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DNA Testing – What’s In A Name?


To what extent does your surname indicate your cultural identity? Recent DNA testing reveals genetic evidence that suggests it is far from straightforward.

DNA Testing and Cultural Identity

A recent study published in the European Journal of Human Genetics revealed how DNA testing can overturn ideas of cultural identity that had previously taken for granted. There are some names within British culture, such as Smith, Jones or Ramsbottom, that are taken as distinctly ‘British’ but the Leicester University study showed that DNA testing revealed one well-known Yorkshire surname carries a genetic signature previously found only in African people.

It’s In Your Genes

Professor Bryan Sykes at the University of Oxford found several years ago that a surname can be written in your genes. The research published in the American Journal of Human Genetics showed that DNA testing revealed a link between the surname and distinctive DNA. This suggests that people who share a surname may share a single male ancestor.

Men Only

The study could only involve men as the DNA testing works on the Y chromosome, which is genetic material normally found only in males. The Y chromosome is more or less unchanged as it gets passed down from father to son. These Y chromosomes can be grouped into ‘haplogroups’ which reflect the man’s geographical ancestry.

DNA Testing and Haplogroups

During DNA testing scientists stumbled accidentally upon a Yorkshire white man who carries this rare Y chromosome haplogroup, previously found only in black African men. After performing DNA testing on other Yorkshire men sharing the same surname they discovered that, out of the eighteen men tested, seven carried the rare African haplogroup.

Yorkshire Clan Linked To Africa

DNA testing revealed that these Yorkshire residents who held the same surname carried a genetic signature linking them to a common ancestor in the 18th Century, but that the African DNA lineage could reach centuries into the past.

No Such Thing As ‘Pure’ Race

This casts doubt on traditional thinking that British names originated only from white Anglo-Saxon roots. It also shows that there is no such thing as a ‘pure’ race, challenging many racist ideols. DNA testing proves that some white British people have black African ancestry. DNA testing and scientific study such as this reveals that Britain is composed of a complex patchwork of cultures and that what it really means to be British is complicated. Human migration is always complex, particularly for island nations.

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