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Germanic and Celtic
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins

I have been told that my family name Dykes is Germanic or Anglo-Saxon.  National Names Trust [nationalnamestrust.org.uk] indicates the name is "English."  At the same time, it has been the understanding of my family that the Dykes, at least my line, are from Ayrshire, Scotland and that we are "Scots-Irish."  And, perhaps of note, nationalnamestrust.org has the name quite prevalent in Western Scotland and Northern Ireland.  Is it possible to imagine that I descend from a Celtic peoples while, at the same time, bearing a Germanic name?

I t is quite possible, even likely that a German-surnamed person would have Celtic genetic heritage.  The Germanic wave moved slowly across central and northern Europe across geography already settled by Celtic groups.  You will have trouble, in fact, finding any European who does not have some heritage of Celtic background.  The Germans in their turn moved into every nook and cranny of Europe also.

Celtic Germans
Most people do not know that even names and adjectives we associate now with Germanic peoples were actually names of Celtic groups originally.  The word Teuton, for instance, was originally the name of a Celtic tribe in northern Europe. The name became the name of a Germanic people, either by gradual merging through marriage or possible absorption of the original Celts in to the Germanic stream so that the orignal Teuton people became German-speaking.

Now "Teuton" is a synonym of "German" and Teutonic" synonymous with "Germanic."  Much is being done on several fronts right now to clarify the growing information that has appeared in recent years on European pre-history and early history.  Germanic and Celtic specialists will have details on this.  There are sources on the Internet.

Celtic Understructure
In virtually every area of Europe, Celtic-speaking peoples were the earliest known Indo-European peoples there.  They were already present perhaps as the Etruscan Empire arose, and definitely had clashes with the northern move of the Etruscans as they were pressed by Greeks and Romans on the southern fronts of their Italic Empire.  Later Germanic waves absorbed some more Celtic genes and customs.

In a recent publication, Brian Sykes presents a fascinating and intriguing anlaysis of the genetic makeup on the British Isles.  In the process he surveys the known sreams of genetic history and migration now established by the DNA studies done in recent years.  He focuses on the genetic mapping of the British Isles he and his team conducted over a period of years.  His finding indicate that even though are significant paternal DNA from Viking and Saxon genetic sources, uniformly over the Isles the Celtic mitochondrial (maternal DNA) is the base.

So virtually everyone in the British Isles and their emigrant descendants aorund the world bear Celtic ancestry on the maternal side.  See Saxons, Vikings, and Celts:  The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland.

Northern Italians even today have Celtic practices, including bagpipes.  A form of bagpipe was documented in the Greek period from the east to Italy.  The Greeks in Iberia and southern Europe were in place along with or slightly before the Celts.  History records the Germanic peoples then moving in several waves over those southern and western areas, absorbing Celtic peoples, and being changed by them.

Northern Italy has been dominated by Germanic peoples in the centuries since the final breakdown of the western realm of the Roman Empire.  The empire survived in the East until the final onslaught of the Osmanli (Ottoman) Turks.  The previously Celtic areas of northern Italy were then overrun by Germanic waves, who had already absorbed eastern Celts in their progress from the east and north.  Details are available in the authorities.  Already mixed with Greek, Etruscan, Roman and others, the Celtic customs persisted in some form through the Germanic overlay.

In the northern areas, particularly, Celtic characteristics and practices continued, with the Germans being absorbed, and various groups moving into one of the two major language streams, Latin (Romance) or Germanic.  Thus the mix of names and physical characteristics we see over history and today among various peoples with Germanic or Celtic background.

Franks and Gauls
The Franks move west across the Rhine in the early Roman period, before the Empire was proclaimed, and they were greatly affected by both the Celts and the Romans.  They moved into a basically Celtic area while the Romans were still in the early stages of subduing the Celts in "Gaul."

Some Frankish tribes became mercenaries of Caesar, while some (sometimes the same ones!) were fighting him.  They settled and mixed with the Celts, being changed in the process, and gradually moving into the Latin language stream, which changing Latin so much with their Germanic words that the whole Latin culture and language changed in the south as the Frankish groups were enhanced by the Gothic groups moving west and south alter.

