What's in a name? Y chromosomes, surnames and the genetic genealogy revolution

Trends Genet. 2009 Aug;25(8):351-60. doi: 10.1016/j.tig.2009.06.003. Epub 2009 Aug 7.


Heritable surnames are highly diverse cultural markers of coancestry in human populations. A patrilineal surname is inherited in the same way as the non-recombining region of the Y chromosome and there should, therefore, be a correlation between the two. Studies of Y haplotypes within surnames, mostly of the British Isles, reveal high levels of coancestry among surname cohorts and the influence of confounding factors, including multiple founders for names, non-paternities and genetic drift. Combining molecular genetics and surname analysis illuminates population structure and history, has potential applications in forensic studies and, in the form of 'genetic genealogy', is an area of rapidly growing interest for the public.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chromosomes, Human, Y / genetics*
  • Cultural Diversity
  • Genealogy and Heraldry*
  • Genetic Variation
  • Humans
  • Names*
  • Pedigree*
  • United Kingdom