace the family name entirely. $\endgroup$
    – Trish
    Commented Jan 9 at 13:28
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    $\begingroup$ Sikhism is only about 500 years old. I'm not saying religious practices like this never last 4000 years... but most don't. It only takes one liberal generation out of almost 200 for this system to be deemed "barbaric" and dropped. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Jan 9 at 14:44
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    $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki which is why I put the qualifier if the culture lives on to it. $\endgroup$
    – Trish
    Commented Jan 9 at 15:27
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    $\begingroup$ Then the question becomes: can the culture live on that long? To validate the "infinitely" aspect of your answer, you should demonstrate that a culture (including its language and use of surnames) can survive and carry on the same name infinitely, otherwise, it does not really answer the question. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Jan 10 at 14:30
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Very Unlikely

The likelihood of a patrilineal society even lasting like this, uninterrupted for 2200 years is highly unlikely. There will be stages in which linguistic changes and surname trends come and go causing the name to shift. People will in that time add prefixes, suffixes, hyphenations, and truncations for various reasons. Spellings will change to adapt to changes in language and writing. Surnames may lose thier significance for a few generations or society may go through a few matrilinear generations in the middle somewhere or spend a few generations preferring "earned" names over family names, or a totalitarian government may take away your family name and replace it with a state-approved name for nationalist reasons.

To put this into prespective, just a few hundred years ago the 3 most common surnames in the United States were not what they are today: Smith, was Smid. Johnson was Ben Yohannan, and Williams was Vilhjalmr. Compound these changes over 2200 years, crossing what will probably be a minimum of 5 major language shifts, and what you have at the end will no longer be remotely recognizable... so even if the name does pass from father to son for that long, the original spelling and pronunciation of the name will be so long lost after that long that it would take a learned family historian to be able to even be able to connect the lineage by name.

If you Google the world's oldest Surname, you find Katz which is "dated back to 1300BC" but even this is not exactly true. Just 300 years ago, "Katz" did not exist, it evolved from "Kohen Tzedeq" which means Pure Priest which was the title given for the direct partralinear descendants of Aaron, brother of Moses. Because Kohen Tzedeq was a title passed patralinearly that can be traced from modern Katz all the way back to Aaron, it is seen as the oldest surname still in use, but just like Smith, Johnson, and Williams, this name has evolved very quickly over just the past few hundred years such that its modern form is pretty much unrecognizable from its original form.

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    $\begingroup$ "The oldest family name in the world right now is Katz which is 3700 years old": I would be delighted to see a link to a source attesting that Hebrews used family names in the first half of the 2nd millennium before the common era. In fact, I would settle for a source attesting that Hebews used family names 1,700 years ago... (You may have noticed that not a single one of the characters in the Bible has a family name. Except the Roman Pontius Pilatus, of course. The Romans' use of family names was pretty much an exception in the classical world.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jan 9 at 15:04
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    $\begingroup$ @AlexP The ancient hebrews often used the names of thier most blessed ancestors as family names. You see this a lot in thier hereditary religious orders. For example, if you were a Levit, it meant you were descended from Levi. Tracking patrilineal descent was very important to ancient hebrews because they believed that God's covenants passed from father to son. If God placed a blessing or curse on a man, then that blessing or curse would pass from one generation to the next; so, $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Jan 9 at 21:14
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    $\begingroup$ knowing if someone was descended from one person or another would tell you a lot about what kinds of favor that person has with God making it very important to your standing in ancient Hebrew society. That said, ancient hebrews did not treat surnames as part of thier name, so much as they treated them as titles. So, you would not be called Ezra Levite as one might according to English syntax or Levite Ezra as per the Roman syntax. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Jan 9 at 21:14
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    $\begingroup$ Instead you would just be called Ezra by name, and people would describe you as a Levite, but rarely would your name and and surname be used together as you see in Roman texts. At most someone might call you Ezra the Levite. But all of this really underlines my point that surnames change over time as they pass from one language to the next. Katz is now used by English speakers according to the English syntax of surnames even though its original form would not have been used that way. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Commented Jan 9 at 21:14
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    $\begingroup$ We appear to have different understandings of what a name is. (And if the ancient Hebrews did not treat such eponymic adjectives as part of their name, then they were not part of their name. Yes, the legendary king Aristodemus of Sparta is said to have been a Heraclid, and we may refer to him as Aristodemus the Heraclid for purposes of disambiguation, but his name was just Aristodemus, not Aristodemus the Heraclid.) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jan 9 at 21:36
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Surnames, as a cultural phenomenon, are likely to persist in some form as long as we have a need to identify people outside of our immediate personal social group. In Japan, it is common for people at work or school to only be referred to by their family name, with the individual's name only being used within the family. This is reflected in the reality that it is very common to name the first born son "Ichi", which translates to One. Imagine naming your kids One, Two, and Three.

Specific surnames are subject to Galton-Watson pruning, which is a form of "survival of the fittest" of last names. This is why so much of China has the last names Wang or Li. This doesn't completely eliminate all other last names, but it does eliminate many of them. If you have an insulative cluster, then the dominant last name is likely to persist indefinitely, as long as such a thing is meaningful.

Note that this is all subject to human memory limitations. If genetic modification or augmentation makes us capable of readily remembering something like the IPv6 number space for full names, then it all goes out the window. That would allow humans to describe their recent lineage in a surname, and they might wind up with eight-segment compound names.

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    $\begingroup$ If Galton-Watson pruning gets too extreme, the naming system tends to adjust to compensate. Probably the best-documented example of this would be Roman names. In the early Republic, an individual would be identified by the "praenomen nomen" combination (similar to the Western "firstname lastname"). Over time, the supply of nomens shrank due to pruning, and praenomens were subject to pruning-like traditions, giving "nomen cognomen" identification ("lastname nickname") in the early Empire, and just straight "cognomen" in the late Empire. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Commented Jan 10 at 2:48

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