Surname Distribution Maps and Migration

Surname distribution maps add a new and different dimension to a One-Name study.

A surname may well have it’s origins in one Country, and a map can provide an interesting insight to how migration can influence the geographic spread of a surname. Going a step further, historical events can influence migration which in turn can be identified using a distribution map.

Especially those of us researching European surnames, a map can be used to identify where to start. In Europe, excluding UK and Ireland, events are recorded in the town & village in which they occur. If you are researching and find a Census or passenger list which simply lists the Country of origin as the place of birth, that is helpful, but not going to break those brick walls down.


courtesy of

In my Italian family I have the surname of Virciglio. This map from shows where the surname appears in Italy and the Islands. As you can see it is not a name that is widespread, although it is reasonably popular in “my” bit of Sicily.

We know, because history tells us, that there was significant peaks of migration from Italy and in particular south of the mainland and the islands. Famine was widespread, the only way of having a reasonable life was to migrate to other Countries and one of those countries was the United States.

Virciglio USA

Courtesy of

Using another map from the same site shows the distribution for the same surname across the United States. This is especially helpful for the United States because, like Italy, records are held at local level, so I can discount all the states where there is no colour, at least initially.

Do surname distribution maps provide all the answers? – No, but they do provide scope for further research and considerations.

orlando Map

Courtesy of

That said, when I insert my Italian study surname into the website, the map looks like this which does not tell you anything beyond it is a popular surname and especially in the South and in Sicily.

There are a number of other surname distribution sites covering a number of other European Countries and there is a very useful Facebook Group too.

Don’t think that this site is not worth exploring if you are researching British surnames, a quick search of two Guild registered surnames, Butcher and Howes both produced a map, and whilst not the colour explosion of the Orlando map, certainly of interest nonetheless.

More details and information is covered in the Pharos Introduction to One-Name Studies course.

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How Big is my One-Name (Surname) Study?

Image courtesy of Unsplash

As the image here might suggest, you are going to need to think and write notes relating to the size of your potential One-Name Study, it is nothing complicated, I promise!

Not all surnames are equal and understanding the frequency of the surname will be determining factor. The more frequent a surname appears, then the bigger the study is going to be and the more time it will take to collect, analyse and organise. Now that does not mean it is out of your reach, it is simply a case of being aware of a variety of factors.

Whilst a large study is a challenge, they are, in the modern era very achievable. A fellow member of the Guild of One-Name Studies told me that it took him 10 years to collect all the instances of his surname from the General Registration Office indexes, that were originally held at St Catherine’s house in London. Now, thanks to sites like FreeBMD it is possible to download the data in a matter of minutes. You can access the indexes, but they are restricted to about six sites across England and Wales.

The study I mention has gone on to create a large database of about 77,000 instances of that particular surname, which is the Featherstone One-Name Study which began in the 1990’s. Another large study is that of the Howes One-Name Study, which began about 10 years ago and has circa 190,000 individuals in reconstructed families.

For a moment, lets turn our attention to surnames whose origins are England and Wales. To determine the frequency of those names, we would look see how many instances of the name occur in the 1881 Census.

  • 1-30 Tiny study
  • 30-300 Small study
  • 300 – 3,000 Medium study
  • 3,000 – 30,000 Large study
  • 30,000 – 300,000 Extra large study
  • >300,000 are huge studies such as Jones and Smith

For my Orlando One-Name Study, there are less than 300 in England and Wales, so that appears to be a small study, but the surname is an Italian one, with huge peaks of migration to other Countries. Look at the distribution map that I mentioned a few days ago.

Distribution of Surnames 2014 for Orlando and Butcher – Copyright Julie Goucher, 2020

For surnames in the United States turn to Ancestry and check the frequency of the surname there.

There are other considerations too, in the case of European surnames there will be peaks of mass migration caused by important aspects of European history.

There is a useful page on the Guild of One-Name Studies website about choosing a surname and about the size of a study. In fact you can see the numbers relating to the Orlando, Featherstone and Howes studies, so it is worth reading and you can do so here.

Why not consider the surnames of your four Grandparents – would they be suitable as One-Name Studies? And if not, why not? – Go on, leave a comment or write about it on you own blog and leave the URL below.

More details and information is covered in the Pharos Introduction to One-Name Studies course.

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Why have a One-Name (Surname) Study?

