Join 3,557 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


What's in a name?
February 2, 2006 12:56 AM   Subscribe

The Surname Profiler Project Website. A recent research project based at University College London (UCL) has investigated the distribution of surnames in Great Britain, both current and historic, in order to understand patterns of regional economic development, population movement and cultural identity. Start a search here.
posted by davehat (54 comments total)

 
Oooh. This is nifty. There's only 1649 people in the UK with my last name, and I think I'm related, somehow or other, to all of them.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 1:01 AM on February 2, 2006


This is absolutely fascinating. Thanks.

Here's the distribution of one of the surnames in my family tree. I always knew it was geographically concentrated, but to see it graphically is great.

One question - what does % of people with a more high-status name mean???
posted by plep at 1:13 AM on February 2, 2006


Do we get a prize if we can figure out what your surname is? Does it start with G?
posted by strawberryviagra at 1:14 AM on February 2, 2006


I see the Ramsbottoms have travelled far and wide in 117 years.

(Not my surname BTW.)
posted by uncanny hengeman at 1:15 AM on February 2, 2006


strawberryviagra :- You have made me grin! :)
posted by plep at 1:17 AM on February 2, 2006


Is the database reverse-searchable, strawberryviagra? I only checked my name, didn't fiddle around too much yet..
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 1:22 AM on February 2, 2006


Thanks davehat! I wasn't aware of how 'clustered' my (not uncommon) surname is, & that its main concentration is around Stoke-on-Trent.
posted by misteraitch at 1:23 AM on February 2, 2006


Hamrick Software does the same thing for the distribution of surnames in the USA using 1850 Census, 1880 Census, 1920 Census, and 1990's phone book data.
posted by JParker at 1:35 AM on February 2, 2006


One question - what does % of people with a more high-status name mean???

I spent a good 10 minutes trying to figure it out, putting in the last names of royals and nobles that I knew of, but couldn't break into the single digits. I finally did track it down though. Turns out it's not an English name, but a Jewish name Goldberg.
posted by Mijo Bijo at 1:49 AM on February 2, 2006


Lots of Haughey's in Glasgow.
posted by horsewithnoname at 1:51 AM on February 2, 2006


Mijo Bijo :- Cohen also has 0% of the population with a higher-status surname.
posted by plep at 1:57 AM on February 2, 2006


You have to doubt its accuracy when it says the majority of people with the surname Mohammed live in the Hebrides.
posted by vbfg at 2:01 AM on February 2, 2006


vbfg :- I'm going to make a guess that it's because the graphical map is done by % of population, rather than weight of numbers. The population of the Hebrides is much lower than Greater London or the West Midlands, so you need fewer people to make that part of the map go purple.

Tangentially - a Muslim family on the Isle of Harris.
posted by plep at 2:07 AM on February 2, 2006


wow, didn't realize all my people were so concentrated in Birmingham. Maybe I should live there. Nah, I get enough grief from close relatives.
posted by Blingo at 2:23 AM on February 2, 2006


plep: I don't understand why, if that were the case, the key to the colours would say "least" or "most" at either end of the scale rather than give a sliding scale of percentages of local population.

It implies that most people with that surname live in the areas indicated, and unless I'm being blind, a distinct possibility, I can't find anything on the site to say otherwise.
posted by vbfg at 2:54 AM on February 2, 2006


The distributions shown are not based on absolute numbers but on an index showing the percentage with a given surname against the percentage in the UK as a whole. So if the percentage of Cohens in a given county is 15% while in the country as a whole it is 5% (made up numbers!) the index score is (I think) 300. You need to look at the geographical distribution tables (hyperlink above the map) to make it clear.
posted by ibanda at 4:07 AM on February 2, 2006


My surname (damned uncommon with only 170 hits in 1998) still goes purple in whatever the skinny county left of London is.

I know that there were a load of us down in south Hertfordshire, so I'd guess that it's a "percentage of the total clan that sits in this county" chart and that the south Herts lot all moved.

Interesting to see how we've spread though - it looks like we used to live just in south Essex and Liverpool, so I assume we used to be a sea-going family
posted by twine42 at 4:20 AM on February 2, 2006


I'd be interested in seeing this overlaid on a map with county names, since I'm about 2 generations removed from the UK and don't know the names of more than half a dozen counties.Yes, I could look it up, but as long as you're going to provide the data, might as well provide the data labels.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 4:31 AM on February 2, 2006


Emperor - don't worry... I've lived here all my life and I could probably only put the right names to about 40% of them. Learning geography in this country tends to mean learning about rainforests and peoples' shopping habits.
posted by twine42 at 5:06 AM on February 2, 2006


My peeps were from the sea coast regions and worked in the tourism industry...
posted by k8t at 5:07 AM on February 2, 2006


