Where does your surname really come from?

Answering the riddle of where your family name (and those inimitable relatives) comes from is now just a click away thanks to genealogy website, Forebears.

Created using data from electoral rolls and telephone directories from 26 countries, the site was recently launched by geographers at University College London and offers insights into the origins of a surname, how common a surname is globally, and a country-by-country breakdown.

The site also offers a special couples function. If you enter two surnames, a heat map is generated showing a global location where you and your special someone would be most likely to meet.

Spoiler: it’s almost certainly not the local pub.

Users can also search names by areas and ethnicity.

forebears-freedman-worldAbove: A global search of the surname Freedman. Source: Forebears.


freedman-australiaAbove: A global search of the surname Freedman, showing localised data in Australia. Source: Forebears.


Project leader Professor Paul Longley said:  “The website is a quirky start of our research project which is looking into whether our surnames are linked to our geographical locations — something which has been long perceived.”

While the most common surnames in Australia are Smith, Jones, Williams, Brown and Wilson, the global number 1 spot is taken out by Wang, of which there are over 76.5 million, says Forebears.

Despite huge global growth in immigration over the past 100 years, Longley said most surnames have not moved far in distance.

What’s in a name? Check out the most attractive baby names. 

“What is interesting is that most individuals do not move far from their ancestral family homes and so, 700 or more years later, most names can still be associated with particular localities.

“This doesn’t work for all names, however. The geography of many popular family names (like Smith or Brown) is much more evenly spread, although even popular names like Jones, Williams or Davies still have strong regional connotations.

“With all the current focus on population migration, it is remarkable to see that most individuals and families stay put throughout the generations. As a consequence it is interesting to reflect that names are still often strong indicators of kinship and regional identity.”

And if you’re wondering how many relatives of America’s very own Donald Trump there are still out there, we’ve got some pretty good news for you. Apparently, all the Drumpfs are long gone.


Have a go on Forebears here.

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