Image created Julie Goucher, 2020 using

As any genealogist or family historian will tell you there are always more questions than answers and always a burning obsession to find out more, even if the odds are against a successful search.

There are a variety of reasons for researching a surname, here are just a few:

  • General curiosity about a specific surname.
  • General curiosity about surnames in general, or surnames from a specific region
  • Where does the surname come from?
  • My name is “foreign”, how, when and why did it get here?
  • Spellings of different surnames and are they related?
  • An attempt to demolish a genealogical brick wall.
  • By collecting all the references to a given name, it means that you do not necessarily miss your elusive ancestor.
  • …….the list is endless; and there is no right or wrong answers.

More than likely you will have already started your surname research before you become aware of the concept and before you have considered the basic foundations for a study.

What are the foundations? well here are a few things to consider:

  • Seek to understand the history of the surname
    • Where did it come from?
    • Why did it come here (wherever here is)?
    • What does it mean?
    • How big might my study be?
  • What do you want to achieve by undertaking your study?
    • It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a firm idea, but begin thinking about it.

More details and information is covered in the Pharos Introduction to One-Name Studies course.

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What is a One-Name or Surname Study?

Created by Julie Goucher 2019

The next Pharos Introduction to One-Name Studies course will begin on 31 May 2022 and won’t run again this year.

I thought that  some people might be wondering what a One-Name study is.

Essentially it is a project which focus’ on a single surname, regardless of any connection between people bearing the same name. If the surname is registered with the Guild of One-Name Studies then there is a commitment to aspire to research the surname globally.

Over the years, a number of people have said they find that too challenging, and I have a number of things to reassure. The Guild does not assert any pressure on the study registrant – there is no time span, you work on your study at your own pace.

Global Considerations:

  • Depend on the size of the study
  • Access to records – not everything is online
  • Time commitment from the registrant

I have three studies registered, one I am about to pass to my husband as that relates to his family. That is fairly small, even on a global scale. Certainly in England and Wales it is very regional – predominately in the Counties of Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire, Essex and Yorkshire. Even in the United States there appears to be relatively few instances of the surname.

My two studies that relate to my own family represent the surnames of my parents. One is an occupational name and it is a medium to large study, the other is for an Italian surname. From an assessment of English records, it appears to be a reasonably small study. I said appears to be, because the reality is, in Italy and not surprising the United States the surname is very popular and that means it is another medium to large study.

So I have essentially two large studies that represent my parental families. Over the coming months I will share bits about the studies but the reality is, the few items I have listed above will influence how quick you leave one Country and move to another. If you start your research in the United States it might take you ten years to leave the US because of the availability of records or the amount of records or perhaps both of those elements come into play.

Have a look at the website Forebears and insert your surname of interest and your email address and a map of the world will populate and that will give you an idea of where your surname appears.

Here is the map for the distribution for my two One-Name Studies – Butcher and Orlando. This is based on data for 2014 as that was the only year where both surnames were illustrated clearly.

Distribution of Surnames 2014 for Orlando and Butcher – Copyright Julie Goucher 2020

Both studies are definitely global with the majority for:

ORLANDO name appearing in: Italy, Argentina, Australia, United States, Canada, India and through parts of Europe.

BUTCHER name appearing in the UK, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United States and parts of South America, parts of Europe including Russia.

Apart from being a surname research project, it is a wonderfully interesting way to add dimension to your family history and genealogical pursuits.

For more details, and to register please visit the Introduction to One-Name Studies course page on the Pharos website

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Guild of One-Name Studies Regional Meeting – Spring 2022

Created by Julie Goucher using

Announcing Regional Reps Spring meeting for the Guild of One-Name Studies. Each quarter there will be two meeting choices which hopefully enables Reps from various parts of the globe to join.

Meeting 1 – Saturday 28th May 2022 at 10am London UK time

Meeting 2 – Monday 30th May 2022 at 7pm London UK time

The link for the meeting has been sent to Reps via email.

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Non-British Surnames – Finnish Surnames

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Those coming from the west of Finland typically have Swedish-Finnish surnames, with those coming from the east of the country have origins inline with Latvian or Estonian descent.

Finland gained independence from Russia in 1917 and it was in 1921 that legislation directed everyone to have a surname. Up until then people just used their given name as their communities were generally small.

Once mandatory surnames was introduced, many chose surnames that were occupational names. For example, Suutari is Shoemaker.