Fascinating, thanks. Not many of us Mottrams, and it's interesting to see how we've stayed relatively close to the village that gave us our name (not counting expected migration to London, and a little bunch of us, er, somewhere or other in the vicinity of Devon - it's not just folk outside the UK who would benefit from county labels, SnooKloze!).
posted by jack_mo at 5:12 AM on February 2, 2006


There is a similar resource for Dutch family names. It supplies info on the origins of the name, unfortunately in Dutch, a distribution by province, and a printable map of the distribution. Distributions are as of the 1947 census -- which is a good date to use because it reflects more closely the historic distribution rather than postwar population movements.
posted by beagle at 5:21 AM on February 2, 2006


It weird how it reaffirms family history that I already knew. My surname is a variation of "Rockett" and its presence in Boston is due to one Nathaniel Rockett who was one of the original settlers of Dorchester, MA (yeah, we're wicked tough!)

Of course, the highest concentration of Rocketts in England in 1881 was in the original Dorchester.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:58 AM on February 2, 2006


vfbg: if you read the explanation at the bottom of this page explaining the geographical spread of Mohammed, and look at the index value for the name, it's almost 12 times as common per million people on the island of Harris as for the rest of the country. Harris having a tiny population, it wouldn't take more than a small number of families with the surname Mohammed to affect the results. (I seem to remember reading a fascinating article about Muslim families in the Hebrides somewhere recently, but i can't dig anything up on it, more's the pity.)
posted by Len at 6:11 AM on February 2, 2006


I knew there'd be a simple answer. I'm simple. :)
posted by vbfg at 6:15 AM on February 2, 2006


Excellent stuff. I look forward to the Polish edition coming out.

My English family are the Downings who appear in a couple of tight clusters in 1881 and just about everywhere in 1998.

(I'm one of the West Country ones)
posted by athenian at 6:20 AM on February 2, 2006


My last name is about as white as you can get, apparently.
posted by JanetLand at 6:24 AM on February 2, 2006


Great link. We don't know much about the Moons prior to the 1880s - my father's family -- but there were large concentrations in the South and West of England. Very interesting.

And on the Irish side, the O'Gormans (mom's family) came out on the short end of the social stick -- 77% had higher status names in 1881. Well, they'd be happy to know we did good in Americay.
posted by Miko at 6:30 AM on February 2, 2006


Concentration in Yorkshire for me, but my name is almost a cliché. [Think of the famous forest.]
posted by exlotuseater at 6:33 AM on February 2, 2006


The Smiths are taking over.
posted by iamck at 6:44 AM on February 2, 2006


Um, I know there are people with my last name in Great Britain, both presently and going back a ways. But they're not showing up here. Bummer.
posted by amro at 6:45 AM on February 2, 2006


If you've got a high concentration in areas near the sea it generally means your surname emmigrated into the UK. For example, Irish surnames like Gallagher have high densities in Liverpool and Manchester (where the Irish landed) whereas a French surname like Sable has a high concentration around London.
Apologies if I'm stating the obvious here.
posted by hnnrs at 6:46 AM on February 2, 2006


Oops, nevermind, there are definitely not 100 people with my name.
posted by amro at 6:46 AM on February 2, 2006


My mom's name, Thurston, seems be from Norwich which looks like the eastern most part of the island. Wikipedia says that Norwich was sacked by a viking with the coolest name ever, Swein Forkbeard, in 1004AD.
posted by octothorpe at 6:52 AM on February 2, 2006



The Irish in Liverpool. The Irish history of Glasgow is similar.

The Huguenots in London. Hence many French surnames in the South East.
posted by plep at 6:55 AM on February 2, 2006


The Joslins seem mostly to be concentrated in the Cornwall area. Neat. Question: What does "Mosaic type with highest index # Summer Playgrounds" mean?
posted by moonbird at 7:07 AM on February 2, 2006


Oh, and I got this when looking up my mother's maiden: "Mosaic type with highest index # Sharing a Staircase"
posted by moonbird at 7:10 AM on February 2, 2006


moonbird :- the Mosaic types are basically demographic categories based on lifestyle etc., used by marketers. There's an article here and very full explanations of each type here.
posted by plep at 7:21 AM on February 2, 2006


Thanks for the pointers to the US and Dutch equivalents. Does anyone know of a German version? My name seems to come from northern europe although like most people I'm a bit of a mongrel (Ireland/Scotland/Northern England/Germany and religions from Jewish to Catholic!)

