Post #2: What books are you reading?

This is Post #2.

I find surnames very interesting.  I even try to guess the origins of names of football players as I am watching a game or a name on a billboard as I pass by.  The book Surnames, DNA, and Family History links traditional surname studies with the use of DNA testing as an additional tool to clarify surnames with related spellings but no known relationship.  My friend Betsey recommended this book and I thought I would share it with you. Thanks, Betsey!

George Redmonds, et al, Surnames, DNA, and Family History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

An interesting article on bynames can be found at

Some items of interest from the book include:

  • By-names (sometimes spelled without the hyphen) is a second name that was not passed on to a son.
  • Some by-names precede the earliest records identified by the OED, e.g. Argent is used as a by-name in a record dated 1327, while the earliest record identified by the OED is 1485;
  • In England, some names are so localized that it is possible to identify the most likely county a person with a relatively unique by-name is from;
  • True surnames began (at least in England) in the late 1200’s (note: my German Bode’s adopted their surname in the late 1600’s; the German Rykenas in the late 1700’s; and my Swedes immigrated in 1881 leaving behind their patronymic naming practices.)
  • the reasons for the adoption of a true surname are not known but could be the rise of need for documentation (tax lists etc), although that is an incomplete answer as many early English tax lists use by-names; desire, at least in England, to switch to Norman names from Anglo-Saxon or Scandinavian names; and fashion.
  • It is rare to be able to trace a surname to the progenitor.  I am lucky that the few surnames I have can mostly be traced, probably because they stabilized later than those in England.
  • DNA studies have shown the ability to clarify relationships between people with the same or similar surnames;
  • It is possible, but controversial, that DNA gathered at a crime scene could be used to develop a list of surnames which might include that of the perpetrator.

This book would be very interesting to those of you with English, Irish or Welsh backgrounds..  Do check out the surname list at the end.  The DNA explanation and the explanation of the study itself is a little tedious.

Happy hunting!


What I have done since my last posting:  I finished the book but admit that some of the case studies and the tedious sections noted above were skipped.


2 comments on “Post #2: What books are you reading?

  1. Allen says:

    Great by-names article. I never knew.

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