There are also plenty of Topographical surnames, generally indicative of where someone was living, for example – Aarnio means pristine forest. As many people chose this option the use of suffixes and prefixes became necessary. Those that lived higher in a community (up a hill for an example) added Yia or Yli to the end of the name. Those that lived lower down the hill or valley added Ala or Ali

The most common suffix is that of nen, originally indicating someone was from the east of Finland. It quite literally means small, though sometimes it is used to mean son, for example – Hanninen, Small son of Jonannes. On occasions the name refers to the place the family originated from, for example Ahonen means small forest glade or clearing.

The second most common name in Finland is Virtanen meaning small stream or river, and was often used by families whose settlement was literally near a river. Further exploration could be to explore the rivers in Finland to gain an understanding of where those rivers were, the topographical details of those places and then to drill down further to see if the place is a reasonable starting point for research.

Hamalainen was the surname adopted by those who came from the Hame district of south west Finland, north of Helsinki – a Topographical name. The surname of Heikkinen is means son of Heikki which is the equivalent name to Harry, meaning ruler of the estate, or household.  The potential is for this to be the Finnish equivalent to the son of the Lord of the Manor –  a Patronymic name. The name of Jarvinen which means a small lake indicating a family that lived close to a lake. It might be a tall order establishing which lake, Finland has 188,000 lakes! Again this is a Topographical surname. Laine is the Finnish word for wave or ocean, suggesting a family originated from a coastal area – a Topographical surname. An alternative could be a Characteristic surname – of someone who laid back, essentially going with the flow. It is a different spin on the surname, and whilst I would not discount it, I would opt for the first meaning.

There are approximately 24,000 surnames in Finland with a population of 5.5 million. The image below is a population density map which is identifying the spread of the population across the country. The darker the colour the more population there is living in the area. Whilst it is not an absolute way of working on your Finnish ancestry, it gives you an idea of the location of places in Finland and how densely populated a place was, thus providing context to your research.

Courtesy of Wikipedia – used with permission

This post is part of the A-Z Challenge. It is also part of my Surname Series 2022 and for those want to focus on Non-British Surnames click HERE. You can also find more surname posts HERE.

Posted in A-Z Challenge 2022 - Non-British Surnames, Finland, Non-British Surnames, One-Name Studies | 3 Comments

Non-British Surnames – Ecuadorian Surnames

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Following the arrival of the Spanish, the culture of Ecuador consolidated and moved towards Roman Catholic conversion.

Somewhere between 40-50% of the population is identified at MESTIZC, which is a blend of Indigenous and Spanish genes.

The official language is Spanish and there are two significant indigenous languages:

  1. QUECHUA – The language of the Inca’s which was prevalent in Ecuador prior to the Spanish settling.
  2. SHUAR – The language of the Indigenous people of Peru and Ecuador, members of the JIVAROAN who are an Amazonian tribe.

Surnames in Ecuador have a mix of origins – Spanish, Basque, Latin, Greek, Arabic, Italian and even Gaelic. In the rest of this post I will share some examples:

Name Surname Type Information,  Details or Meaning Origin
Alvarez Patronymic Son of Alvaro Spanish
Aguilor Occupational Hunter of eagles Basque
Castro Topographical Castle Latin
Cruz Topographical Cross Latin
Figueroa Occupational Seller and creator of statuettes Spanish
Hernadez Patronymic Son of Hernan Spanish
Herrera Topographical Iron mine Spanish
Lema Characteristic Eye Arabic
Molina Topographical Mill Latin
Molina Occupational Mill Latin
Mora Characteristic Dark skin Latin
Moran More Gaelic
Palma Topographical Someone from Palma Italian
Perez Patronymic Son of Pero Spanish
Ruiz Patronymic Son of Roderick Spanish
Sarmiento Occupational Grapevine Spanish
Sarmiento Topographical Grapevine (or someone from the town of the same name in Argentina Spanish
Vega Topographical Lives on the plain Spanish
Vaca Occupational Means cow Spanish

The range of surname types is consistent with other countries, likely the most common is Patronymic, indicating the son of…. In the case of illegitimate children, the child often takes the Patronymic format of his maternal grandfather.

