Great Britain’s Surname Cloud

As part of the research group that created the National Trust Surnames Profiler I have access to a comprehensive database of surnames in Great Britain. Most of my analysis on this database is spatial so I thought I would look at non-spatial way of illustrating the fact that in Britain the majority of people have a rare surname and that there are relatively few “popular”. This distribution is often referred to as having a long tail, as can be seen from the graph below. I find this graph lacks impact and novelty and it is hard to label a meaningful number of names along the x-axis. The surname clouds above have a greater impact by clearly demonstrating the popularity of a few surnames, such as Smith and Jones, in Britain and the large numbers of rarer surnames. I have only included the top 500 names for clarity. Comparisons between 1881 and 2001 are interesting. It would appear that the big names, such as Smith, dominate less now than they once did. The effects of migration also show in 2001 with names such as Patel, Kahn and Singh making an appearance. You can see how your name compares globally here. I am not sure if a word cloud would stand up to peer review for a journal but I think it would make a more interesting addition to presentations and posters than a simple line graph.