Names 1

Bacon Double Cheeseburger

Music

Sarah Fourcheraud

You’re listening to Decoding Nature’s Alphabet.

Prof. Turi King

We can look at the kind of the diversity of Y chromosomes that you find attached to a particular surname. And you can use that to give an estimate of a date as to when the common ancestor of all these men who are alive with the surname, must’ve lived.

Ron McCullagh (presenter)

Names, we take them for granted, and why wouldn’t we? In most cases we’re labelled from birth, but where do names come from? When and why did we start using them, and what do they signify? The next 2 podcasts are all about names and Professor Turi King, Professor of Public Engagement and Genetics at the University of Leicester will, again, be our guide. Hello Turi

Prof. Turi King

Hello

Ron McCullagh

Where did hereditary surnames come from? When did we begin to use them? Why did we begin to use them?

Prof. Turi King

In Britain, the practice of using hereditary surnames was actually started by the Normans. So, prior to this, we did occasionally have surnames, but they were known as bynames. So it might be, somebody was known as, you know, John, the smith, but I mean, that could change during his lifetime. And it wasn’t passed down through the generations. It was the Normans they’d already been using them for a couple of generations. Usually it’s the wealthy landowning families that are using it as a way of kind of solidifying the claims to their land and about inheritance. So the practice is then brought to this country and then it’s gradually adopted again, usually by the wealthy land owning families.

And you can imagine that also the, as the population is also increasing, you have reasons to kind of differentiate people from one another. There might be more than one person called John, for example. So the practice of using hereditary surnames starts to be adopted in this country. And it actually starts earlier in the South than in the North. It spreads northwards. And also what you find is, again, it’s economically. So the wealthier landowning families, they take them on first, and then it gradually starts to filter down to the rest of the population until around 1500 AD it starting to become rarer, not to have a hereditary surname, but even then you still get differences around the country. So for example, in rural parts of Lancaster, we know that, you know, even up into the sort of 16th and 17th century, surnames are still not being completely adopted in terms of being hereditary. So it differs around the country depending on where you are.

Ron McCullagh

Did they want names or where they sort of imposed upon them?

Prof. Turi King

Uh, so in many cases they started to become imposed upon them. So particularly in places like Wales and Scotland, so the, the Welsh naming practice was known as patronymics. So where you take on the father’s surname, so you would get somebody who’s known, you know, so John Ap, Reese Ap, Gethin and so on and so forth. And then it wasn’t until the time of sort of Henry the eighth, when it started to become imposed on them, that they need to have hereditary surnames. And, and this is partially to do with governments. They want to have records of everybody who’s there. And so they start to impose, uh, surnames on them and the same, the same as happening in Scotland, where they used to have clan names. And then you’re starting to get these sorts of hereditary names are, are starting to be imposed. In Ireland, we actually know that it starts much earlier,

So you’re starting to get hereditary, surnames coming in around sort of the 9th and 10th century AD . So it starts even earlier in Ireland. Um, so as you see, you find these differences around the country and the government is obviously wanting to start to impose them. And this is where you also start to get surname, spelling, start to get sort of finalised. And again, that’s about keeping and sort a because before then you could have quite a few different spelling variants, and then they start to get sort of formalised more and more as time goes on as they go into the government records.

Ron McCullagh

I wonder if taxation was part of the process?

Prof. Turi King

Oh, I’m, I’m, I’m absolutely sure about it. Um, as I say, so it’s, it’s, it’s part of government record keeping that they want to have records of individuals. And that would be for all sorts of things like, like the poll tax, for example,

Ron McCullagh

Can you give us some examples of patronymic names?

Prof. Turi King

Yes. So, um, they are incredibly common. Patronymic names are those which are formed by using a father’s first name and while you do get surnames that come from a woman’s name, most are from the father.  And so often you get ones like, uh, just simply like Thomas, um, or Davies that’s one of the most common Welsh names. Um, but patronymic ones can also have things like son at the end of it. So like Johnson, for example, Thompson. And it’s thought that some of this probably has to do with the Scandinavian, naming practices of adding daughter or son to the ends of names. And it is interesting when you look to see where you find the most names with the son ending, it does tend to be in areas where we know that the Scandinavians got to. And so, it’s thought to be a sort of a relic of this naming practice.