Some surnames are in surname groups where it is easy to establish the type, if we look at the examples above there are some obvious Topographical ones, such as, Palma, Vega and Molina. Yet, some surnames are perhaps a reference to a location and another surname type. In this instance, Molina could also be an Occupational name, in this case, Mill is actually a reference to a Miller.

Traditionally in Ecuador, a father’s last name is taken as an individuals first last name and then uses their mother’s last name as the second last name, thus connecting the child to both parents and their cultural heritage. – used with permission

This post is part of the A-Z Challenge. It is also part of my Surname Series 2022 and for those want to focus on Non-British Surnames click HERE. You can also find more surname posts HERE.

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Non-British Surnames – Dutch Surnames

Courtesy of Wikipedia

The use of surnames in the Netherlands occurs in what I describe in three distinctive ‘waves’

  • Pre 1800 a name was used by some men which related to their place of origin or occupation, especially if this occupation had run across several generations. This was so you could distinguish one Johan from other, though it was not the norm.
  • Usage of surnames from around 1800, which was much later than other European countries. We now see people using a loose Patronymic structure where it was using the name of the father, and essentially the name changed each generation and this was the usual way people were identified from one another.
  • Mandatory surnames from 1811 following instructions from Napoleon Bonaparte.

Many Dutch surnames have a prefix, these are:

  • Van – of
  • Ter – at
  • Van der – the

Some example are:

  • De Groot – this becomes Degroot in databases
  • Van der Bilt – this becomes Vanderbilt

In Dutch indexes the prefix is ignored, whereas in the UK this can be recorded as Degroot as in the Netherlands or De Groot and therefore under D.

Having become mandatory from 1811 everyone was required to select a name that was to be permanent for the family. Here is the details of surname types selected by the Dutch population:

  • Patronymic Surnames – Many took this option as it was likely to have been in some use previously.
  • Occupation Surnames – This was probably the second most popular option selected – here are a few examples
    • Koek translates to cookie and was often used by bakers
    • Balk translates to beam and likely selected by someone was a carpenter
    • Timmerman also translates to carpenter
    • Slager translates to Butcher
    • Boer translates to farmer
  • Geographic Surnames
    • Name of town of origin
    • Name of a feature or landmark
    • Names ending in:
      • ink – likely to be from Overijssel
      • ing – likely to be from Drenthe
      • inc – likely to be from Gelderland
      • inga, ma or stra – likely to have originated in Friesland
    • Where the name relates to a building, farm, or road for example it might be possible with the use of a map to locate the actual building or location and perhaps identify, with some research the individual who first adopted the name.
  • Surnames based on nicknames or Characteristics – Based upon fact or perhaps ironic – examples
    •  fat translates to vet
    • skinny translates to mager
    • red hair translates to rood haar (name likely to be roodhaar)
  • Surnames given to Foundlings – Names might be given as
    • Zondernaam which translates to without name or they might have been given the name of the place where they were found. Registration might also be written as Int’veld which means in the field

Many thought this was to be a temporary requirement, or only to be used in official situations, and chose names that were funny – used with permission

This post is part of the A-Z Challenge. It is also part of my Surname Series 2022 and for those want to focus on Non-British Surnames click HERE. You can also find more surname posts HERE.

Posted in A-Z Challenge 2022 - Non-British Surnames, European Ancestors, Genealogy, Non-British Surnames, One-Name Studies, The Netherlands | 2 Comments

Non-British Surnames – Croatian Surnames

Courtesy of Wikipedia

The history of the people of Croatia is complex and that follows through to the naming structure. There is also some commonality with surnames in other countries, and in particular with the countries that once made up the former Yugoslavia.

Because of these complexities,  I have made a note to explore Croatian surnames more fully in the future, and provide a much shorter than it deserves post.

To advance researching in Croatia it is important to grasp a few underpinning factors:

  • How names are pronounced
  • How names are composed
  • Meaning of names
  • Factors that relate to regional surnames

Importantly there surnames that are region specific which is very important clue if you have no idea of the town the family came from.  A common surname is that of Horvat which is concentrated in the region of a small territory, one that belonged at one time to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire.

Many Croats in Mountain Kotory have the largest number of surnames with endings such as ets, ats and sh.  In Slavonia the form ich and ac are prevailing.

In particular this area has changed it’s borders, ruling governance and much else, that in turn impacts the names and how far those names might have migrated even within Europe, with overlap between the countries of the former Yugoslavia, Russia, Poland and Ukraine.

