Surnames have been used to give an indication of genetic structure of a population. Indeed, it has been suggested that surnames are not unlike neutral alleles transmitted through the male, (Y chromosome) (Yasuda and Furusho 1971). It is postulated that surname analysis could be useful particularly in delineating the inheritance of common genetic disorders. Another attraction of surname analysis is their ready availability and relative ease of analysis which does not entail ad hoc screening procedures.
The analysis of island populations has its own particular fascination. Such populations are likely to be isolated, and may show an increased tendency to inbreeding, which in turn would impinge on the incidence of genetic disease.
Gozo is a small island measuring 16 km in length and 9 km in width, and having a population of just around 30,000. It consists of 14 distinct localities or local councils (one town, Rabat, and 13 villages). Up until recently, communication between the various localities has been pretty poor, and most of the interaction occurred through the central town. Most marriages occurred between members of the same village. This invariably led to a high degree of intermarriage, particularly in the smaller villages. The degree of isolation has led to specific dialects which until recently could identify the various villages almost uniquely.
In this study, surname analysis has been used to throw some light on the constitution of the Gozo population. Initially it was intended to assess the frequency and the degree of surname sharing between the various localities. This is essential information before one could study the possible association of certain disease processes with a genetic background using surnames as a possible marker of genetic distribution.