Gathan Beaga

surname profiler

In the last Sunday Star Times there was an interesting article about geographical mapping of British surnames.

A team of researchers have been calculating the relative frequency of surnames over geographical areas in Britain. And apparently all this is now on the web.

It took a while, but I hunted out the website here (although I could have saved myself some time by locating the original UK Sunday Times article instead), where you can enter any surname and find its geographical distribution, both in 1998 and back in 1881.

Pushed all my buttons: geographical mapping; large data sets; and of some personal interest, as I found when I entered my own name.

So it turns out that the place in the UK where you will find the highest percentage of Macdougalls in the local population is… (no real surprise) the Western Isles and Argyll. And this was more or less the same in 1881. This pattern is quite common: that locally frequent names, despite emigration and immigration; land use changes and urbanisation; and population growth, tend in Britain to stay locally frequent. So it’s quite an interesting possible indicator of which part of the Old Country your ancestors may have originally come from.

And then there’s the socio-economic stuff which suggests my Scots cousins are not exactly well-off, likely to be living in a socio-geographical grouping which the researchers have titled Sharing a Staircase:

Sharing a Staircase neighbourhoods are mostly found in the West of Scotland and have among the worst social and housing conditions in the UK. These neighbourhoods are characterised by very cramped flats, typically contained in blocks of four storeys, which were often built to very low standards.

There’s a lot more in the complete description. It’s not pretty.

On the other hand, and fairly contradictorily, the research also says that there are less than 3% of people in the UK with a higher status name. Who knows.

There’s also some frequency comparisons with other countries: the numbers of Macdougalls per million (great statistic, eh?) is broadly similar across Britain (57), Australia (51), and New Zealand (51). But in Canada it’s 456 per million, pointing to the heavy and often forced immigration to Canada from Scotland and the Western Isles in particular.

Meanwhile, those victims of misspelling, the McDougalls, are a different story again.

Anyway, give the site a go. Hours of interest there.