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Matrilineal is a way of reckoning descent by mother's status. Which means that all of your legal and social status comes from whatever status your mother has.

In most Western societies, currently, descent is reckoned patrilinealy since babies get the father's last name, although since in most Western societies, people don't officially inherit social status, it could be said that we are neither patrilineal or matrilieal.

The most common example of matrilineal descent in the modern world is the Jewish people. A Jew is considered a Jew if they have a mother who is a Jew. However, Jews do adopt their Father's last name, not their mothers.

The issue of Jewish matrilineality brings up the issue of The Matrilineal descent of the Jewish people.

Here's a mystery: matrilineal societies don't usually give more power to females, so why do they bother to determine descent through the mother? What would cause a culture be matrilineal?

There isn't one single answer for all societies, but in many cases the answer seems to be simply that the babies come from the mother's body. You may not be sure who the father is, but you certainly know the mother. Of course, in most societies the father is quite invested in claiming his children as his own, and not some random bastard, so this is as much a spiritual recognition of the connection than a social recognition of the uncertainty of paternity. It is, however, important to note that matrilineal descent is not simply a matter of who carries the family name; it is often paired with avunculocal residence, in which the male children, upon reaching adolescence, will move into their uncle's house -- as he is the closest male adult family member of the family line.

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