Ron McCullagh

So, the Scandinavians of course became the Normans. Um, and so presumably all this starts in Scandinavia?

Prof. Turi King

It starts with the Viking migrations. So, whilst the Vikings themselves didn’t have hereditary surnames, they are, when they are coming over here, they do have the naming practices where people are known as, you know, somebody’s name and then son or somebodies name and then daughter. And normally it’s the son ending, uh, that ended up being used. So, you’ve got this relic even of the Viking migrations coming over and it seems to have stayed on. So I do get lots of people who will email me and say, I’ve got a Viking surname. And often what it is  it’s not necessarily, it’s not a Viking surname. It might be from a Viking place name because you get a lot of Viking, place names, Scandinavian place names, again, because of part of the migration, but the Vikings themselves didn’t have hereditary surnames that were passed down through the generations.

Ron McCullagh

Now, can you give us some examples, because I know that part of your research has taken you down the paths of names and all the way back to their origins.

Prof. Turi King

Well, okay. So, you get some really, really lovely surnames, um, that tell you interesting things. So, things like, um, Swindlehurst, uh, it actually comes from “place on the hill where you feed your swine”. I mean, I love that. It’s on the Lancashire Yorkshire border, and we know that there was, um, somebody with the surname, uh, in the 12th century. And it’s really interesting now, because even if you look at people who are alive today, the name Swinglehurst or Swindlehers, because you do get these different spelling variants. It does look like the majority of them all descend from somebody who originally took on the surname and then passed it down through the, through the generations. Um, Attenborough is another really lovely surname. So, Attenborough is actually from a place name just South of Nottingham, it’s a little village, but you can imagine that somebody would have moved to the next village and they would get known as John from Attenborough, David from Attenborough, et cetera.

And that’s how people are sort of acquiring these names, um, in terms of to do with things like the Viking migration. Um, there’s a lovely name called, um, Starbuck. So, it it’s actually, um, quite a rare name that comes from the village of Starbeck near Harrogate in Yorkshire. And it actually appears in the Doomsday book as having a Norse Viking pre 9th century origin story, Storiboki meaning great river. And you actually get the first recording of that surname happens in, in 1379 in the poll tax. And it’s really nice because as it’s thought to have this Viking origin. And when you look at men with this particular surname, a whole bunch of them have got Y chromosome types that you do find at high-frequency in Norway. Now it doesn’t necessarily mean that that’s how you know, this is the one that Y chromosome came into the country and came to be associated with that surname but it’s just a really nice little echo of the fact that that surnames are based on place names where we know the Vikings got to.

Ron McCullagh

And, and we should just say for those, who’ve just joined us in this podcast and had not heard previous ones that the Y chromosome is that chromosome that comes down the male line. And so there’s this interesting relationship between the name of your father that you carry into the next generation giving you a clue as to your Y chromosome in effect.

Prof. Turi King

That’s right. I mean, that, that’s exactly true. Surnames in this country are passed down through the male line. So, they go from, well, they go from a father to all of his children, but women in the past tended to change their name on marriage. So, the surname is actually passed down through the male line and we actually have a segment of our DNA known as the Y chromosome and putting it really, really simply it has on it the gene for maleness, it’s a gene that switches on at about six weeks gestation and sends the foetus down the path to becoming a boy. So only men have got it and they pass it down just to their sons. So, like the surname, the Y chromosome is traveling down through the male line, which means you can do quite an interesting thing. You can look at men, who’ve got the same surname and you can then look at their Y chromosomes to see if they’re actually related to one, or they’ve got the same surname ancestor. And that was something that I did as part of my PhD project. And since then, there’s a lot of work on genetic genealogy and surnames.

Ron McCullagh

So then if you had one family name and it came from, let’s say one person who was given this name for whatever reason, and he passes that name onto his children, then strictly speaking, if it’s an unusual name and there hasn’t been any breaks along the way, everybody with that name should say, should share the same Y chromosome.

