Name of the Game

George Redmonds explains the value of taking a historical approach to the study of names.

Recent suggestions by geneticists such as Bryan Sykes and Mark Jobling that the Y-chromosome, carried by men but not women, can be used to trace a family’s origins, have attracted wide public interest. In 2000, it was shown that a sample of 250 men with the name Sykes shared the same progenitor. These studies have excited genealogists and etymologists, for they indicate how many distinct origins a name is likely to have. Surnames are not just an important genealogical tool but the key to a progenitor’s history and thus to the story of his numerous descendants. Academic speculation about different interpretations of the Middle English word ‘syke’ assumes less importance than studying when and where it was first found as a surname.
The new role of genetics in family history is just one aspect of a revolution that has been taking place over the last thirty or forty years, as genealogy and local history have grown in popularity. We have come to realise that such subjects are not inferior to national history but are its foundation; and there is a role for each of us to play, provided we learn how to locate and understand the evidence.

To continue reading this article you will need to purchase access to the online archive.

Buy Online Access  Buy Print & Archive Subscription

If you have already purchased access, or are a print & archive subscriber, please ensure you are logged in.

Please email if you have any problems.