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The fourteenth-century poll tax returns and the study of English surname distributionThe modern-day distributions of English surnames have been considered in genealogical, historical, and philological research as possible indicators of their origins. However, many centuries have passed since hereditary surnames were first used, and so their distribution today does not necessarily reflect their original spread, misrepresenting their origins. Previously, medieval data with national coverage have not been available for a study of surname distribution but, with the recent publication of the fourteenth century poll tax returns, this has changed. By presenting discrepancies in medieval and 19th-century distributions, it is shown that more recent surname data may not be a suitable guide to surname origins, and can be usefully supplemented by medieval data in order to arrive at more accurate conclusions.