Norman Vikings
The Normans are the best-known and best documented Germanic group that interacted on many fronts with the Celts.  The area of Gaul where they settled, which became Normandy, was not fully under the power of the Franks, being Celtic.  Brittany continued Celtic, and even today, though intermarried with the Franks and the Normans, especially in the nobility, the Celtic Breton language is still spoken.

Germanic Scots
There are three primary sources of Germanic heritage and genetics in Scotland:  The Vikings, the Anglo-Saxons and the Normans, all of which had previously also absorbed Celtic peoples.  The Vikings were related to the northern Scottish tribes, especially the northern islands, which were at one item a part of the Danish kingdom.

Also in the west, Viking influence and genetic streams are notable in the Isle of Skye and related Outer Hebrides.  Some names within the McDonald clan are actually Germanic, like McQueen and McSwain.  The latter is based on the Germanic word swain, meaning young man.  Similarly over the centuries Viking groups traded and settled in the northwestern areas of Ireland.

In every part of the British Isles various Germanic tribes intermarried with Celts native to the region and moving from one area of the Isles to another over several centuries.  You mention some of the Germanic streams.  Lowland Scots are mostly Germanic, though intermarried with Celts.

The Scots language (sometimes considered a dialect of English, but really a different language) is the descendant of the original Anglish tongue spoken by one of the Anglo-Saxon groups settling in the north.  This language is also called Lallans (a form of the word Lowlands).  A dialect of this is also spoken in Northern Ireland, where in more recent centuries, Scots moved in large numbers.

Normans and Celts
Normans moving into power in England and Scotland in the 1100s intermarried with the Celtic royalty and nobility as one strategy for securing their legitimate hold on the island.  Norman noble and warrior families moved in the British Isles in the wake of William the Conqueror's successful claim to the disputed crown of Danish-Saxon England.

William took the disputed crown by force in 1066, and various Normans, Bretons (Celts) and related French families moved in, as part of the new-regime Norman feudal aristocracy.  Normans gradually extended their dominance over the island of Ireland, as well.  Anglo-Norman families intermarried with the Irish noble families, and gradually became more Irish, combining the mixed Norman-Celtic-Saxon stream with the old Irish Celtic stream.

The old Irish lines, from the time of St Patrick, had affected European culture through Christian mission work and technological development.  The old Irish line also in later years fostered the Scots tribe of Scotland (Irish who had invaded from Ireland) and affected much of the culture of northern Europe through the Middle Ages, as the Scots scholarship and technological expertise led the cultural development of mainland Europe.

Flemish Connections
The Anglo-Saxons came from the areas now known as Denmark, Northern Germany and the Netherlands, and the islands of the North Sea off shore.  Dykes is still a name in Holland.  Wasn't there a Flemish painter named Van Dyke?  Also spelled Van Dijk or Van Dyck.  Also found as one name Vandyck.

Henry Van Dyke was a famous American essayist in the early 20th century.  But the names may go back to the Anglo-Saxon era.  The English name Dycus is also a form of the same name, unless I have missed a connection.  Another form is Dikes.

There was a heavy Fleming (Dutch-Flemish) influence in Britain, especially England and Wales, in the 1200s.  The mother of Prince John of Gaunt, uncle of Richard II, was Flemish (Gaunt was her home are in Flanders).

Gaunt also became a surname.  It also appears as Gant, and perhaps Gannet is related.  The Normans gradually moved outward and intermarried with every royal family in Europe, including Russia, and many areas of the Middle East.  This carried with it both Germanic and Celtic genes from several sources.

Also related:
Italians, Etruscans and Greeks: Genetics and Ethnicity
Italians and Race
Models of Assimilation
Modern Celtic Delights and Insights
Our Genetic Journey - Reviewing The Journey of Man:  A Genetic Odyssey
The Rough Edges of Ethnicity
Scots, Irish and English
Scots Language and French Influence
The Subtlety of Assimilation
What is a People Group?

Related on the Internet:
The Lallans (Scots) Language
Saxons, Vikings, and Celts:  The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland

Also view related PowerPoint Presentations:
Assimilation Models How People Groups Develop and Change
What is a People Group?


First written in answer to an email query 09 November 2007
Expanded and finalized as an article and posted on OJTR 3 December 2007
Last edited 12 November 2014

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2007 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Please give credit and link back.  Other rights reserved.

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