Surname & common paternal descent in England

Dienekes points me to a paper, Founders, drift and infidelity: the relationship between Y chromosome diversity and patrilineal surnames:

Most heritable surnames, like Y chromosomes, are passed from father to son. These unique cultural markers of coancestry might therefore have a genetic correlate in shared Y chromosome types among men sharing surnames, although the link could be affected by mutation, multiple foundation for names, nonpaternity, and genetic drift. Here, we demonstrate through an analysis of 1678 Y-chromosomal haplotypes within 40 British surnames a remarkably high degree of coancestry that generally increases as surnames become rarer. On average, the proportion of haplotypes lying within descent clusters is 62%, but ranges from zero to 87%. The shallow time-depth of many descent clusters within names, the lack of a detectable effect of surname derivation on diversity, and simulations of surname descent suggest that genetic drift through variation in reproductive success is important in structuring haplotype diversity. Modern patterns therefore provide little reliable information about the original founders of surnames some 700 years ago. A comparative analysis of published data on Y diversity within Irish surnames demonstrates a relative lack of surname frequency dependence of coancestry, a difference probably mediated through distinct Irish and British demographic histories including even more marked genetic drift in Ireland.

Interesting points:

1) Really rare surnames share a common Y chromosomal lineage. This is a pretty good indicator of relatedness. Additionally, many of these lineages are extremely rare in the general population, reducing the likelihood of independent "non-paternity events" introducing the haplotypes. In contrast, common surnames don't seem have gene lineages any more related than the general population.

2) There are a variety of data which suggest to the authors that the high frequencies of some of these lineages is due to genetic drift filtering the diversity. The time until extinction of a given lineage is inversely proportional to effective population size. In plain English large populations are far less likely to lose information in the form of genetic diversity due to sampling variance from generation to generation. In real populations the sampling variance is due to a variety of factors, including reproductive skew (which is modeled as a poisson process). This is the same insight which scientists have had a hard time explaining to the public when it comes to "mitochondrial Eve." Just because one gene lineage comes down to the present day in a straight line through mothers does not mean that other females did not exist, and reproduce, and so contribute to the genetic diversity today. The same is true here for modal haplotypes in surname groups of rare frequency. Though the Y chromosomes are related in rare frequency surnames, I'd be curious what total genome content would tell us (uniparental lineages are subject to stronger drift because of smaller effective population sizes).

Here's a figure which shows the English data well:


Interesting, a review of Irish data does not show such a strong relationship between rarity and common Y lineages. Rather, some of the common surnames also share relationships. The authors speculate that this maybe due to different demographic and historical factors. Perhaps, for example, the Irish were polygynous than the English so that extremely fecund high status lineages could come to dominate numerous descent groups?


More like this

Regarding the Irish:
I would speculate that centuries of colonization and the simultaneously common rape of Irish women by colonizers would introduce "foreign" Y-chromosomes. However, the children would typically been known by the name of their mother (or her husband). Only in rare cases would the children be known by the name of its father.
This would be true in most groups that faced this sort of pressure. Perhaps this is what the authors mean when they said "historical factors."

By Erunyauve (not verified) on 10 Feb 2009 #permalink

My guess would be that the common Irish surnames tend to be clan names, reflecting a (distant) possible common ancestor, whereas the more common English names are often either patronymic surnames or profession-derived surnames, neither of which would imply common ancestry.

By Pohranicni Straze (not verified) on 10 Feb 2009 #permalink

What, no Kelloggs!? "Humph!" And again I say "Humph!"

Why, by including Kelloggs -also Kelloughs and Kellocks- you get Lowland Scots involved as well as Englishmen and the Irish. Include the Welsh Chullaigh and I dare say ours is the only British family name to be found. :D

"simultaneously common rape of Irish women by colonizers"

Any documentary evidence for this assertion? (preferably not from the Sinn Fein child's guide to Irish history) If I recall correctly, when Cromwell's soldiers tried a bit of rape and pillage, he had them executed. I have you to thank for my Rice Krispies every morning :)

By Sandgoper (not verified) on 11 Feb 2009 #permalink


I totally agree. Additionally English names more frequently reflect geographic location, like Johnston - i.e. from John's Town

I would argue that in Ireland there always was hero-worship, and most clans claimed descent from some hero or other, be it a great leader, warrior, monk, athlete, poet, etc.

Many clan networks - like the Ui Neill - form phylogenetic relationships between them. Most modern Irishmen therefore probably descend from a relatively few ancestral Irishmen - elite dominance.

I have a Dumbleton ancestor and may be related to all of the Dumbletons in the world. Not a common name anywhere.

By John Emerson (not verified) on 11 Feb 2009 #permalink

Any documentary evidence for this assertion? (preferably not from the Sinn Fein child's guide to Irish history)

When have Sinn Fein ever claimed that Irish people are the result of Irish women being raped by British men? If anything, Sinn Fein argues that the Irish are distinct from the British which would mean that there was little gene flow from the British population to the Irish one and therefore little rape.


Might Kellogg a variant of McCullough, and therefore of Scottish descent??

David B, by tradition much of the stuff passed off as Irish History is little more than the preaching of race hatred of the English. Evidence has nothing to do with it.

By bioIgnoramus (not verified) on 11 Feb 2009 #permalink

Powerful men in medieval Ireland had many wives and children. Divorce and concubinage were allowed and illegitimate sons were claimed and had rights under law.

âUnder Brehon law a man had a first wife, a live-in concubine, a live-out concubine and someone he just casually met and so on,â said Simms. âIn each of these cases a child could take the fatherâs name.â

Well, just one of the descendants of Niall - the progenitor of the Ui Neill clans - not a king, but just a nobleman - Turlough O'Donnell, who died in 1423, is known to have had 18 sons with 10 different women. His sons gave him 59 grandsons.

More here:…


Might be. Though some have traced the name back to a Lowland clan that migrated enmasse to England after Edward II crushed the rebellion. They supported the English in the war.

It should be noted that even before that migration there were a number of Kelloggs living in England already. Either recent migrants or descendants of earlier migrants. Cross border marriages, individuals moving south for better opportunities. In addition, England and Scotland were one at times before James VI of Scotland accepted the English crown and became James I. So at times before the 17th century Scotsmen were considered Englishmen. Every subject is complicated once you really look into it.

David B, by tradition much of the stuff passed off as Irish History is little more than the preaching of race hatred of the English

I wonder why the Irish would hate the English. Nope, can't think of a reason. Oh wait a minute, it probably has something to do with that whole invasion and colonization thing.

Joe, in history people invade and get invaded. There were plenty of Irish invasions of the British mainland. It's the race hatred that's the distinctive bit: that's not universal.

By bioIgnoramus (not verified) on 12 Feb 2009 #permalink

The USA made several failed attempts to conquer Canada. Do Canadians and Americans entertain race-hatred of each other? So it ain't universal, is it?

By bioIgnoramus (not verified) on 13 Feb 2009 #permalink