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Eur J Hum Genet. 2012 Feb;20(2):211-6. doi: 10.1038/ejhg.2011.162. Epub 2011 Aug 17.

Surname and Y chromosome in Southern Europe: a case study with Colom/Colombo.

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GENYO - Centro Pfizer-Universidad de Granada-Junta de Andalucía de Genómica y Oncología, Granada, Spain.


According to most historians, Christopher Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy. However, based on some key facts in the discoverer's biography, as well as in the linguistic analysis of his texts, some historians and linguists believe that Columbus could have been of Catalan origin. A Ligurian Columbus would have carried the Colombo surname, whereas he would have been called Colom if he were Catalan. In order to test whether it would be possible to discriminate between a Ligurian or a Catalan origin were Columbus' Y-chromosome haplotype to be retrieved, we genotyped 17 Y-chromosome STRs in 238 Spanish (from Catalonia, Valencia, and the Balearic Islands) and French Colom men, and 114 North Italian Colombo (from Liguria, Lombardy, and Piedmont). The Italian samples and, in particular, the Lombard Colombos were genetically as diverse as the general population, and we found little evidence of clusters of haplotypes that could indicate descent from a single founder. Colombo is actually the most frequent surname in Lombardy, where foundlings and orphans used to be given the surname Colombo. By contrast, Y-chromosome diversity was reduced in the Iberian Colom, where most of the men had Y chromosomes belonging to a few lineages. This implies that a positive identification would be more likely if Columbus were of Catalan descent. In this study, we have shown the diverse dynamics of two surnames linked by their etymology, in what is, to the best of our knowledge, the first genetic analysis of a surname in Southern Europe.

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