British and Irish surnames and Y-DNA

Relationship of selected British surnames and Y-DNA haplogroups, from King and Jobling 2009. Click to enlarge in new windowBoth Y-DNA and surnames are handed down from father to son, so can links be found between the two? This has proved a fruitful area of research. It is not always practicable though. Certain British and Irish surnames, such as Brown, Davies, Evans, Jones, Kelly, Murphy, Roberts, Smith, Taylor, Thomas, Walker, Williams and Wilson, are so common that there will be hundreds if not thousands of unrelated lineages with the same name. The occupational name Smith dominates the league table in England and Scotland. It is shared by 1.3% of the British populace.1R. McKie, The Face of Britain (2006), p. 174; A. Moffat and J. F. Wilson, The Scots: A genetic journey (2011), p. 198; G. Redmonds, T. King and D. Hey, Surnames, DNA and Family History (2011), p. 1. It is also common in Ireland, no doubt reflecting English or Lowland Scots immigration in part, but it can also be an Anglicisation of McGowan (Mac Gabhann son of the smith),2G. Redmonds, T. King and D. Hey, Surnames, DNA and Family History (2011), p. 94. which is also a Scottish surname of the same meaning. South of the border McGowan appears most strongly in Lancashire, where it reflects Irish immigration into Liverpool. The dominance of the Smiths is not surprising, if we consider that every village in the Middle Ages would need a blacksmith. In those areas of the British Isles with fewer villages, and more scattered farmsteads, there were fewer blacksmiths and consequently the surname is less common.

Jones (meaning son of John) is the most common name in Wales and found so widely in England too that just over 1% of British people are so named.3R. McKie, The Face of Britain (2006), p. 174. Murphy (descendant of Murchadha) is the commonest surname in Ireland and has been carried into England and Scotland by Irish immigration. Other common Irish names are Kelly (descendant of Ceallaigh) and Sullivan (descendant of Suileabhain).4P.H. Reaney and R.M. Wilson, Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd edn., revised (1997). Murphy and Kelly are found in 1.2% of the Irish population each, and genetically men of these surnames indicate numerous patrilineal lineages, none of which overwhelmingly predominate. That is what we would expect, since the surnames derive from personal names which were common in the past.5B. McEvoy and D.G. Bradley, Y-chromosomes and the extent of patrilineal ancestry in Irish surnames, Human Genetics, vol. 119 (March 2006), pp. 212-9.

Yet surprisingly often a surname is so unusual that many of its male carriers find themselves also sharing the same Y-DNA haplogroup. Although in 1881 60 per cent of the British population carried one of the most common 1,000 surnames, 30,000 surnames were borne by just 10 percent.6G. Redmonds, T. King and D. Hey, Surnames, DNA and Family History (2011), p.2; . Turi King and Mark Jobling recruited 1,678 men bearing 40 British surnames in a range from rare to common, and compared their results with a control group randomly chosen. Closely related men were excluded. The results were illuminating. As you can see in the chart from their paper, certain surnames, such as Werrett and Titchmarsh, are almost fixed for a single haplogroup, in this case R1b1 (P25). Since that is a very common haplogroup in Britain, it may be more impressive that 95% of the Herricks tested fell into haplogroup I, while 87% of the Attenboroughs were E1b1b1 and 79% of the Swindlehursts were R1a. By contrast the commonest name - Smith - produced a mixture of haplogroups very similar to the random control group. In other words they reflect the pattern of haplogroups in the British population as a whole.7T.E. King and M.A. Jobling, Founders, drift, and infidelity: the relationship between Y chromosome diversity and patrilineal surnames, Molecular Biology and Evolution, vol. 26, no. 5 (May 2009), pp.1093-1102.

As King and Jobling point out, many Irish names, including Ryan, O’Sullivan, O’Neill, and Byrne, each with around 40,000 bearers (0.8% of the population), show substantial major clusters within networks. This is very different to the finding for British names, where those with more than c. 10,000 bearers (0.02% of the population) show no significant clustering at all.

Surname origins

At the time of the Norman conquest of England, surnames in the modern sense were unknown. A person was simply identified by a personal name, bestowed at the font. We cannot even be sure that a personal name reflects ethnic origin. Carolingian estate surveys, mainly of monastic lands, give us the names of slaves and peasants in 9th-century France. The number of Germanic names such as Adalred and Hildebold is suspiciously high. This may reflect fashion, after generations of Frankish lords. Yet even then some names are clearly non-Germanic, such as Electeus a slave and his wife, a colona by the name of Landina, who are dependents of St-Germain, live at Neuillay. This is from the polyptyque (survey) of St-Germain-des-Prés (810), which is wonderfully detailed, giving names and family relationships.