Whilst our research works from ourselves back to our ancestors, surnames change as do locations,and in this instance I recommend understanding the region your ancestors came from, because that contextual information will enable you to move forward. – used with permission

This post is part of the A-Z Challenge. It is also part of my Surname Series 2022 and for those want to focus on Non-British Surnames click HERE. You can also find more surname posts HERE.

Posted in A-Z Challenge 2022 - Non-British Surnames, Croatia, European Ancestors, Non-British Surnames, One-Name Studies | Leave a comment

Non-British Surnames – Belgian Surnames

Flag of Belgium – courtesy of Wikipedia

Belgium is a country of 10 million people which use approximately 190,000 surnames, of which the most common is Peeters.

Typical surnames in Belgium have various linguistic origins, from

  • French
  • Dutch/Flemish
  • German

Surnames fall into the following categories:

Patronymic names – these work in the same way as Anglo Saxon names, an ‘s’ added to the name, for example Jacobs or Peeters, sometimes there is a double ‘ss’ like in the name Janssen. Some names have an ‘x’ added to the name, if it ends with an ‘k’ such as Hendrickx . There are also French equivalents, without any additional letters, such as Michel, spelt the same way for a surname as a given name.

Older names, those from the 16th Century or earlier and sounding more Germanic, might have the suffix of mart, such as in the name of Jamart. Also linking in here is names that derive from a nickname of a Patronymic name, such as Jacquard from the name of Jacques, or Pirotte from Pierre; about 50% of the top 100 names belong in this category.

Geographical names – A place of origin is indicated as van in Dutch or de (sometimes du) in French, meaning from or of. Some names are indicative of surroundings or a generic place, such as from a mountainous area which is Vanden Bergh in Flemish or Dumont in French. Similarly, woods/forest is Vandenbosch in Flemish and Dubois in French. Flemish names beginning van der might be shortened as ver for example in Vermeersch.

Noble names, linked to a village aligned to a Fiefdom – Many surnames are the same as a hamlet, village, town, city or even a regional name in the Benelux of France. These likely mean the family was of noble origin and ruled lands in that area during the Medieval period.

Roots of the Belgian nobility are from the Holy Roman Empire and the Kingdom of France, and also influenced by the Habsburgian nobility system. The oldest Belgian noble family is probably the Limburg Strum family whose origins date from approximately 866, with the current spelling prevalent from the 13th century. Many families can trace their heritage back to the time of Charlemagne. There are about 20,000 noble people in Belgium belonging to 1300 families, of which 400 are of old nobility, predating the French Revolution.

Names typically have a prefix – de, de la, du, le in French, or van, van der, van den, de, t, or ter in Dutch. Intermarrying between noble families often results in a compound or hybrid naming structure.

Occupational names – Names such as Timmerman (Dutch) or Carpentier (French) translate to the name of Carpenter; or De Bakker (Dutch) and Boulanger (French) translates to Baker.

Descriptive names

    • Physical attributes – surnames such as De Groot (Dutch) or Legros (French) translates to big or fat; or De Lange (Dutch) or Legrand (French) translates to tall.
    • Country origins – some are indicative of a country that the name bearer hailed from, this could be Lallemond which translates to the German in French, or Lerusse translating to the Russian in French.

Many Walloon names have Medieval German origins and end in art or ard.

Variant of another name – The name of Jacques probably includes the name of Jaques, Jacquard. Depending on patterns of migration and the circumstances, the name might even have become anglicised and become the name of Jacks.

I did a very quick search on FreeBMD (, by way of an example. I searched just for the surnames below, did not specify a type (Births, Marriages and Deaths), nor did I specify a county or region.

  • JACQUES – 31,766
  • JAQUES – 20,243
  • JACKS – 7,384
  • JACS – nil results

This is by no means a true indication, but I am sure you get the idea. I also did not try any other names, but I do have one in mind for when I get the chance.

Names introduced to the country by migration

To explore Belgian surnames click HERE – used with permission

This post is part of the A-Z Challenge. It is also part of my Surname Series 2022 and for those want to focus on Non-British Surnames click HERE. You can also find more surname posts HERE.

Posted in A-Z Challenge 2022 - Non-British Surnames, Belgium, European Ancestors, Genealogy, Non-British Surnames, Surnames Series 2022 | Leave a comment