The Islands and Her People

The Shetland Islands are a rugged to gently undulating, generally
treeless,  windswept chain of islands in the North Atlantic whose
climate is moderated by ocean currents.

It is believed that the first humans to settle on the Shetland
Islands arrived about 6000 years ago.  The Picts were residing
there at the time of the Roman occupation of Britain,  and are
likely responsible for the building of the many brochs (stone tower
- castles) dotted across the islands.  Although the first Norse
settlers may have arrived as early as AD 600, it was during the era
of Viking expansion, the 800s, which saw waves of settlers arrive
primarily from the western coast of Norway. It is not known at
present what happened to the original Pictish  peoples who were
living there at the time (if in fact the Islands were then occupied).  
They may have been a vanquished and eliminated foe, or neighbors
who eventually merged into the Norse population.  Linguistic
evidence (lack of any but Norse place names) supports the former
hypothesis - however, since to date the archaeological evidence is
equivocal, we must turn to DNA evidence to seek answers to this
vexing question.

In 1469 Norway gave control of the Shetland Islands to Scotland,
and soon Scottish ministers, lairds, and merchants came to the
island shores to settle and ultimately blend with the Norse
population (who were largely fishermen, and crofters on small
parcels of land).  Today the people of the Shetlands, despite the
long connection to Scotland, do not tend to see themselves as
Scottish (even those  with Scottish names have Norse heritage in
other lines).  There is still a pride in their Norse heritage.  The
author's (DKF) grandfather maintained that his heritage was
Norwegian.  In turn his grandfather, born on the Islands, but
joining the merchant navy and ending up in England, consistently
gave his place of birth as "Shetland Islands", not Scotland, in the
census records.
1804 with electoral lists from 1954, and determined that 24 surnames
(many with spelling variations) made up half of the population of the
Shetland Islands.  They are as follows:  
Anderson, Jamieson,
Robertson, Smith, Williamson, Irvine, Tait, Johnson, Leask,
Halcrow, Henderson, Laurenceson, Manson, Mowat, Nicolson,
Sinclair, Thomason, Galdie, Fraser, Hughson, Hunter,
Sutherland, and Tulloch.  An additional 53 names brought the total to
75% of the population.  These names are:
Abernethy, Arthurson,
Blance, Burgar, Brown, Bruce, Clerk, Duncan, Garrioch,
Georgeson, Goodlad, Gray, Leslie, Malcolmson, Moncrieff,
Morrison, Redland,
Sandison, Aitken, Bain, Bairnson, Cogle,
Davidson, Erasmuson, Gilbertson,
Harper, Linklater, Murray, Ollason,
Rendal, Scollay, Shewan,
Stewart, Stout, and White.  Also, Cheyne,
Christie, Couper,
Coutts, Dalziel, Eunson, Gifford, Hutchison,
Inkster, Isbister, Moar, Pole, Pottenger, Priest, Simpson, Scott,
Spence, Watt.  Less common were, Adamson, Archibald, Bartleson,
Charleson, Danielson, Dickson, Donaldson, Edwardson, Erickson,
Evanson, Frederickson, Gavinson, Garthson, Grierson, Harrison,
Hectorson, Herculson,
Hoseason, Jacobson, Jeromson, Mattewson,
Neilson, Ninianson, Rogerson, Samuelson, Theodorson, Turvelson,
Walterson plus others not recorded by Sandison but with ancient ties
to Shetland such as
Arcus, Barclay, Beattie, Copland, Guthrie,
Hay, Henry, Mail, Mann, Moodie, Nisbet, Slater. Garster
The Surnames of Shetland

The history of the Shetland Islands is reflected in the surnames found
there to this day.  A patronymic naming practice was followed by the
Norse descendants, sometimes into the early 1800s when permanent
Andersons, Johnsons, Williamsons, etc.  There are also Scottish names
such as Sinclair, Neven, and Bruce handed down in the same manner
as English surnames from the time of the first Scottish migrations in
the late 1400s.
Note:  Names in black are
presently represented in the
Project.  For further information:
For a comprehensive review of the surnames of Shetland, see
Dr. Alan Beattie's book, "The Surnames of Shetland", published
by the Shetland Family History Society and available also from
The Shetland Times.