Is your Surname registered?

Our 2,744 members have registered
2,396 study surnames with us
and a further 6,089 variant names.

Getting started – variants


In this section we are going to look at

  1. what is a variant?
  2. How you determine variants?
  3. Factors that might drive a variant into existence
  4. What to do if you are contemplating a One-Name Study

A variant is a common spelling that occurs for a specific surname. People have written long articles about variant spellings and below we just intend to give a flavour of the subject and then refer you to somewhere where you can read more if you want.

Sometimes the variations in a surname will have been influenced by a first name. Families often pass down a first name to later descendants, say grand children being named after their Grandfather; this could result in there being multiple individuals in the same extended family with the same given name. A way of determining one Individual over another had to be established which could result in some of the descendants changing a letter in the surname, ultimately changing the name, or by adding a letter, say Brown becomes Browne.

Long ago, people didn’t care as much about spelling as we do today.  Sometimes you can even see the same name written multiple different ways in the same document when it is clear that all references were to the same person. Some of these persisted over time. A particular surname’s spelling may have become standardized one way in one area and another way in a different area.

Also there are considerations of accents, which in the past were often stronger and more locally variable than today: how a name was heard when the person speaking the name had a strong regional accent, or the one listening to it did, or both did, may have influenced the spelling. There are of course other possibilities of how a surname variation might come into existence.  Accepted wisdom is that over time, vowel sounds change, but consonants do not.

And then there is just plain bad handwriting, interpreted differently by subsequent readers and writers.  The Italian surname of Orlando is also registered as with variants Orlanda and Orlande because in handwritten script they could easily be and have been misinterpreted. 

The surnames we research are not undertaken in isolation of other issues and elements. During a time frame where a typically non-British name might become unpopular, say during war time families might make alternations to their surname, eg, Schmidt changing to Smith, or Saxe-Coburg to Windsor, though both of these are different enough that they are really different surnames entirely. Similarly, a family might move location and change the surname from Orlando to Orland. The surname Orland is not currently registered and instances of the name are not routinely sought but they are considered as possible variants of Orlando when they occur.

One further consideration in relation to the surname of Orlando is that it is an Italian form of Roland, has the surname perhaps then become Rowland? 

Something to always consider is the Anglicization of a name, this might be more relevant to first names, such as Giuseppe becoming Joseph or Jo, but what if a Giuseppe Orlando became Joseph Rowland or Roland? Are they different people, a coincidence or the same people hoping to fit into a life in a new Country.

Lesson 1: always keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to incorporate a hypothesis into your study

In terms of the name Ruby, variations to the surname could be Rubi, Rubbi, Rubbie and Rubie, Roubaix (possibly from the French city) or possibly even Rubio!

When it comes to deciding whether to register variants you have a choice of whether to register or not.  We suggest: 

  • If you have good data on the size of the variants and the total study size is still doable, then by all means register it/them.
  • If data on the variant is not readily available, don’t register it initially, but keep it in mind for the future, for instance, if you come to the conclusion that Rubi is the same name as Ruby.

Lesson 2: The Guild defines surnames by spelling.  If you find that many people named Ruby, come from a land where the spelling is Rubie, you do not have to study Rubie unless you want to, but you do have to study all the Ruby’s once they choose that name!

Once you have become a Guild member you can read more on the topic of variants at the Guild webpage –

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