As the description of the Chronology of Shetland, and the data from the Research
Studies sections of this site have clearly shown, the history and heritage of the Shetland
Islands is closely intertwined with that of the nearby (but closer to the Scottish
Mainland) Orkney Islands.  Both were key elements in the Earldom of Orkney and
passed from the hands of rulers in Norway to those in Scotland in 1469 and 1468
respectively.  The records indicate that it was not long for some Scots to "set up shop"
in Orkney before the end of the 15th century.  Over the succeeding years they came in
increasing numbers to Orkney, and in a stepping stone fashion then to Shetland.  In
other words after 1469 those with Scottish surnames moved either directly from the
Scottish Mainland, or, more commonly it would seem, via those who had been born in
Orkney but were of Mainland descent.  By the 1500s the surname Sinclair was very
common in Caithness on the Mainland, as well as in Orkney and in Shetland.

The weight of evidence appears to support the contention that there were two primary
classes of surnames in Shetland and Orkney post 1468.

1)  SCOTTISH  - those whose origins were in Mainland Scotland and whose name could
be categorized into various categories such as occupational (e.g., Smith), patronymic
(e.g., Wilson), and place names (e.g., Leask), and other (e.g., Bain which means "fair"
in Gaelic).  Presumably most of the emigrants from the Mainland would have been
primarily of Celtic (including Pictish) stock, plus some of Anglo - Saxon or Norman
ancestry.  A smaller number would possibly have been descendants of the Viking
raiders and settlers reflecting their settlement patterns in the northern Mainland (as
seen on the map in the section on Research Studies).  None the less, they would have
born names that we would today term (and what George F. Black who wrote, "The
Surnames of Scotland" would also agree were) Scottish.

2)  ABORIGINAL - those whose origins predated the arrival of immigrants from the
Scottish Mainland.  There is a remote possibility that some native Pict occupants of
both Orkney and Shetland survived the Viking raids and merged with those of Norse
descent.  Many, including Dr. Jim Wilson whose work has been discussed in the
Research Studies section, and is co-administrator of the present Project, opt for the
"elimination of all Pict males" possibility (leaving open the likelihood that the women
were captured and given the opportunity to become wives of the incoming Norse).  
What is striking, however, is that whether a few male Picts survived the Viking
onslaught or not, the aboriginal surnames of Orkney and Shetland are significantly

    a)  ORKNEY - In his PNAS paper cited earlier, Dr. Wilson separated the Scottish
and "aboriginal" surnames in order to analyze the Celtic and Norse components of
Orkney.  As expected those with Scottish surnames were likely to have Celtic (Hg1,
R1b) DNA haplotypes; whereas those with aboriginal names tended to have Norse
(Hg2, I and Hg3, R1a) DNA haplotypes.  Since the term "aboriginal" was not defined
in the paper, Dr. Wilson has clarified that by this term he meant those with "place"
surnames - virtually all of which are Norse (e.g., Isbister).  He did not include the "son"
names since in Orkney there is less clarity as to their origins.

    b)  SHETLAND - There do not appear to be any "place" surnames in Shetland that
did not originate in Orkney.  Shetland received a significant flow of immigrants with
Scottish surnames from Orkney, and many Aboriginal Orkney names are also
represented.  However, an aboriginal name in Shetland would appear to almost
invariably carry the suffix "son" - entirely different from Orkney whose history from
the earliest days of Viking settlement is almost indistinguishable from that of Shetland.
To Project Data
Examples of Scottish and Aboriginal
Surnames of Orkney and Shetland
with Statistical Information on the
Surnames that Occur Most