Now and then it might be necessary to distinguish one person from others of the same name. This was done by a descriptive addition, known as a by-name, referring to some striking personal quality (Robert le Gros), or occupation (Alfred the Steward), or father's name (Roger FitzRalph), or place of origin (John the Dane), or place of residence (Alstan of Boscome). There was no consistency in this and for centuries afterwards the same person might appear in different records with a different appellation. Only very gradually did hereditary surnames develop from such descriptors. A tiny handful of baronial surnames arrived in England with the Normans. Both in England and France the knightly class began to adopt dynastic names in the 12th century, in imitation of the barons. Surnames had filtered down to most English families by 1400, though their form was still evolving.8D. Hey, Family Names and Family History (2000), pp. 31, 51-53; W.W. Kibler, Medieval France: an encyclopedia (1995), p. 510.

Among commoners London burgesses were the earliest surname adopters. Some Irish surnames can be traced back further than any others in the British Isles, but not all Irish surnames were fixed so early. In Wales most people only began to adopt hereditary surnames under the Tudors and even in the 19th century some men were still taking their father's Christian name as their surname. In the Scottish Highlands that custom was abandoned in the 18th century, but the clan system resulted in large numbers of people with the same surname. Chiefs of clans increased the number of their followers by attaching men of other descents, who took the clan name.9P.H. Reaney and R.M. Wilson, Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd edn., revised (1997), Introduction; G. Redmonds, T. King and D. Hey, Surnames, DNA and Family History (2011), pp. 2-3.

In 1066 England was full of men with Anglo-Saxon names such as Aethelfrith and Wulfward, recorded in the Domesday Book. By the time of the early taxation returns, the common names were William, John, Richard and Henry - the names of Norman and Plantagent kings. The Normans had brought into England Germanic names altered almost out of recognition. The Old English Hrēodbēorht (fame-bright) was replaced by the Old French version - Robert. Saint's names and Biblical names appear, such as Adam and Thomas. By the Middle Ages one would scarcely know from personal names that the English were descended from Angles and Saxons at all. The Cumberland Lay Subsidy of 1332-3 records all householders. Most have a descriptive tag, many of which might be hereditary by this time.10J. P. Steel (ed.), Cumberland Lay Subsidy - Fifteenth and tenth, 6 Edw. III (1912). It was originally written in Latin, like two early London subsidy rolls, the three earliest subsidies for the county of Sussex - 1296, 1327, 1332, the Staffordshire lay subsidy of 1327, Yorkshire North Riding Lay Subsidy for 1301 and the Yorkshire West Riding Subsidy Rolls for the year 1379.11E. Ekwall (ed.), Two Early London Subsidy Rolls (1951); W. Hudson, The Three Earliest Subsidies for the County of Sussex - 1296, 1327, 1332 (1910); Major-General Hon. George Wrottesley (ed. ), Staffordshire Historical Collections, vol. 7, part 1 (1886); W. Brown (ed.), Yorkshire Lay Subsidy - 30 Ed. I (1301) (1897); Rotuli Collectorum Subsidii Regi a laicis anno segundo concessi in Westrythyngo in Comitatu Eboraci, ed. J.G. (1879), published in serial form in The Yorkshire Archaeological and Topographical Journal. For a complete modern edition of the later 14th-century subsidy returns, see C. C. Fenwick, The Poll Taxes of 1377, 1379 and 1381, 3 vols. (1998, 2001, 2005). At Hoyland Nether in the parish of Wath upon Dearne in the West Riding we find Robertus de Holande et Agnes uxor ejus, which translates as Robert of Holland and his wife Agnes. The surname Holland appears among English people today without de. We might imagine that it implies ancestors from the Netherlands, but here we see that Hoyland Nether was called Holande at the time. Other sources for the name are Holland-on-Sea, Essex and the district of Lincolnshire known as Holland.12P.H. Reaney and R.M. Wilson, Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd edn., revised (1997).

Place-names

Distribution of the surname Grahamslaw in 1891. Click to enlarge in new windowHolland is one of a huge number of surnames which derive from place-names. Some of these refer to places that were large even in the 14th century, such as London. So we should not expect every man with the surname London to have the same Y-DNA haplogroup. However the majority of places were tiny at the time that surnames were forming. A good example is Rendall in Orkney. All the Rendalls today had an ancestor from this wee spot it seems.13P.H. Reaney and R.M. Wilson, Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd edn., revised (1997). Rendall men so far tested carry Y-DNA R1a1a (M17), which Professor Sir Walter Bodmer sees as the best Norse marker, since it is comparatively low in Denmark and Germany.14W. Bodmer, The genetic structure of the British populations and their surnames, paper read at Ancient Britons, Wales, and Europe: New research in Genetics, Archaeology and Linguistics, at the National Museum of Wales Cardiff 4 June 2011. Orkney was captured by Vikings. It remained under the rule of Norway (and later Denmark) until 1468. See Celtic tribes of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.

