The Guild of One-Name Studies

A One-Name Study (ONS) is a project researching all occurrences of a surname, as opposed to a particular pedigree (ancestors of one person) or descendancy (descendants of one person or couple).

A one-name study may concentrate on aspects such as geographical distribution of the name and the changes in that distribution over the centuries, or it may attempt to reconstruct the genealogy of the lines bearing the surname. A frequent aspiration is to identify a single place of origin for the name, especially if the name appears to derive from a place name.  However, for many names – for example those indicating an occupation like Butcher, or a patronymic-type surname such as Peterson – there will not be a single origin.  Some one-namers also run an associated DNA surname project to assist with the analysis of origins.

The objective of a one-name study is not just the collection of data; collection is a means to an end. A one-name study aims to research the genealogy and family history of all persons with a given surname (and its variants). As part of this, it attempts to ascertain such things as:

  • The origin of the name or early references
  • The name’s meaning: is it patronymic, topographical, toponymic, occupational, etc? Or a mix of these? (See Surnames for more information on this.)
  • Relative frequency
  • Distribution in geography and time
  • Patterns of immigration and emigration
  • Name variants and “deviants” (see Variants and deviants)

Reconstructing families – that is, assembling all the people with the given surname into pedigrees – is not a required part of a one-name study, although most researchers do do this as part of their study. This is dependent on the availability of vital records and census records in the country or countries where the name exists.  A Guild registered name is expected to be studied using a worldwide approach – following the five principles of one-name studies accepted by Guild members – even though it is recognised that the difference in ready accessibility of data across countries may limit what it is possible to achieve.

One-name studies registered with the Guild are global in scope, although they can be organised in any way that suits the registrant, and undertaken to any timeframe. It is recognised that  studies will typically start from a place or country and will expand in scope, as time allows, with the objective of achieving global coverage.