BACK TO Knowledge Base

What’s in a Name? A DNA Test will Tell You


DNA Testing and Cultural Identity

A recent study in the European Journal of Human Genetics revealed how DNA testing can overturn notions of cultural identity previously taken for granted. There are some names in the British culture like Smith, Jones or Ramsbottom that seem distinctly ‘British’. As British as fish and chips, right? But the Leicester University study published in the Journal, showed testing revealed one Yorkshire surname (kept secret for the men’s anonymity) carries a genetic signature previously found only in African people.

Written In Your Genes

Professor Bryan Sykes at the University of Oxford discovered in 2000 that a surname can be written in your genes. The research published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, showed that DNA testing revealed there was a link between the surname and distinctive DNA. This indicates that people sharing a surname may share a single male ancestor.

DNA Testing – Men Only

Only men could be part of the study, as the analysis takes place using the Y chromosome – genetic material normally found only in males. The Y chromosome is passed down from father to son more or less unchanged. Y chromosomes can be grouped into ‘haplogroups’ which reflect the man’s geographical ancestry.


During testing, the scientists stumbled by accident upon the Yorkshire white man who carries this rare Y chromosome haplogroup, previously found only in black African men. After undertaking the test on other Yorkshire men sharing the same surname, they discovered out of the 18 men tested, seven carried the rare African haplogroup.

DNA Testing Links Yorkshire Clan To Africa

DNA testing revealed that the Yorkshire clan with the same surname carried a genetic signature that linked them to a common ancestor in the 18th Century, but the African DNA lineage could span back centuries.

No Such Thing As ‘Pure’ Race

This throws a spanner into the traditional thinking that British names originated in white Anglo-Saxon roots. It also shows that there is no such thing as a ‘pure’ race – challenging many racist ideologies. 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 mosaic of cultures, and what it means to be British is complicated. Human migration is always complex, particularly for island nations.

This website uses cookies to give you a better user experience. By using this website or closing this message, you are agreeing to our Cookies notice
Skip to toolbar