It’s a question people often ask themselves. Your relatives may claim you’re one-sixteenth Scottish or descended from uphill sheep farmers in South Wales, but is there any way you can verify these claims – and quickly?
Britain’s National Trust may be able to help you do just that. Their site hosts a Surname Profiler, which will show you the national distribution of any surname from 1998 or 1898 UK data sets. It won’t be able to confirm or deny your familial rumours with complete certainty, but it will be able to give you an idea.
So how does it work?
First of all you’ll need to click through to the Surname Profiler page. From there, it’s just one more click until you’re ready to enter your search query. Once you're on the main page, select the year you’re interested in, plug in your surname, and you’re away.
You should arrive at some text that looks a bit like the below. I’ve used the surname ‘Cameron’, to profile the origins of the new British Prime Minister’s family.
You’ll be presented with some basic information on the name, including its origins and classification (in this case Celtic and Scottish, respectively).
Next, you’ll be able to click through to see the distribution of your chosen surname throughout the country. As we can see here, Cameron’s Oxford accent conceals roots that lead much farther north.
And that’s that. Pretty easy, huh? If you do want to go into a bit more depth, there are a few other things you can do, such as:
1. Search the distribution of your surname from 1898 and 1998, and observe any change.
2. Plug in other family surnames. If your grandmother insists that her branch of the tree leads back somewhere, then try her maiden name and see what you get.
3. Use the ‘Frequency and Ethnicity’ tab to see how diverse the make-up of your surname is. Are there perhaps German or French individuals bearing your surname that you weren’t aware of?
4. Use the ‘Geographical Location’ tab to observe the spread across different countries, the social occupations of your surname, how its wealth compares to other names, and many other variables. (The search for ‘Cameron’ reveals that 51% of UK residents have a higher-status name. I don’t know how that’s worked out either.)
And if you’re not from the UK, that’s no reason not to give it a try. There’s a good chance that if you’re from an English-speaking country, you’ll be able to discover something about your name from this tool. If nothing else, it’s a quick five-minute break that may lead to an interesting discovery.