This is a quick article to answer a question that friends ask when they’re thinking about buying a DNA test: does 23andMe give the names of relatives?
They’re worried that names will be like what we see on social media: cool-surfer or smithy99. How can you find long-lost relatives with details like that?
I’ll cut to the chase. The answer is yes. If you want to know more, read on.
Will 23andMe Show Names Of Relatives?
You will see the full names of most but not all of your DNA relatives on 23andMe. The percentage of people who choose to show their full name on 23andMe is over 80%.
This statistic is based on my own 23andMe account. I’ll get to the exact details in the next section.
But what if your long-lost relative is one of the few who chooses to use initials?
This article also has many tips on finding likely family names for relatives who are less obvious about their background.
How Often Does 23andMe Show The Full Names Of Relatives?
There is no obligation on 23andMe customers to display their real names on the site. The website lets people specify any text as their “display name”.
Some people opt for a nickname or just their initials. These are the possibilities that I see people use:
- nickname e.g. cool-surfer
- initials e.g. TJ
- first name and initial e.g. Tom J
- initial and last name e.g. T Jacoby
- first and last name e.g. Tom Jacoby
I’ve put these in increasing order of how useful they are for identifying our relatives. An initial and last name of T Jacoby is a lot better for figuring things out than Tom J.
What percentage of 23andMe testers use their full name?
I’ll use my own 23andMe account to work out the percentages.
Below is a breakdown of my top 100 DNA relatives on 23andMe. By the way, I have no close family who have tested on the site. My highest relative is a 3rd cousin.
These are my percentages based on those 100 relatives:
|First & Last Name
|Initial & Last Name
|First Name & Initial
To reiterate what’s in the table, 23andMe shows me the first and last names of a whopping 87% of my relatives.
Nicknames can be useful
There’s a material difference between a nickname like cool-surfer and one like jonesy-rocks.
I’d guess that the latter’s surname is Jones. That’s a help.
Are my results representative?
There shouldn’t be anything special about my list of relatives!
Most of my 23andMe relatives are American testers linked to me through my Irish heritage. There will be some people in Ireland who tested with the site.
In my experience, Irish people tend to be aware of online privacy. They may be slightly more inclined to withhold their details.
People Can Give Fake Name If They Choose
It’s true that people can use fake names on 23andMe. The company doesn’t insist that the names displayed to relatives are what was on the credit card used to purchase the DNA test.
The website allows people to enter Daffy Duck if they like. That would be an obvious fake first and last name.
But what if someone has entered Tom Jacoby. Can you be sure that they haven’t chosen a fake name that seems genuine?
Of course not. But there are ways to check within the 23andMe website as to whether other aspects line up.
Before I move onto thesee checks, I’ll tell you that I don’t think you need to worry to much about fake names.
You’re more likely to be looking forlornly at one of the 13% of people who use initials or a nickame and thinking that this person could be the solution to your brick wall.
The next section looks at how to get extra clues about people’s names.
Worried about your own privacy?
Did you stumble on this article when trying to figure out if you could test with 23andMe while retaining some anonymity?
You don’t have to reveal any details of yourself to DNA relatives! If you just want the health features, you can opt out of the relatives feature.
And there are other options. Check out our article on whether you can keep your anonymity when testing 23andMe.
Can You Figure Out More About A Name Like “TJ”?
Even if you only see initials or nicknames, don’t despair. There are ways to figure out the likely family names of relatives (i.e. last names).
I’ll assume that you haven’t purchased 23andMe yet and are trying to figure out if it’s worth it. So, I’ll describe these features in simple terms.
The “Relatives In Common” feature
23andMe has a feature that lets you zone in on a specific relative and see a list of the other testers that share DNA with both of you. This could be hundreds of other relatives.
Let’s say that you’ve zoned in on TJ. When you pull up the list of relatives you both have in common, 23andMe shows you a list of people where most have chosen to display their full name.
What if many of these people share the same last name? There’s no guarantee that TJ has that last name, but it’s a strong pointer toward a name in their family tree.
Grandparents last names
23andMe lets customers enter details about their family background in their account profiles.
These details include the last names of their four grandparents.
People don’t have to add this information. Many don’t, in my experience. They may be less interested in researching their family tree, and more interested in the health reports.
However, there’s a substantial amount who fill in their four grandparents’ surnames. There you go! You just have to figure out which of the four that your relative has inherited.
You Can Search For People By Name On 23andMe
Now that you know that most people use their full name on 23andMe, you may be a little daunted at scrolling through a list of over a thousand DNA relatives.
The website offers several different ways for searching and filtering by name. Unfortunately, some ways are a little glitchy.
I’ve got a separate article on how to look for someone on 23andMe. It will give you all my tips for using the search features.