Another rare surname is Grahamslaw, derived from the farm of that name in the parish of Eckford, in the former Roxburghshire, now Scottish Borders. The house there was a border peel tower, burnt by the English in 1544 and rebuilt subsequently.15The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, An Inventory of the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Roxburghshire (1956). Even by 1891 people of that surname had not wandered far from the Borders.16B. Winney et al., People of the British Isles: preliminary analysis of genotypes and surnames in a UK-control population, European Journal of Human Genetics advance online publication, 10 August 2011.

Attenborough brothers Richard (L) and David at Leicester University 2006The surname Attenborough derives from a small Nottinghamshire settlement, now absorbed into the suburbs of Nottingham. At the time of the 1881 census its bearers lived mainly nearby in the Trent Valley, with the greatest concentration in Nottingham. Two centuries earlier the hearth tax records show that all eight householders of that name lived within three miles of Attenborough.17G. Redmonds, T. King and D. Hey, Surnames, DNA and Family History (2011), pp. 185-6. The father of the famous Attenborough brothers, actor Richard and broadcaster and naturalist David, was born in Nottinghamshire.18Obituaries: Mr. F.L. Attenborough,The Times, March 23, 1973, p. 20, col. F. The finding by King and Jobling that 87% of the Attenboroughs carried the haplogroup E1b1b1, a rare exotic in Britain, suggests a common ancestor.19T.E. King and M.A. Jobling, Founders, drift, and infidelity: the relationship between Ychromosome diversity and patrilineal surnames, Molecular Biology and Evolution, vol. 26, no. 5 (May 2009), pp.1093-1102. How a haplogroup found most commonly in Africa found its way to Nottinghamshire before surnames developed we shall probably never know. African sailors and servants began to appear in Britain from about 1555, mainly in London and a few other cities. During the Medieval period there is almost no evidence that anyone in Britain had ever seen an African. The illustration below in the margin of a manuscript from Westminster Abbey appears unique.

An African depicted in the margin of a manuscript of c. 1241 (National Archives E 36/284)Prior to that we have to go back to Roman times for two skeletons suggesting an origin or part-origin from Sub-Saharan Africa: a wealthy woman at York, and a retired Roman soldier at Stratford.20S. Leach et al., A Lady of York: migration, ethnicity and identity in Roman Britain, Antiquity, vol. 84, no. 323 (March 2010), pp. 131–145; BBC News: 1,700-year-old African skeleton could be an ancestor (5 April 2011). However Sub-Saharan Africans were rare in the Roman Empire, which never spread that far south. It encompassed North Africa after the Punic Wars, and some Roman soldiers were recruited from there. A unit serving on Hadrian's Walll in the 3rd century AD is recorded as the Numerus Maurorum Aurelianorum (The Company of Aurelian's own Mauri).21RIB 2042: altarstone; dated AD 253-258; Notitia Dignitatum xl.47. These men probably looked much the same as other Mediterranean peoples. They could be a source of E1b1b1, in the form of the subclade E1b1b1a1 (M78), found among Berbers. Another sub-clade, E1b1b1a1b (E-V13), is relatively common in Europe and especially so in the Balkans.

More surprising is the haplogroup A1a (M31), found in a family of the Yorkshire surname Revis. This haplogroup is close to the root of the human family tree and rare even in Africa. Genealogical detective work established that the Revis males who carried A1a fitted onto two family trees going back to the 18th century in Britain. A paper trail to a common ancestor could not be found, but genetically he can be deduced a few generations earlier. How A1a arrived in Yorkshire remains a mystery. As Turi King and her colleagues point out, it could have come via a round-about route and not carried direct from Africa.22T.E. King et al., Africans in Yorkshire? The deepest-rooting clade of the Y phylogeny within an English genealogy, European Journal of Human Genetics, vol. 15 (2007), pp. 288–293; G. Redmonds, T. King and D. Hey, Surnames, DNA and Family History (2011), p. 201-204. A possible clue is that the surname Revis is derived from Rievaulx.23P.H. Reaney and R.M. Wilson, Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd edn., revised (1997). In 1301 a William de Ryvaus was the wealthiest taxpayer in Marton, North Yorkshire, about six miles from Rievaulx, and a man of the same name paid tax in Gisburne (Guisborough) about 12 miles north of Rievaulx, while a William de Ryvauxe was the sole taxpayer for Barnaby, in the parish of Guisbrough.24Yorkshire Lay Subsidy - 30 Ed. I (1301), ed. W. Brown, Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series, vol. 21 (1897), pp. 32, 43 bis, 45. Rievaulx was a Cistercian Abbey in medieval times, founded from Clairvaux in France, and part of an Order with houses in Spain and Portugal built on land won from the Moors. No doubt genetic traces were left in Iberia of the Moorish centuries. A1a is not the most likely haplogroup to be among them, but perhaps not completely impossible. Master masons and other useful craftsmen could have been recommended by one monastic house to another in the Order. So we can dimly see one possible route from Africa to Yorkshire.

Occupations

The italicised words in the Yorkshire subsidy indicate occupations. These became surnames too. It is interesting to see that in one case a man surnamed Taylor was a tailor. So he could have taken his name from his profession. However people often followed in their father's footsteps, so it could by his day have been an inherited surname. In Britain overall Taylor is the next most common occupational surname after Smith, at 0.6% of the population, but is overtaken in Scotland by Stewart, derived from the office of steward.25R. McKie, The Face of Britain (2006), p. 174; A. Moffat and J. F. Wilson, The Scots: A genetic journey (2011), p. 198. The Stewart name became prominent in royal and aristocratic lineages descended from the High Steward of Scotland, but there was many a humbler steward. The Stewart/Stuart DNA Project results show a wide variety of lineages. Baker, Butcher, Carter, Clark, Miller, Turner, Walker (fuller) and Wright are other common surnames from widespread occupations.

However there are rarer occupational names which may have a single progenitor. Mick Jagger, vocalist with the Rolling Stones, and all others in England with his surname may descend from a Johannes Jagher (John Jagger) who paid poll tax in 1379 at Stainland, near Halifax. A jagger transported loads on his pack-horses.26G. Redmonds, T. King and D. Hey, Surnames, DNA and Family History (2011), p. 12. There is a similar surname from Germany which appears in the Yeager DNA Project.

Patronyms

Distribution of Y-DNA Haplogroup I1There are also plenty of examples in the subsidy rolls of surnames taken from a masculine personal name. Looking at Dalton Magna again, we find Henryson (son of Henry), Gilleson (son of Gill or Giles), Laweson (son of Lawrence), Jacson (son of Jack, pet-name for John) and Adamson (son of Adam). At the same time other people were identified in the form X filius Y, which suggests that they actually were the sons of the named father, and had not yet acquired an hereditary surname. The Herrick surname included by Turi King and Mark Jobling in their 40 surname study (above) is a patronym, meaning son of Eric.27P.H. Reaney and R.M. Wilson, Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd edn., revised (1997). We might wonder why the sons of various men called Eric would all fall into Haplogroup I. Eric is however a Scandinavian name. So the explanation may be that the haplogroup in question is I1. Curt Herrick - an American not included in the study - had previously revealed his haplogroup to be I1a.28The Herrick Connection (The Herrick Family Association newsletter), vol. 2, no. 2 (June 2006). http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~herrick/HFAnewsletter-June2006.pdf In fact all the modern Herricks may have a common ancestor in Leicestershire, which was heavily settled by Danes. The surname first appears there in the 13th century, when Henry Eyrig or Eyrek witnessed charters in Wigston Magna. The Herricks remained in Wigston and nearby until one made his fortune in the capital in Elizabethan times. His brother was the famous poet Robert Herrick. Members of the family seem to have spread from Leicestershire to adjoining counties by Victorian times.29G. Redmonds, T. King and D. Hey, Surnames, DNA and Family History (2011), pp. 186-7.

The Welsh equivalent of son was map, shortened to ap or ab before a vowel, and the Gaelic was mac. Hence the great number of Scottish, Irish and Manx surnames starting with Mac or Mc, such as McDonald and MacLeod. In Scotland these predominated in the former Gaelic-speaking Highlands and Western Isles. In the more populous Scots-speaking Lowlands, the English forms appeared, which explains why the most common patronyms in Scotland today are Wilson, Robertson and Thomson.30A. Moffat and J. F. Wilson, The Scots: A genetic journey (2011), p. 198. The Welsh long retained the system of naming by genealogy, so when they adopted surnames, these chiefly reflected paternal names. Ap Rhys (son of Rhys) became Price or Pryce, while ap Richard (son of Richard) became Prichard or Pritchard. The name David was common in Wales, from the popularity of its patron saint. It gave rise to the surnames David, Daffey and, most commonly, Davies.31P.H. Reaney and R.M. Wilson, Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd edn., revised (1997), pp. xix-xx and see under specific names.

Tombstone of Sarmatian cavalryman from ChesterIn the Scottish-English border zone we find Aitcheson (son of Adkin) and Elliott (a diminutive of Elias), among other surnames. The Border Reivers DNA Project shows the range of Y-DNA haplogroups for the common surname Elliott, one of which is very unusual in Britain. Haplogroup C is normally found in Asia. The C haplogroup project shows that C has also been found in an Aitcheson of Scottish origin and a man of Ukrainian descent, who fall into the same haplotype cluster. Could these rare C-men descend from the Sarmatian cavalry posted on Hadrian's Wall in Roman times? Though the Sarmatian unit was stationed at Ribchester, 5,500 Sarmatian cavalry were posted to Britain under the terms of the treaty of AD 175 and were probably mainly split up to provide cavalry support in forts scattered throughout northern Britain and Wales. There was such a fort at Deva, now Chester. The tombstone of a Sarmatian cavalryman was found built into the city wall of Chester.

Metronyms

It was less common to take a surname from a mother's name, but it does occur. Looking at the Subsidy Roll for Caldbeck in Cumberland, we see John, son of Grece, and Thomas, son of Anota. Grece was a woman's name, of obscure origin, which produced the surnames Grace, Gracey, Gracie and Grece. Annot was a diminutive of Ann, pet-form of Agnes. The related name Annette is more familiar today. From these forms come the surnames Annett, Annett, Annetts and Annott.32P.H. Reaney and R.M. Wilson, Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd edn., revised (1997).

Anglo-Norman royal family. Click to enlarge in new window.One female name has spawned an abundance of surnames from Maud to Tillotson. Just as the names of Norman and Plantagent kings - William, Henry, Richard and John - became overwhelmingly popular as male Christian names among the English in the centuries after the Conquest, so Maud, or Matilda in its Latin form, became a popular name for girls. Matilda/Maud was the name of four queens in succession, all important in their own right. William I made a strategic marriage to Matilda (d. 1083), daughter of Baldwin V of Flanders. She was a descendant of Alfred the Great, which would do her no harm in the eyes of the English. Her daughter-in-law Matilda (d. 1118), first wife of Henry I, was the daughter of Malcolm III of Scotland and St Margaret of the English royal house. By this marriage the Norman line gained a legitimate claim to the English throne. Her daughter Matilda (d. 1167), known as Empress Matilda from her first marriage to Emperor Henry V, was Henry I's legitimate heiress, but most of the English preferred to put a king on the throne and chose her cousin Stephen of Blois. This led to a long civil war, in which Stephen's queen Matilda (d. 1151) played a notable part. Historians tend to feel that she led his troops in his absence rather more ably than he did when present.

Maud or Maude is the most obvious surname from this Christian name, but variants include Mahood, Mawhood, Mald, Malt, Mault, Mold, Mould, Moulds, Moult, Mowat, Mowatt, Maudson, Maulson and Maltson. From Till or Tilly, the pet-form of Matilda, come Till, Tille, Tilley, Tillie, Tillet, Tillett, Tillott, Tillotson and Tilson.33P.H. Reaney and R.M. Wilson, Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd edn., revised (1997), see under Maud and other specific names.

Nicknames

Another class of surname is derived from nicknames or descriptive names, such as Cruickshanks, Moody, Proud, Scattergood (spendthrift) and Wise. Colouring was an easy way to distinguish those of the same Christian name, so we have Fairhead, Redhead, Blacklock and the very common Brown, Black and White. One of the most common surnames of this class in Scotland is Campbell, from the Gaelic cam beul (crooked mouth). Similarly Cameron is from the Gaelic cam shron (crooked nose). Little could describe someone small, or be a joke-name for a giant, like Little John in the Robin Hood legend. From the Old French curt, meaning short, we have Curtin, though in Ireland this surname is an Anglicised form of MacCruitín, meaning son of the hunchback. 34P.H. Reaney and R.M. Wilson, Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd edn., revised (1997), pp. xlii-xlv and see under specific names. While we would expect multiple lineages for the common nicknames, hunchbacks are rare in the population, so it was well worth conducting a DNA project for the Irish Curtins. The results are surprising. The largest group are Curtins from Munster and they carry Y-DNA J2. This is a rare haplogroup in Ireland, perhaps a relict of Neolithic farmers. In the Middle Ages some members of a family so named served as poets and tutors to the O'Briens of Thomond.35M.C. O'Laughlin, The Book of Irish Families, Great and Small (2002), p. 61.

Landscape features

Distribution of the surname Greenwood in 1881Landscape features made a convenient way of distinguishing between men of the same name in the same parish. One might live by a wood (Wood), another by a fen or marsh (Fenn, Venn, Marsh), and another on a hill or under it (Hill, Uphill, Underdown). Originally such names would include by the or at the (atte or atten in Middle English), part of which sometimes fused with the name of the feature to create surnames such as Byfield, Noakes (at the oaks) or Nash (at the ash). Some man-made features made good landmarks too, such as bridges (Bridge, Bridges, Brigg, Briggs) and gates (Gate, Gates, Yate, Yates). In some cases the first person so named might have been the keeper of a bridge or gate.36P.H. Reaney and R.M. Wilson, Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd edn., revised (1997), pp. xvi-xvii; J. Titford, Penguin Dictionary of British Surnames (2009), pp. 5-6. We see such a surname developing in Dalton Magna, Rotherham parish in 1379 - Radulphus By the yate. However some people with the Yate surname may have originated from Yate in Gloucestershire, itself originally meaning gate.37A.D. Mills, English Place-Names (1993). Surnames derived from a landscape feature found in many places seem unlikely to lead back to a common ancestor. We would expect multiple lineages. The Yates DNA Project has confirmed expectations for that surname, showing a wide variety of Y-DNA haplogroups.

Names can be deceptive though. The surname Greenwood suggests a man living by a wood. You will find that etymology in surname dictionaries. Yet its distribution in 1881 was concentrated in Lancashire and the West Riding of Yorkshire. The first record of the name is in Sowerby in 1275, and presumably derived from the hamlet of Greenwood Lee in the neighbouring township of Heptonstall, West Yorkshire, where we later find a Thomas Grenewod living at High Greenwood Farm. So the name may derive from a single green wood that found its way into a place-name.38G. Redmonds, T. King and D. Hey, Surnames, DNA and Family History (2011), pp. 7-8. In some other cases where we would expect multiple origins, it may be that certain lineages have died out in the direct male line since the creation of the surname, leaving a single line in modern men.

Sykes

The distribution of the Sykes surname in 1881. Click to enlarge in new windowGeneticist Bryan Sykes was naturally interested in the origin of his own surname, which derives from the Old English sic or Old Norse sik, meaning a small stream or gully. The surname Sykes (which is the plural form, meaning streams) is common in Yorkshire.39P.H. Reaney and R.M. Wilson, Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd edn., revised (1997). A similar surname is Brooks. Here is another good example of a landscape feature widely found, but Skyes felt that genetics could disprove the expection of multiple origins. He tested 48 men of his surname and found that 21 of them carried the same haplotype within the Y-DNA haplogroup R1b. From this he argued for a single origin for his surname about 700 years ago. He saw those Sykes chromosomes not belonging to his core haplotype as originating either from illegitimacy or mutation.40B. Sykes, and C. Irven, Surnames and the Y chromosome, American Journal of Human Genetics, vol. 66 (2000), pp. 1417–1419. Subsequent testing has changed the picture, partly because far more markers are now used than those available when Sykes did his study. The Sikes/Sykes Family DNA Project has found 18 men matching the core haplotype of the Skyes study, but 29 falling into the haplogroup R1a1a, both having some traceable origins in Yorkshire, and lesser numbers of other R1b haplotypes, with a sprinkling of other haplogroups entirely. This is not surprising. In 1379 men named del Syke or del Sikes were taxed in six different townships in the West Riding and one in Lancashire.41G. Redmonds, T. King and D. Hey, Surnames, DNA and Family History (2011), p. 19.

MacDonald

Distribution of the MacDonald surname in Scotland in 1891. Click to enlarge in new windowDistribution of R1a1a in the British IslesMacDonald or McDonald is the most common of the Scottish surnames with the mac prefix, carried by about 0.53% of Scots.42A. Moffat and J. F. Wilson, The Scots: A genetic journey (2011), p. 198. The McDonald chiefs trace their descent to Somerled mac Gillabrigte, 12th-century King of the Isles. Somerled's name is Scandinavian - meaning summer warrior, though his father's and grandfather's names are Gaelic, expressive of the hybrid Gaelic–Norse culture of the west highlands and islands at that time. From a base in Kintyre, Somerled conquered the Isles by 1159. On his death in 1164, some of his territory was seized by his brother-in-law, which led to a long struggle for lordship of the Isles. Finally Robert I of Scotland (1274-1329) granted most of the Isles to Angus Og MacDonald of Islay, descendant of Somerled's son Ranald. From Somerled's son Dugald descend the clan MacDougall.43M. Lynch, Oxford Companion to Scottish History (2001), pp. 346-7; W. D. H. Sellar, Somerled (d. 1164), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004).

