Geography and migration patterns for one thing:
The biggest concentration of people called Salt is in Stoke-on-Trent, as is the greatest number of people called Pepper, according to a new study which maps the spread of British names across the globe.
The number of people with either surname is roughly equal so the reason for this is likely to be that both Salts and Peppers derived their names from people who made pots for condiments in the Potteries, according to the authors of the study, published at the Royal Geographical Society's annual conference yesterday.
What the study of 20,000 British surnames over five generations has enabled researchers to do for the first time is to track the migration of people with British names and to see where the largest concentration of people of that name lives.
And, for another, who's movin' on up:
Researchers compiled a list of "most embarrassing" names, which people have tended to change.
There were 3,211 Cocks in Britain in 1881 — when most were centred around Truro — but only 826 in 1996. Likewise, the number of Handcocks, Smellies, Haggards, Slows, Willys, Piggs, Hustlers, Nutters and Glasscocks has fallen.
Conclusions can also be reached about Christian names. The upper classes, defined by educational achievement, have tended to stick to the same Christian names over time — the top 10 being Felicity, Katherine, Phillippa, Penelope, Elizabeth, Hilary, Giles, Annabel, Alastair and Jeremy. The lower classes, defined by education, are more likely to choose newer names. Tracey or Tracy, topping the list, followed by Michelle, Lee, Darren, Jason, Donna, Annie and Kelly.