Prof. Turi King

Yes, that’s exactly the case. And actually, what you say there is really, really important because we know that for many names like Smith, for example, there would have been a blacksmith in, in every village. Now, some people would have gotten known as say, John Blacksmith gets shortened to Smith. If he has children, he’s going to pass on his surname to them. But also, if they’re boys he’ll pass on their Y chromosome, but there’s going to be loads and loads of men who would have been given the surname Smith. So that’s the interesting thing about surnames as a bit of an aside, you’re often given the name by other people. So, you get known as John Smith and then it gets passed down through the generations. So, as I say, because we know we’ve got loads and loads of blacksmiths around the country who would have been taking on the surname and then passing it down through the generations. There’s no way that I would expect that all men with the surname Smith would share the same Y chromosome type as each other. They’re all going to have different ones depending on who their Smith ancestor was. But for rare names and most surnames are actually rare. What you do tend to find is that a single or sometimes two Y chromosome types dominate that surname. And you can actually look at the Y chromosomes and see the differences among them. And because we know about mutation rates on the Y chromosomes, the Y chromosome, as it’s being passed down through the generations, I always say, it’s like a bunch of typists. They’ve got to type out this particular DNA sequence. And sometimes you get a little mutation and we know how those happen. So we can look at kind of the diversity of Y chromosomes that you find attached to a particular surname. And you can use that to give an estimate of a broad time period as to when the common ancestor of all these men who are alive with the surname must’ve lived.

Ron McCullagh

This must give you a very deep, uh, understanding of the mechanisms of a country of a society. I mean, you can begin to get down into the minutia, the details of families and the individuals from which these families emerged.

Prof. Turi King

Well, it’s really lovely because it, it starts to tell you things about different parts of the country. So, for example, as I was saying, if you’re looking at people with son endings, I would start to think, Hmm, I wonder if their ancestry is from the North of the country. You find particular surnames are tied to particular parts of the country. So, if I meet somebody with a particular surname, I can already have an idea as to where their ancestry probably comes from.

Ron McCullagh

What’s very interesting about all of this is that, you know, we can choose these days to change our gender. And of course, we’ve for a long time been able to change our names. And it would seem that, well, uh, you know, a large number of people are now thinking of changing their gender or already have, but also a lot of people by deed poll are changing their names. I mean, it was 85,000, I think in, uh, 2016 in the UK. And that’s a major increase apparently in 10 years. Um, and S and so there’s this idea that we are very, our roles as individuals are to a great extent, um, captured by the names that are imposed upon us, if you like, as children. And just to make the point about deed poll, by the way, um, some people have got some extraordinary new names, um, apologies to Mr. Bacon Double Cheeseburger. I hope we’re not offended you, but it does seem like a strange choice, uh, and not to mention Facebook Dot Com. There you go. Goodness knows how, uh, professor Terry King of the 22nd century looking back on this particular century will divine, what, from such odd choices…

Prof. Turi King

It’s going to come; it will completely gum up the link between Y chromosome type and surname.

Ron McCullagh

Certainly will. Just coming back to that, thought, um, do we have, um, do we see much through history, of people changing their names, like, like one can do now?

Prof. Turi King

Oh, absolutely. I mean, surnames did not necessarily become fixed for an awfully long period of time. So as I say, pre Norman conquest, and even for several hundred years after the Norman conquest names, weren’t hereditary and surnames could change more than once in a person’s lifetime if they even had one. So, the idea that surnames don’t get fixed is, is actually, I mean, yes, that’s well known. They don’t get fixed till relatively late, you know, several hundred years after the Normans have been here. And it was something that was actually a question, um, as part of the research that I was doing, what about surnames? I’ve got spelling variants. So, like Attenborough spelled like David’s spelling, but Attenborrow borrow? Like Wadsworth and Wordsworth? Are they actually the same? And there was an original somebody who had one of those spelling variants, but as the surname is getting passed down through the generations, or it gets recorded in a sort of a government document, it gets a little tweak. Um, so they’re actually all from the same family, but they just have different spelling variants. And that’s exactly what we did find. So, Wordsworth and Wardsworth, um, things like Attenborough and Attenborrow. They are essentially what must’ve been an original surname that has just slowly, uh, landed on two different spelling variants, or more than one different spelling variant, but they are actually originally from the same family.

Ron McCullagh

And there were a number of spelling variants of for instance, William Shakespeare. That’s a strange one, isn’t it?

Prof. Turi King

Wasn’t it quite famously that Shakespeare himself has had various different, um, signatures to his name? Shakespeare is actually thought to be a nickname for, um, quite a belligerent person or perhaps a body name for an exhibitionist. That is one thing to say is that you do get surnames have got more than one meaning to them. Um, that one’s got a particularly interesting potential meaning is I suppose it’s, it’s like a nickname, isn’t it? So that, that is the other thing about surnames is they can have more than one origin to them. They don’t just have a single origin, not just in terms of people who might’ve been carrying them, but also how they actually arose. They can have more than one meaning.

Ron McCullagh

You never hear of anyone though, inventing a new name, I mean, I suppose unless by deed poll, you, you invented a new name and then passed it onto your children, but, but there aren’t that many new names coming along. Of course, we have new people arriving in a country and then their name is suddenly appearing on the census.

Prof. Turi King

Absolutely. So, and it’s partially because surnames have become fixed in documentary records and usually fixed with a particular spelling variant as well. So, you get the ones that are much more common than, than the others. And quite often people over time have, have actually changed, you know, like, uh, Smyth or Smith taking the off the end, that kind of thing. So, it’s because surnames have become fixed within government records that you don’t tend to, as you say, unless it’s by deed poll. So obviously we know that that surnames did change in the past as well as they became sort of Anglicised for example. So, in Wales and Scotland and Ireland, a lot of these, these places, they had prefixes, meaning, you know, son of, or descendant of so Mac well-known in, in Scotland and in Ireland and you get the O as in like O’Malley, um, Ap, uh, obviously as something you get in Wales and Fitz as well, meaning son of, and when surnames are being Anglicised often that first bit could get lost and dropped off the, the front of the name. Um, you also get people, so quite a famous one, I suppose, is, um, is Christopher Columbus. So, his name gets Anglicised, so he’s Cristoforo Colombo and this becomes Christopher Columbus. So, you get these Anglicising of foreign names, um, you know, just, just in, in the history books, so to speak.

And then obviously you, when you get the huge immigration that’s going over into the New World, um, Ellis Island very famously for this is you get the Anglicisation of names there. So, you have immigrants from Germany, for example. So, the surname Bauer bauer might become Bower, bower. Um, Johanson becoming Johnson, um, Cartier becoming Carter or this kind of thing where you get the Anglicised it’s like a simplification and a phonetic simplification of, of foreign names as people are, are, are migrating to other parts of the world.

Ron McCullagh

And integrating as well. There’s a sort of, uh, measurement of integration involved in the amount of change that somebody makes to their name.

Prof. Turi King

That’s right. And again, that kind of goes back to surnames and identity about people feeling that their surnames are their identity. When people are moving to a new country and they are integrating in order to be able to, to blend in, to some extent, I can imagine that some people really resented having their surname spelling changed. And for others, that might’ve been a bit of a relief. I mean, and so I can, I can see about how that, that forms part of your identity when you’re part of a new community in a new place.

Ron McCullagh

What it reminds me very much of a play by the Irish playwright, Brian Friel, that’s called “Translations” and is all about the business of English translations of Irish town lands and towns and villages and the amount of trouble that causes.

Prof. Turi King

Mm. Well, again, so it can also be in that way, it can be almost about erasing identity. I mean, that’s quite profound really. So, this idea of somebody surname being part of who they are. I think that that’s definitely true. I mean, certainly I’ve, I’ve, as part of my research, I would have people who will contact me and say, my surname is this. And I would go, okay, well, I would look at their Y chromosome, I’d say, Oh, okay. You don’t actually fit in the main group here. Um, you’re kind of on your own. Uh, so it may be that maybe there was somebody with your surname, um, but they just haven’t had as many kids. And so, um, I’m doing random sampling and I’m just not picking it up, or maybe it came through the female line, or maybe there was an adoption.

I, we can’t tell from this, but it’s, it’s not just not part of the main group. And for some people they’re like, that’s fine. Uh, but for others, uh, they would say, but I always felt like I belonged to this surname. And so again, that’s really, really interesting that, and if people know something about where their surname comes from, they might also feel a tie to a particular region. They feel a tie to that, even though obviously surnames are only telling you about one of your many, many ancestors, because it just goes up through the male line. It’s something that, which for some people really becomes a part of who they are.

Ron McCullagh

And I think there’s, there’s a sort of a scale of that. Isn’t there? I’m wondering, I’m wondering perhaps you could see names as in, in some way a hindrance in the sense that when we’re born, we come with this baggage.

Prof. Turi King

Yeah. I mean, some people might absolutely hate their surname. I quite like my surname. It’s quite a fun one. I know it’s very common and it makes it an absolute pain in terms of gene, doing genealogy and family history and trying to trace back which way it’s gone. But you know, some people might absolutely hate it. I mean, I remember hearing a great surnames historian called David Hey, who I was really, really lucky to get to know, who sadly passed away a few years ago, but he was telling me about the surname Death and about how people would change the pronunciation to be D’eath. And you can imagine, like if people had, you know, surnames, we used to sort of joke a little bit about this. Could you imagine if your surname was Parsley or Onion or this kind of thing? You might want to change your name because it’s just, it’s something which you’re not very keen about having.

Ron McCullagh

How does this, uh, pattern of naming work in other countries?

Prof. Turi King

One of the best examples of this is actually Mongolia. So, Mongolia got a communist government in the 1920s and they banned the use of surnames. So, people just had first names and it wasn’t until the mid 1990s that actually it was decided, yep everybody needs to have a surname. You have to choose by a particular date, what your surname is going to be. So that led to a really interesting thing because a lot of people, um, you know, because they got to choose their surname, Genghis Khan is kind of, you know, one of their most famous figures. So, a lot of people actually chose the surname of his, his tribal surname, which is actually, I don’t know how to pronounce it…so it’s, Borjigin. So it’s actually, Genghis Khan’s tribal name, which is, which is so that it means lots and lots of people who’ve got this.

It actually means “Master of the Blue Wolf”, which I think sounds absolutely fantastic. And you can imagine how people would have all wanted to take that on, but it’s this interesting thing that surnames are not necessarily as old as you think they are in different parts of the world. Turkey was in the 1930s. Uh, Japan for example, was in the 1870s. And, but there’s reports of, of sort of 3000 BC of a, of a Chinese emperor who says, no, people should have hereditary surnames. So, the practice of using hereditary surnames is really, really different in different parts of the world and tells you again, something about their history.

Ron McCullagh

How are names going to develop into the future? I’m, I’m worried about us being the genomic packages with our names as labels. We’re going to end up as barcodes.

Prof. Turi King

Well, that’s an issue. What I think you’re going to see a lot more double-barrelled names, people can join their names. So that’s another thing that we’re definitely going to see. Um, people are obviously now deed poll, if as you say, you know, deed pull records are, are sort of, you know, massively increasing, who knows what sorts of surnames we’re going to get. I, I do think that the, this ability to, to, you know, tie surnames and Y chromosome types together is slowly going to disintegrate over time, give us another century or so. And we might not be able to do the sort of stuff that I’ve been doing.

Sarah Fourcheraud

You’ve been listening to Decoding Nature’s Alphabet presented by Ron McCullagh and produced by me, Sarah Fourcheraud. Our next episode is called “Names – You’ve Been Maled (you may well ask), in which Turi continues giving us a guided tour into our tags, labels, or, if you prefer, our names. To get transcripts, or contact us and say nice things, please visit our website www.expressivemindsmedia.com If you’re enjoying these podcasts, please share to help us produce more. All our episodes are on Apple Podcasts or your favourite podcast platform.