As mentioned above, Y-DNA R1a1a (M17) is seen as a Norse marker. So it is interesting to find that a specific haplotype of R1a1a is carried by the chiefs of Clan Donald (who include Ranald MacDonell of Glengarry and Willaim McAlester of Loup as well as those of the MacDonald surname) and 25% of the total MacDonalds tested. However 12% of McDonalds carry the Pictish type of R1b-L21.44A. Moffat and J. F. Wilson,The Scots: A genetic journey (2011), pp. 192, 198; B. Sykes and J. Nicholson, The Genetic Structure of a Highland Clan (online at oxfordancestors.com) A complication of clan surnames in Scotland and Ireland is that followers could adopt the clan name. This mixture of Norse and Pictish reflects the complex history of the Isles, with a Gaelic-speaking south and Pictish north both coming under Scandinavian sway.45M. Lynch, Oxford Companion to Scottish History (2001), pp. 346-7.

MacLeod

Dunvegan Castle, Isle of SkyeDunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye has been the stronghold of the clan chiefs of MacLeod since the Middle Ages. Another branch of the clan are the MacLeods of Lewis, though the chiefly Lewis line was extinguished in the early 17th century and their lands lost to another family.

A Gillandres MacLeod appears in 1227, the first record of the name. MacLeod means son of Ljotr (Old Norse meaning ugly).46P.H. Reaney and R.M. Wilson, Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd edn., revised (1997). So there can be little doubt here that we are looking for a Viking ancestor. However there were probably several men called Leod, though it is not the kindest name to give a child. Léot or Leod, first known Abbot of Brechin, appears in charters from 1131.47Sir A. Lawrie, Early Scottish Charters Prior to A.D. 1153 (Glasgow, 1905), pp. 78, 181, 226-7, 339.

The founder of Clan McLeod is claimed in clan histories to be a son of Olaf, King of Man from 1229 to 1237, but Olaf is not recorded to have had a son named Leod. The clan story reaches more solid ground with Malcolme, son to Tormode M'Cloyde, and Torkyll M'Cloyd, who both appear in a royal charter dating to about 1343.48W. Robertson, An Index, Drawn up about the Year 1629, of many records of charters, granted by the different sovereigns of Scotland between the years 1309 and 1413 (Edinburgh 1798). p. 48. Centuries later a clan history was created which assumed Tormod and Torquil to be brothers (taking the MacLeod name to mean literally son of Leod at that stage) and made the chronologically and genealogically dubious leap that linked Leod to Olaf.

Regardless of the paper trail, the genetic signature of the MacLeods is the newly discovered R1b-S68/L165. The distribution of this marker is characteristically Norse, appearing in Norway, Sweden, Orkney, Shetland, and the core MacLeod territory of Lewis, Harris and Skye.49A. Moffat and J.F. Wilson, The Scots: A genetic journey (2011), p. 192.