You can get some information on Irish Surnames and their distribution here
posted by ibanda at 7:36 AM on February 2, 2006


There were a lot of Shetland Twatts in 1881 but, oddly, they all seem to have been wiped out. Wankling seems more wide spread these days though.
posted by vbfg at 7:48 AM on February 2, 2006


Huh, I'm a little skeptical - I know that the part of the family that gave me my surname was from Ireland, but somehow searches claim that absolutely no one with that name lived in either the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland in either of the years surveyed. It's also listed as an English surname, despite the fact that it's very obviously Irish. [And ibanda's link agrees with me regarding the Irish origins of the name and the fact that it's still very much extant in Ireland. Wonder why the Surname Profiler site is missing the Irish data for my name...]
posted by ubersturm at 8:42 AM on February 2, 2006


I don't know how accurate the Hamrick maps are. For the name Edge, watch what happens in Georgia, Alabama, S. Carolina, and Florida. It makes little sense unless the Edges traveled in large nomadic packs.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 9:14 AM on February 2, 2006


Boo! I was so excited about this site because my last name didn't appear on the census list discussed here back in August. But it's not on this one either! I was so sure there would be some Jordy(s) in England. I'm a freak, apparently.
posted by lunalaguna at 9:18 AM on February 2, 2006


I've always wondered about King's first names as last names--i had a friend in London with the last name George, and she always said the family thought they were either servants to one of the King Georges or were knocked up by one of them.

It's interesting how some names are almost exclusively southern or northern, etc.
posted by amberglow at 10:28 AM on February 2, 2006


plep, i wonder if it has to do with the origin of some names as occupations? Like Cooper, Hooper, Goldsmith, etc?

Or the Domesday book list of names? or Royal family names?
posted by amberglow at 10:31 AM on February 2, 2006


It looks like this Nebraska boy's paternal ancestors were from Yorkshire!
posted by spock at 10:43 AM on February 2, 2006


plep: The Huguenots in London. Hence many French surnames in the South East.
That's me. I'm in Australia now but there are not enough to register on this, seems a whole bunch went to New Zealand though.
Interesting post, thanks davehat.
posted by tellurian at 2:08 PM on February 2, 2006


"I've always wondered about King's first names as last names--i had a friend in London with the last name George, and she always said the family thought they were either servants to one of the King Georges or were knocked up by one of them."

"George" as a surname (and a first name) in England well predates the Hanoverian kings. Back to at least the 11th century, in fact. It was a first name that was not terribly common, but as a surname, it generally indicated that someone was the son (or daughter) of a George. (E-mail me if you want a source citation.)

A name doesn't have to have "-son" on the end to be a patronym; many English surnames are just old first names, used as surnames to indicate relationship.

It's likely your friend's family story is just a myth. Most surnames were already established by the time the King Georges were around, though of course there were always exceptions.
posted by litlnemo at 4:21 PM on February 2, 2006


By "not terribly common" I mean until the Hanovers, then George became a much more common first name. But the major surname-formation period was long before that.
posted by litlnemo at 4:23 PM on February 2, 2006


plep, i wonder if it has to do with the origin of some names as occupations? Like Cooper, Hooper, Goldsmith, etc?

No, the Mosaic classifications are based on current demographics. Some surnames are regional in origin and much more common in certain parts of the country than others, and the Mosaic classifications reflect this. E.g. Sykes is very common in Yorkshire, Blenkinsop in the North East of England, Bowen is Welsh etc.

It is indeed true that many of the most common names (e.g. Smith and Taylor) originated with occupations, but that's going back many centuries, and these names tend to be fairly widespread. A sub-category is surnames such as King or Bishop, implying someone who worked for a king or bishop (rather than being descended from one!).

Surnames which originated as patronyms or in kinship are also extremely common. The most common is 'Jones', which derives from 'Johns'. Also Johnson, Williams, Wilson, Wilkins etc. It doesn't imply descent from a King John or King William!
posted by plep at 1:57 AM on February 3, 2006


Tangential :- while the surnames Johnson and Miller are very common in Britain, they are even more common in the US. This is because historically immigrants to the US from Germany and Scandinavia would sometimes change their similar-sounding surnames (e.g. Johannson, Muller) to something which sounded more Anglo-Saxon, therefore inflating the numbers of these surnames!
posted by plep at 2:02 AM on February 3, 2006


"A sub-category is surnames such as King or Bishop, implying someone who worked for a king or bishop (rather than being descended from one!)"

In some cases those may have been "pageant names" -- names based on a role someone portrayed in a local pageant. Human nature being what it is, some of them might have been a bit sarcastic or jokey as well.
posted by litlnemo at 4:50 AM on February 3, 2006


thanks guys! (altho i'd go with the "knocked up by a King George" story if i were a George) : >
posted by amberglow at 9:35 PM on February 3, 2006


Some names are very concentrated....
posted by ibanda at 6:43 AM on February 4, 2006


« Older $200,000,000,000 scandal?...  |  What's the Korean for thanatop... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments