Names 2

You’ve Been Maled

Music

Sarah Fourcheraud (producer)

You’re listening to Decoding Nature’s Alphabet.

Prof. Turi King

So, this is the thing that I always find really interesting with racism is that we are all related. It’s simply a matter of degree. So where are you going to put that barrier in as to, “oh, this is mine and that’s, that’s you guys, you’re somewhere else” …

 Ron McCullagh (presenter)

This the second of our names podcasts in which Professor Turi King, Professor of Public Engagement and Genetics at the University of Leicester continues her encyclopedic guided tour into how we got tagged, labelled, or as we usually know it, named. Hello again Turi.

Prof. Turi King

Hello

Ron McCullagh

So where do names come from?

Prof. Turi King

So, there’s five main ways really that, that people categorise names. So, there’s patronymics, which is the father’s name, but obviously you can get matronymics as well. Um, you get things like occupational names. So, these are things like Thatcher, now Thatcher’s obviously from somebody who’s thatching houses, that’s not an occupation that’s really around, in a big way anymore. And yet it’s a very common name, Carter, another one that’s very, very common. And again, this is from somebody who would have been transporting goods on a cart – very, very common name. Smith from, you know, blacksmith. And there would have been hundreds of blacksmiths around, around the country. Baker, this kind of thing. So, whatever, uh, an occupation was, that could end up being, uh, your surname. You get ones that are called topographical. So, these are from features of the landscape. They are actually some of our most common surnames so things like Hill, um, Bush, Townsend uh, Brook, this kind of thing. So, it’s, it’s all telling you something about where one of your ancestors lived on quite a sort of micro geographical level in a way, because it’s telling you about where they lived within this, within the settlement, which is quite nice.

And then you get things like nicknames and these are like really quite fun ones. Many of our really common names are nicknames like Brown, I mean, one of the most common, uh, surnames in the country…again, is thought to come from hair colour or someone with a swarthy appearance. Um, Longshanks, again, this is one that is thought to be some, something, you know, long leggedy, leggedy beastie in the family, this kind of thing. So, it’s, it’s, again, it starts to tell you a little bit about something, uh, a person’s appearance, perhaps, um, what their, their manner might have been. I like Gifford, which apparently means fat cheeks. So again, it’s, it’s a way of identifying people. King is also supposed to be one of these ones that, uh, comes from a nickname. So, it could be somebody who acted like they were a King, or they behaved as a, uh, you know, they act as a King in a, in a play or something like this, but it also could be from another category. So, it could be from somebody who worked for the King.

So that’s the thing about particular surnames is they can actually have origins that come from more than one category out of those five. Then there’s things like place names. So, villages or cities. So Titchmarsh, Alan Titchmarsh’s surname is actually from, um, a village in North Hamptonshire, but interestingly enough, you find the majority of Titchmarshes are actually up Yorkshire way. So, this is telling you that somebody from Titchmarsh moseyed up North and probably got known as Allen from Titchmarsh and then their descendants also take on the name. Haythornthwait, Thwaite, Thworpe , so these are all Scandinavian, um, endings, place name endings. So, the Vikings, I think this is quite an important thing to stress actually – so, the Vikings themselves did not have hereditary surnames, but they obviously did come over to this country. And so you are, have places that are, are named with Scandinavian elements, and that’s where some of these surnames are derived from there are from places that have got Scandinavian elements. So, for example, you get things like Slingsby. So by again is, is the, um, is the Scandinavian ending to that. But Slings is thought to be from a, from a personal name, um, Herrick, uh, is one that’s found very much around, uh, Leicester and Leicestershire. And it’s thought to be from the Scandinavian personal name of Eric. So, it’s really interesting if you, if you are able to have a look at your surname and you can look at the different components of it, it starts to give you hints as to where it might have originated from.

Ron McCullagh

With their reputation for violence, you have to wonder why the Vikings didn’t name, the places that they took over as beaten or destroyed.

Prof. Turi King

Not that I’m aware of. I mean, I think that’s one of the things is that we know that actually after the sort of first sort of raiding parties are coming over, we know that the Vikings actually came over in relatively large numbers as family groups. And the DNA actually shows us that. So, there’s been a study of this, which looked at things like the Y chromosome, which comes down the male line and mitochondrial DNA, which comes down through the female line. And the closer you are to Scandinavia in this country, the more it looks like pretty equal amounts of male and female Scandinavian ancestry.

And the further away you move, like, as you go up into Iceland, for example, you start to see things where it looks like it’s more Scandinavian men and fewer Scandinavian women, but what it looks like might be happening is that the Scandinavian men are coming to the UK and then at some point women with ancestry from the British Isles are travelling up into Iceland, this could possibly be as family groups. So, in terms of sort of place names, they are generally, I mean, people came over in, in sort of family groups and settled and farmed and obviously start to become integrated into the society. And so, the, the names that you see in, in the North of England often do represent that Scandinavian part of our history.

Ron McCullagh

We’ve always had the names to help us understand the history of the Vikings, but now we have the DNA analysis as well. How much has this helped historians?

Prof. Turi King

It’s adding a layer of information, so it’s adding a genetic layer of information. So, we’ve known for years and years from archeological evidence from place name evidence, from evidence in our, in our own language about the Scandinavians, having arrived in this country and having settled, but now being able to add this extra layer of information either by using surnames as a way of sort of sampling individuals. So, that, that was one of the things that was, was part of a research project that I was doing. If you go to the North of England now, and you sample somebody off of the street, how do you know that they’re, you know, they haven’t just arrived or it was their granddad who arrived or this kind of thing? But if somebody has got a surname that’s old and tied to a particular area, then it allows you to kind of leap leapfrog back through time.

Almost, you know, that their ancestry must go back to this area several hundred years. And then if you look at the Y chromosomes, then you are looking at Y chromosomes that were in that area several hundred years ago. So, it allows you to kind of leap frog past things like the industrial revolution, where there was a lot of people moving around and then get an idea as to what the genetic makeup was of this part of the country several hundred years ago when surnames were actually being formed. So, it doesn’t get you back to the Viking period, particularly, but it gets you back about 500, 600, 700 years. So, a few hundred years after the Vikings were here. And if you do that, you do actually see a difference in the genetics. So, if you go and sample people with say two generations of residents in areas in the North of England, where we know that the Vikings got to, you get a sort of particular set of diversity of Y chromosome types.

But if you go to the same area and you sample men, who’ve got surnames that are very old and tied to the area. If you look at them as a population, you start to see that there’s a higher frequency of Y chromosome types are also found at higher frequencies in Scandinavia. And that’s really interesting because it’s, as I say, it’s allowing you to start to look back in time and you get a significant increase in the types of Y chromosomes that they look like they may have a Scandinavian origin. So, this is quite a nice way of kind of looking at the history of England, but using, I suppose, slightly unexpected routes to do so.

Ron McCullagh

It brings something very far away into focus like a census from the past.

Prof. Turi King

Yeah. So, we’re getting kind of a population census, you’re right. So, I always say it’s a little bit like a palimpsest, isn’t it? Because you have got, you know, a snapshot in time that the Vikings have, have arrived and the Scandinavians are here and they, and they are settling. And then slowly through time, you’re going to have population movements happening. You’ve got things like the industrial revolution and all of that starts to blur the picture a bit of what was actually going on several hundred years ago. this allows us to kind of go back in time a little bit to focus in on a, on a period of time. It’s not perfect by any means, but it allows us to give us, uh, to get a bit of an idea as to what the makeup was at the time. These days as well, we can use ancient DNA from remains from the Viking period to add genetic information to historical and archaeological information. And that’s a research area which is growing massively at the moment.

Ron McCullagh

So Turi, if someone is inspired to start researching the origin of their name, can you give them some advice?

Prof. Turi King

Okay. So, obviously one of the first places is, is the internet. I mean, you can literally put in your surname and put meaning after it into Google and it will come up. There are a number of surnames dictionaries out there, which are really good to look at. Um, and it, they will often kind of break down the various elements of your surname. So, you can see which bit comes from where, which is quite interesting. There is something known as the Guild of One Name Study. So, they, these are people who are interested in their surname, usually spelling variants of that same, uh, surname. And if you go and contact them, they are usually a wealth of information. So not only have they been, they’ve been researching the history of the name, but they’re also trying to join people together who have the same surname.

And quite often, they then link into what’s known as sort of surname genetic studies. So, if you’ve got a particular surname and you think that you might be related to the, you know, Swindlehursts from Lancashire, for example, you can get your Y chromosome tested and see whether or not you seem to fit into one of the branches of that particular surname. Same with…so particularly with surnames that are relatively rare and most surnames are rare. It is often the case that there is one main Y chromosome type that is dominating that particular surname. And so, as, as discussed, it could be that there may have been just a single individual who had that surname and who has passed it down through the generations. Um, anyone who doesn’t fit into that particular sort of grouping, it could be that, well, maybe there was somebody else with that surname, but they just didn’t have very many offspring who are alive today that you can match the Y chromosome to.

It could have been that there was a maternal inheritance of the particular surname or, or an adoption or a false paternity where the biological father is not the recorded father. But it’s a really, really interesting thing to do, to, to have your surname. If you’re a boy, you can get your Y chromosome tested. If you’re a girl, you need to go nab your dad or brother, or a male line cousin, this kind of thing. Cause us gals, we don’t have the Y chromosome and then see where it seems to fit in within your particular surname group. And it can be really, really nice because once you do that, you can start to contact people and you can start to build genealogies and build your family tree through the male line.

Ron McCullagh

When you, you consider looking at ourselves as genetic packages with us being made up of DNA, coming down from the families of both of our parents, conventional surnames seem rather unscientific.

Prof. Turi King

Obviously, surnames come down through the male line generally. Um, and I often say is, it’s a bit like a sort of, um, it’s like a cultural marker for a biological group. You know, you’ve got this particular… and we all do it. It’s like, oh, you know, the, you know, the Johnsons down the road. If you talk about that, you, you know, you’re talking about a family group they’re related, they’ve all got the same surname. And they’re biologically related to one another. But obviously it’s only telling you about one of your many ancestors. So, it’s been an interesting thing. And this is where I think people are starting to come up with more sort of double-barreled names. So, taking on both the woman’s surname and the man’s surname for their, for their child.

Prof. Turi King

And I suppose the other thing is, is that we don’t name ourselves. We don’t name ourselves. We get named, we get named by other people and that’s how surnames originated. So, you didn’t necessarily give yourself a surname. It would be somebody saying, Oh yeah. So that’s John, the blacksmith, John Smith, and it’s other people who name you. So that is an interesting thing as to whether or not you might want to ultimately change your name, to reflect who you feel you actually are. Oh, my goodness. I can, I can feel the administrators around the, around the country, sort of taking a deep…about the paperwork on that one.

Ron McCullagh

I wonder what a more scientific naming of us would look like, who, who was the guy who gave plants their double-barreled name, usually in Latin.

Prof. Turi King

It’s Linnaeus, isn’t it?

Ron McCullagh

Yeah. That’s the man, you know, what would be, uh, an improvement in the way we name ourselves currently?

Prof. Turi King

So, then the, the names or the surnames, at least that we, we get, it’s almost like a, I suppose, you’re right. It’s almost like a classification system. You get classified into a particular family, and then you have your first name, which helps kind of define you within of that family. And that’s an interesting counterpoint because the way that surnames arose was the opposite way in that there were so many people with the first name, John, for example, that they had to start to be able to distinguish between people as the populations were growing, they needed a way to go, oh, not that John but that John. So that’s how surnames started to arise. So, it’s actually counter to what we’ve just been talking about, about how a surname puts you in a particular group. And then you get, you get defined out of that by your first name.

Ron McCullagh

Well, you, you described a natural affinity between family members, a lesser affinity with neighbours and perhaps little affinity with strangers and perhaps no affinity at all with foreigners, isn’t that the basis of racism?

Prof. Turi King

So that’s a really interesting, I think it’s the case for some people that they feel a closer affinity to say an extended family. I mean, so this is the thing that I always find really interesting with, with racism is that we are all related – it’s simply a matter of degree. So where are you going to put that barrier in … oh, this is mine and that’s, that’s you guys you’re somewhere else. Um, because we are all, we all are related -where you put that barrier in is really, um, extremely personal, I suppose. And, um, in many ways it doesn’t make any sense.

Ron McCullagh

This reminds me of a time back in the early nineties when I was in the Somali capital Mogadishu. There was a civil war going on and the divide between the two clans and their allied groups was called “The Green Line”. People crossed the green line but sometimes they got stopped and questioned, and one of the questions they were asked was to name their fathers and mothers going back many generations and if they didn’t have a common relation with their interrogator that was say within six generations, they were considered the enemy and they were often shot.  

Prof. Turi King

Oh my goodness. That’s really, really interesting… can you imagine? I think I would be very hard pressed to get past my grandparents in terms of being able to say who I’m descended from. And again, I suppose it’s like that idea of the family group and knowing the history which is something you don’t necessarily find in this country so much. You do get people who are interested in their family history but for the person on the street, they would have trouble going back further than their grandparents.

Ron McCullagh

It’s so unusual that this familial connection be used as that bar code as a sort of qualification.

Prof. Turi King

And also the fact that of putting the terms of boundaries in…it comes back to that idea of -we are all related to each other. Where do you put the boundary in, in terms of us and them which is what they are doing with this sort of thing.

Ron McCullagh

As we come to the end of our second podcast on names, the thing that is bothering me is this -we live in an age of feminism and yet we don’t hear any complaints from women that they are surnamed with a male label. So where are the mothers represented in our surnames?

Prof. Turi King

You do get women represented in surnames, they are just not as common. So surnames like Marriot, like the hotel, Marriot is from a female personal name. Ibbotson is again another one from a female personal name. So they are just not as common but they do exist, so obviously these days women don’t necessarily take their married name. They might have a professional name and a married name for example. So for me, I already had a publication record before I got married and if I had changed my name, I would have lost that record that I already had. I suppose one of the really nice things is that in this day and age, you can make a decision about what name you want to be known by, if you want to take on your husband’s name or not. As you go back in time, it is harder and harder to trace women in family trees. It is much easier for the men because you can follow the surname and particularly if it is a rare surname, follow it back through time. But women did change their name on marriage in the past and that makes it that extra bit harder to trace your women in your family tree because of this name change and not knowing what the maiden name would have been.

Ron McCullagh

And to be fair, the Spanish have been ahead of us on this for some time.

Prof. Turi King

Absolutely. The Spanish naming system is actually where you get a combination of surnames – one is the father’s surname and one is the mother’s surname. It will change with every generation down through the generations because the surnames will change in terms of who your mother is and who your father is. So yes, there are different naming practices which we might consider as being more egalitarian in terms of representing the woman surname.

Ron McCullagh

What about your own name? Turi – Turi?

Prof. Turi King

So, Oh, goodness. So, there’s a real story to this one. So, around the time that I was born, there was a woman called Turi Wideroe and she’s Norwegian, and she was the first woman to be a commercial air pilot for a major airline. And I was actually doing sampling for the Viking surnames project, and I was doing it in Norway. And people would say to me, you know, your, your, your first name, it’s Norwegian, Turi or, or Turid is a spelling variant of it. And I said, yes. And I would tell them this story and they said, actually, you know, the woman who you are named after lives, just down the road. So, I have to admit, I went for a little walk down the road, and I thought this woman’s probably in her eighties or nineties, and I don’t want it to stalk her, but I did sort of pop down the room like, oh, okay….

So that’s where she lives. This woman who I was named after. Um, yeah, it was really quite something because with that name, I mean, it has been one of these things that all my life I’ve had to say, you know, my surname is King. That’s really easy, first name – I pretty much always have to spell it for people. People think it’s short for Victoria. And I have to explain about, about where it’s from, but knowing also where it’s from has always kind of made me think, Oh my goodness, I’m named after this woman who was the first woman to do something, you know, really quite amazing. And I think I have something to live up to.

Sarah Fourcheraud

You’ve been listening to Decoding Nature’s Alphabet presented by Ron McCullagh and produced by me, Sarah Fourcheraud. In our next “Unchained”, Professor Turi King will be taking us deeper into the morality and ethics of changing our genes – that’s genes with a “G”, not a “J”. 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.