Select resources

Notes

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  1. R. McKie, The Face of Britain (2006), p. 174; A. Moffat and J. F. Wilson, The Scots: A genetic journey (2011), p. 198; G. Redmonds, T. King and D. Hey, Surnames, DNA and Family History (2011), p. 1.
  2. G. Redmonds, T. King and D. Hey, Surnames, DNA and Family History (2011), p. 94.
  3. R. McKie, The Face of Britain (2006), p. 174.
  4. P.H. Reaney and R.M. Wilson, Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd edn., revised (1997).
  5. B. McEvoy and D.G. Bradley, Y-chromosomes and the extent of patrilineal ancestry in Irish surnames, Human Genetics, vol. 119 (March 2006), pp. 212-9.
  6. G. Redmonds, T. King and D. Hey, Surnames, DNA and Family History (2011), p.2.
  7. Turi E. King and Mark A. Jobling, Founders, drift, and infidelity: the relationship between Y chromosome diversity and patrilineal surnames, Molecular Biology and Evolution, vol. 26, no. 5 (May 2009), pp. 1093-1102.
  8. D. Hey, Family Names and Family History (2000), pp. 31, 51-53; W.W. Kibler, Medieval France: an encyclopedia (1995), p. 510.
  9. P.H. Reaney and R.M. Wilson, Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd edn., revised (1997), Introduction; G. Redmonds, T. King and D. Hey, Surnames, DNA and Family History (2011), pp. 2-3.
  10. J. P. Steel (ed.), Cumberland Lay Subsidy - Fifteenth and tenth, 6 Edw. III (1912).
  11. E. Ekwall (ed.), Two Early London Subsidy Rolls (1951); W. Hudson, The Three Earliest Subsidies for the County of Sussex - 1296, 1327, 1332 (1910); Major-General Hon. George Wrottesley (ed. ), Staffordshire Historical Collections, vol. 7, part 1 (1886); W. Brown (ed.), Yorkshire Lay Subsidy - 30 Ed. I (1301) (1897); Rotuli Collectorum Subsidii Regi a laicis anno segundo concessi in Westrythyngo in Comitatu Eboraci, , ed. J.G. (1879), published in serial form in The Yorkshire Archaeological and Topographical Journal. For a complete modern edition of the later 14th-century subsidy returns, see C. C. Fenwick, The Poll Taxes of 1377, 1379 and 1381, 3 vols. (1998, 2001, 2005).
  12. P.H. Reaney and R.M. Wilson, Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd edn., revised (1997).
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  17. G. Redmonds, T. King and D. Hey, Surnames, DNA and Family History (2011), pp. 185-6.
  18. Obituaries: Mr. F.L. Attenborough, The Times, March 23, 1973, p. 20, col. F.
  19. T.E. King and M.A. Jobling, Founders, drift, and infidelity: the relationship between Y chromosome diversity and patrilineal surnames, Molecular Biology and Evolution, vol. 26, no. 5 (May 2009), pp.1093-1102.
  20. S. Leach et al., A Lady of York: migration, ethnicity and identity in Roman Britain, Antiquity, vol. 84, no. 323 (March 2010), pp. 131–145; BBC News: 1,700-year-old African skeleton could be an ancestor (5 April 2011).
  21. Roman Inscriptions of Britain, vol.I Inscriptions on Stone, ed. R.G. Collingwood and R.P. Wright (1965), no. 2042: altarstone; dated AD 253-258; Notitia Dignitatum xl. 47.
  22. T.E. King et al., Africans in Yorkshire? The deepest-rooting clade of the Y phylogeny within an English genealogy, European Journal of Human Genetics, vol. 15 (2007), pp. 288–293 ; G. Redmonds, T. King and D. Hey, Surnames, DNA and Family History (2011), p. 201-204.
  23. P.H. Reaney and R.M. Wilson, Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd edn., revised (1997).
  24. Yorkshire Lay Subsidy - 30 Ed. I (1301), ed. W. Brown, Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series, vol. 21 (1897), pp. 32, 43 bis, 45.
  25. R. McKie, The Face of Britain (2006), p. 174; A. Moffat and J. F. Wilson, The Scots: A genetic journey (2011), p. 198.
  26. P.H. Reaney and R.M. Wilson, Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd edn., revised (1997).
  27. G. Redmonds, T. King and D. Hey, Surnames, DNA and Family History (2011), p. 12.
  28. The Herrick Connection (The Herrick Family Association newsletter), vol. 2, no. 2 (June 2006). http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~herrick/HFAnewsletter-June2006.pdf
  29. G. Redmonds, T. King and D. Hey, Surnames, DNA and Family History (2011), pp. 186-7.
  30. A. Moffat and J. F. Wilson, The Scots: A genetic journey (2011), p. 198.
  31. P.H. Reaney and R.M. Wilson, Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd edn., revised (1997), pp. xix-xx and see under specific names.
  32. P.H. Reaney and R.M. Wilson, Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd edn., revised (1997),
  33. P.H. Reaney and R.M. Wilson, Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd edn., revised (1997), see under Maud and other specific names
  34. P.H. Reaney and R.M. Wilson, Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd edn., revised (1997), pp. xlii-xlv and see under specific names.
  35. M.C. O'Laughlin, The Book of Irish Families, Great and Small (2002), p. 61.
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  37. A.D. Mills, English Place-Names (1993).
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  39. P.H. Reaney and R.M. Wilson, Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd edn., revised (1997).
  40. B. Sykes, and C. Irven, Surnames and the Y chromosome, American Journal of Human Genetics, vol. 66 (2000), pp. 1417–1419.
  41. G. Redmonds, T. King and D. Hey, Surnames, DNA and Family History (2011), p. 19.
  42. A. Moffat and J. F. Wilson, The Scots: A genetic journey (2011), p. 198.
  43. M. Lynch, Oxford Companion to Scottish History (2001), pp. 346-7; W. D. H. Sellar, Somerled (d. 1164), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004).
  44. A. Moffat and J. F. Wilson, The Scots: A genetic journey (2011), pp. 192; B. Sykes and J. Nicholson, The Genetic Structure of a Highland Clan (online at oxfordancestors.com).
  45. M. Lynch, Oxford Companion to Scottish History (2001), pp. 346-7.
  46. P.H. Reaney and R.M. Wilson, Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd edn., revised (1997).
  47. Sir A. Lawrie, Early Scottish Charters Prior to A.D. 1153 (Glasgow, 1905), pp. 78, 181, 226-7, 339.
  48. W. Robertson, An Index, Drawn up about the Year 1629, of many records of charters, granted by the different sovereigns of Scotland between the years 1309 and 1413 (Edinburgh 1798). p. 48.
  49. A. Moffat and J.F. Wilson, The Scots: A genetic journey (2011), p. 192.