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Two actors from the History Channel series “Vikings.”

Survey Shows About Half of Brits Wish They Were Descended from Vikings…and Many Probably Are!

If you’re from the British Isles, do you ever wonder if you’re a descendant of the marauding Vikings known sometimes to rape and pillage far from home and other times to set up settlements and intermarry?

If your surname or your mother’s ancestors’ last name ends in –son or –sen, the chances are pretty good that your ancestors may have come across the sea from Scandinavia in the Viking era—from the late 8th century to mid-11th centuries.

Other names that indicate possible Viking or Scandinavian ancestry include Rogers or Rogerson, Rendall, MacAulay, McLeod, or McIvor, says a story about Viking name history on DailyMail.com.

Danes invading England. From "Miscellany on the life of St. Edmund," 12th century.

Danes invading England. From "Miscellany on the life of St. Edmund," 12th century. ( Public Domain )

That being said, the chance that you’re of Viking ancestry also depends a lot on what part of the British Isles you’re from. The islands, especially the Orkneys and Shetlands, have many people with Scandinavian ancestry. Ireland, Wales, and southern England were thought to have relatively few.

Orkney and Shetland have many people with Scandinavian names from the Viking era, including Linklater, Flett, Halcro, Heddle, and Scarth

Vikings in the 9th century, by Evariste-Vital_Luminais.

Vikings in the 9th century, by Evariste-Vital_Luminais. ( Public Domain )

Medieval archaeologist Alexandra Sanmark with the Centre for Nordic Studies, University of the Highlands and Islands, did a survey along with researchers from the TV channel HISTORY that shows that surnames linked to Viking settlers are in people’s imaginations.

Whatever their true ancestry, 56 percent of the survey’s respondents say they would like to find out that they are of Viking blood. And researchers estimate there is a pretty good chance that British people are descended from Vikings, as millions of them are known to have Scandinavian ancestry.

The survey found that nearly 1 in 3 Brits think they could trace their ancestry back to Scandinavia’s Vikings—which some think of as heroes and others as rogues.

Diorama with Vikings at Archaeological Museum in Stavanger, Norway.

Diorama with Vikings at Archaeological Museum in Stavanger, Norway. ( CC BY SA 4.0 )

Dr. Sanmark said :

“Vikings in Britain can be traced through archaeological evidence, such as burials, place-names, DNA studies, Scandinavian influence on the English language. The people of the Viking Age did not have family names, but instead used the system of patronymics, where the children were named after their father, or occasionally their mother. So, for example the son of Ivar would be given their own first name and then in addition ‘Ivar's son.’ A daughter would be Ivar's daughter.”

The Daily Mail provides a prominent example from a 13th century saga of Iceland that is about the Viking Age. It names Egil Skallagrimsson. He was the son of a man named Skalla-Grim. This is the way the people of Iceland are still named today. In the rest of Scandinavia, this pattern has been abandoned. Instead people use family names, as they do in the United Kingdom.

“People of the Viking Age would often have a descriptive nickname , for example two of the Earls of Orkney who were known as Sigurd the Stout and Thorfill Skullsplitter,” says Dr, Sanmark . Also, personal characteristics sometimes were incorporated into Viking names, including Lover, Good, Short, Wise, and Long.

The History Channel series “Vikings”, Part 4, tells the story of a power struggle for the Viking throne. (History Channel photo: Jonathan Hession)

Moreover, the survey of 2,000 people found that many British people are clueless about the Vikings. In fact, 20 percent didn’t even know Vikings were from Scandinavia. And 10 percent think the Viking Age happened much later, mistakenly thinking from the 15th to 18th centuries. Another 25 percent did not know the Vikings attacked the British Isles, instead thinking they raided South America.

As science progress, and DNA traces are becoming more common-place, more and more people are delving into the origins of their ancestry. For example, it was widely assumed that the genetic contribution of Vikings to the Irish was relatively small, with just a few surviving surnames as their legacy, such as McAuliff, Groarke, Mag Ruairc, McBirney, Reynolds, and Mac Raghnall. But a rigorous study conducted by the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin in December, 2017, revealed that the Vikings’ genetic contribution to Irish DNA had been largely underestimated. Their research pieced together a ‘DNA atlas’ using the genetics of 536 Irish men and women. Their results turned up a “surprising level” of Norwegian related ancestry, predominately from counties on the north or western coasts of Norway, where Norse Viking activity originated from. Now, like the Brits, many Irish are seeking to trace their DNA, in the hope of finding something exciting in their family past – like a little touch of Viking. 

Top image: Two actors from the History Channel series “Vikings.”. Source: History Channel

By Mark Miller

Comments

I think there is a lot of truth to high percentages of British blood in Norsemen and vice-versa. Om my father's side, both of my grandparents were from coastal Denmark with Viking roots. None of my family members are from Britain, my Mother's family are mostly of French and Greco-Italian descent. When I took the Ancestry DNA test, it came back that I have 30% British ancestry. It could be possible that many of my ancestors were captives or willing companions of the Vikings. It certainly piqued my curiosity when I saw the high British content and much lower [18%] Scandinavian content. The factors from my Mother's side of my heritage were well within expected parameters.

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