Surname Distribution is a process whereby the geographical frequency of a given surname is plotted based on the number of occurrences of the surname from either a census (19th century) for a given region, or in recent times based on the occurrence of a given name from phonebook entries. This method can be used to a show statistical probability as to the geographical/regional origin of that surname (research has proven that the region where a surname originated continues to hold the largest concentration of the name -- especially a unique surname).
surnames are widely distributed and occur in relatively equal numbers
because they are derived from patronymics, occupational names, or
nicknames (meaning multiple origins, such as "Smith", "Taylor", "Long",
"Williamson", etc) whereas other surnames do, indeed, occur within very
specific and isolated regions within a country. The following chart
shows distribution of the Grant surname, based on census data in Great
Britain. As can be seen, the greatest frequency of the distribution of
the Grant surname is in the north, in Inverness, followed closely by the
regions of Moray and Banf. There are moderate numbers of Grant's in
southern England, in Devon and Hampshire, both of which were regions
with major shipping ports, and also around Middlesex, which covers
London, and Durham. Other than this, there are only very small and
evenly distributed occurences of the name scattered throughout the rest
of England and Wales (as would be expected if the name spread south).
(This surname distribution map was
generated by Roots Map at
It is interesting to note that the first occurrences of the name Grant in the historical record are in the north, in Inverness, where early bearers of the surname Grant were Sheriffs. Recently,
members of Clan Grant have been engaged in a debate as to the origin of the Grant surname. One theory put forward quite recently is that the Grants actually originated in the north, in Scotland, and migrated south to Nottingham and Lincoln, not vice-versa. The basis for their theory is that if the name Grant originated in England, in the south with Norman barons according the popular "Norman Origin" theory (the one most often seen in books on the Clan's origin), then there should be far more occurences of the name Grant in the south -- with the frequency of the name diminishing the further north one goes. This means that one should see large concentrations of the surname Grant somewhere in the south, the most likely candidate being the region of East Anglia, where the Norman theory claims the barons from whom the Grant clan sprung were by then well established.
However, as this surname distribution map shows, the name Grant occurs in far greater numbers in the north - greater numbers than should seem possible if their origins were elsewhere - and this number descreases significantly in frequency the further south one goes. It's also quite interesting to note that in East Anglia the surname occurs in no greater frequency than virtually anywhere else in England! In fact, there are more Grants in Middlesex, Devon and Hampshire, as plotted here, than there are in the regions of East Anglia.
It should be noted that though some may try to argue that the assumption of the Chief's surname on the part of clansmen unrelated to the bloodline, from the 15th century on, could account for the larger numbers in Scotland, this hypothesis falls apart for the following reasons:
If the surname was of English/Norman origin then it would have been well established somewhere (probably Nottingham or Lincoln) in the south by circa 1250-1270. Surname adoption in Scotland by the peasant classes came much later than it did in England (where surnames were a Norman custom). Most families in Scotland did not begin to adopt surnames (and even then usually as a patronymic - from the father's name - Williamson, Johnson, Robertson, etc) until the 15th century, and even later. The custom of adopting a chief's surname can't be shown to really have begun in any sort of earnest by clansmen until the 16th century. Any Grant family in the south would have had an approximately 300 year head start on the clansmen living in Strathspey in Scotland. This would easily show a high concentration of the surname in England, somewhere -- where it originated -- regardless of the family in Scotland. The surname distribution, shown above, shows no such thing. It is a statisical improbability, if not impossibility, that the Grant surname originated anywhere other than where the early Clan manuscripts say -- in Scotland, from Norse progenitors.
The lower birthrate and higher infant mortality rate in Scotland would have severely mitigated the exponential acceleration of the surname in Scotland by clansmen assuming the name. Given the higher birthrate and lower infant mortality in England, the family in the south would have kept pace for quite a while, probably not being overtaken by the family in the north until the 1700's at the very earliest (and more likely the 19th century). Again, the surname distribution study shows no such thing.
Additionally, the following can be said of the surname itself, which no one has been able to explain adequately, and is presented here as both food for thought and supporting arguments:
The name "Grant" doesn't mean anything outside of Gaelic or possibly Norse (meaning "Gravelly" or "Gritty" or possibly "Gray Haired ", and in Norse the word "Gran" meaning "fur tree" -- the Grant's plant badge -- and "Grandt" in Old Norse supposedly meaning "large, tall" as does the French "Le Grand". Through the love of puns, the family may have played on the Norman "Grand" later on. "Frasier" means "strawberry" in French and the Frasers certainly used this pun as a play on their own name, on their own arms). The original Britons (Celtic) called the river Cam the "Grant" and the town of Cambridge "Grantabrigga" (both places are still called this in Wales). If a Saxon or Norman family in this region of England assumed the name based on these place names, and originated there, then there should be a lot of them still living in this region. No case can be made that any family ever took the surname Grant from either the river or the town (though it's possible this area was one of the holdings of one of the original Norse proto-Grants, so there may be some remote connection here to the name) and the surname distribution shows that no significant numbers of anyone of this surname remained in the region. Even if the name were simply descriptive, and not from a regional place name, where is the stronghold, in England, for this surname? According to the surname distribution study, there isn't one in England.
The Normans couldn't even deal with the surname "Grant" (which all accounts, even the earliest, show the adopters of the name used, spelled phonetically as "Graunt", "Grawnt", and "Grannte" in addition to "Grant" - as it was pronounced). They changed the name of the "Grant" to the Cam, and "Grantabrigga" to Cambridge, and the earliest documents invariably list the name as "dictus Grant" (not "le Graunt" as is often stated - the earliest forms are "dictus Grant") -- "dictus" meaning "strange name" or "this is how it sounds but we don't know what it means". If the name were derived from "Le Grand" then the Norman scribes would have known it and used it and would have had no need to change it. In Gaelic, "Grand" would be softened to a "t" at the end, as "Grant", but why the Normans in England would write the name in the Gaelic form, or a Norman family in England would pronounce their name in a Gaelic fashion, makes no sense whatsoever.
One final point, the "Le" or "de" forms (used in early names like Laurence Le Graunt or Robert de Grant) are given great significance by early accounts of the family's history, suggesting the form means "the", thus "Le Grand" becomes "Le Grant" meaning "the tall" or "the big" or "the eminent". These prefixes seem to lend evidence that the surname Grant was "descriptive" - a nickname. What is ignored is that this use of "Le" or "de" is common with many names in Scotland, as described by Anglo-Norman scribes of the early Middle Ages. Names in Scotland are commonly prefixed with "Le" or "de" wherein the use of a form of "the" in that context means nothing at all or is even silly.
Researchers and historians of the Clan Grant have put their latest findings on-line. Visit the Clan Grant History site to view the latest research into the origins of the Grant surname and the history of the clan. Their findings corroborate the results of this surname distribution study, and give further evidence to the theory that the Grants originated in the north and migrated south into England, not vice-versa.