Guide to North East Surnames: G

Surnames: Gallon to Greenwell

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Gallon surname

Northumberland surname

A name of significant frequency in Northumberland and also in Scotland. Henry Guppy listed it as a surname that was peculiar to Northumberland. A rare surname but a northern one and especially the North East in 1881. In 1881 there were 739 Gallons of which 254 lived in Northumberland; 184 in Durham; 79 in the whole of Scotland; 68 in Yorkshire; 32 in Lancashire and 2 in Cumberland.

In 1415 a Tower house at Low Trewhitt (‘Turris de Tirwhite inferions’) was listed in upper Coquetdale as the home of Hugh Galon.

Garbutt surname

Yorkshire surname

There were 3,655 Garbutts (including variations of the spelling) in Great Britain in 1881 with the biggest proportion being in Yorkshire where the spelling Garbutt was overwhelmingly predominant as it was in Durham where there were 489 Garbutts plus 47 in Northumberland. In Yorkshire it was a particularly numerous surname in the Cleveland district of Yorkshire.

There were 192 of this name in Lancashire where variants such as Garbet and Garbett were noticeably more prominent. In the Midlands where there were over a thousand individuals with the name, the variant Garbett (or Garbitt) is the dominant form though there is more of a mix of the Yorkshire and Midland forms in London and the South East. The name is thought to derive from a personal name Gerbald.

Garbutt was listed by Henry Guppy as a surname peculiar to Yorkshire’s North and East Riding. A notable Garbutt was the Teesside folk musician Vin Garbutt.

Gascoigne surname
Northern England surname, Gascony origin

A William le Gascun is mentioned in Yorkshire in 1208, but this line is thought to have died out. In the later thirteenth century another line of Gascoignes included Philip le Gascoyn of Shropshire and Geoffrey Gascoyne of Norfolk and in the following century this surname appeared in Yorkshire as Gasqwyn. The name indicates a ‘Gascon’ – someone from Gascony.

Ravensworth Castle
Ravensworth Castle (demolished) once dominated  the Team valley

In the sixteenth century a branch of the Gascoigne family acquired land in Durham when Isobel Boynton, a descendant of the Lumleys and heiress to the estate of Ravensworth near Gateshead married Sir Henry Gascoigne of Gawthorpe, Lancashire. The Gascoignes owned the manor of Ravensworth until they sold it to the Liddell family in 1607, but members of the family continued to own land at nearby Birtley. It was the Liddells who built the castle at Ravensworth in the following century.

The famous ex-footballer, Paul Gascoigne is from Dunston on Tyne only a short way down the Team Valley from Ravensworth though it’s not known if he is in any way connected to the Gascoignes of Ravensworth.

As a surname Gascoigne certainly seems to have a northern focus. In the form Gascoigne (with a small number of similar variations such as Gascogne and Gascoine) there were 1,841 individuals in the 1881 Great Britain census of which 748 could be found in the six northern counties of England as follows: Yorkshire 440; Durham 162; Northumberland 99; Lancashire 29; Cumberland 8; Westmorland zero. There were only 14 in Scotland. The rest were spread across England and particularly in London and the South East.

Another form of the surname is Gascoyne which occurred 695 times in the 1881 census of which 175 were in the northern counties, notably Yorkshire (175) but with only 5 occurrences in Durham and 3 in Northumberland.

Gategang surname

Gategangs of Gateshead

A obsolete family surname that was associated with Gateshead in Medieval times.

Gatiss surname

County Durham surname

Not a common surname but Gatiss is very much a name of the North East and particularly County Durham. In the 1881 census there were only 98 individuals with this name including the less frequent variants Gatis and Gattis. Of these 97 there were 66 residing in County Durham (61 with the spelling Gatiss); 16 in Northumberland; 7 in Staffordshire, 5 in Yorkshire, 2 in Devon and one in Forfarshire, Scotland. A notable Gatiss from the North East is the County Durham-born TV writer and actor, Mark Gatiss.

Gibson surname

Northern England surname

Widespread but in England it is especially common in the North East as well as in the central lowland belt of Scotland and also frequent in the County Down area of Northern Ireland. In the 1881 census there were 40,163 Gibsons in Great Britain with 10,706 residing in Scotland.

Summerhill Force and Gibson's Cave.
Summerhill Force and Gibson’s Cave, Teesdale © David Simpson

Yorkshire was home to 5,668 Gibsons and in Lancashire there were 4,361 so these two populous counties accounted for just over 10,000 Gibsons. The numbers in Northumberland and Durham were smaller (2,129 and 2,800) but proportionally very significant when the county populations of 1881 (see bottom of this page) are considered. A further 20,000 or so Gibsons were spread out across the numerous remaining counties of England and Wales.

In 1881 Gibson was the 22nd most numerous surname in Northumberland; 24th in Westmorland; 35th in Durham and 37th in Cumberland but was not in the top fifty surnames for the populous counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire.

Meaning ‘son of Gibbe’, a shortened form of Gilbert, the name occurs in Nottinghamshire in 1311. A Gibonson is mentioned in the records of the Freemen of the City of York in 1484. A William Gibson was Mayor of Hartlepool in 1686, 1692 and 1696.

Gilhespy and Gillhespy surname

Northumberland surname variant

Henry Guppy listed the surname Gillhespy as peculiar to Northumberland. Perhaps it is a Northumbrian variation of the Scots name Gillespie from the Gaelic ‘Gilleasbuig’ meaning bishop’s servant. In the 1881 census it only occurred in the forms Gillhespy or Gilhespy 137 times with 95 individuals in Durham; 90 in Northumberland and a family of 6 in London whose head was Northumberland-born.

Also Northumbrian is the variation Gilhespie which occurred 132 times in the census with 85 in Northumberland and 47 in Durham. In addition there was a slight variation ‘Gilhesby‘ with 4 individuals in Durham and 6 in Northumberland.

Of the more typical surname Gillespie and spelling variants without the additional ‘h’ there were 5,225 individuals in the 1881 census of which 3,757 resided in Scotland. Outside of Scotland these surnames had a strong northern England presence: 395 in Lancashire; 225 in Durham; 153 in Yorkshire and 106 in Northumberland (without the ‘h’). Most of the remainder were focused upon South East England.

Glendinning surname

Scotland and Northern England surname

This surname was listed by Henry Guppy as a surname peculiar to Northumberland and along with its variants such as Glendenning is certainly focused upon the North of England and Scotland. Out of 1,884 Glendinnings, Glendennings and other similar variants residing in Great Britain in 1881 some 710 resided in Scotland with the six northernmost counties of England being the home to a further 908 in the following order: Durham 322; Northumberland 210; Lancashire 140; Yorkshire 118; Cumberland 108 and Westmorland 10. The name is from a place in Dumfriesshire.

Golightly surname

Northern England surname

Most numerous in Durham in the 1881 census when there were 665 individuals of this name in Great Britain. Durham was home to 377 people of this name; Northumberland 78; Cumberland 41; Lancashire 36; Yorkshire 19; Westmorland 1 and 43 in Scotland. Others were spread mostly across the South East and South West. Golightly is thought to be a nickname for a messenger but despite its distribution, there is no evidence to suggest that it originated in North East England.

A variant surname spelling in the census was Golightley with 66 individuals in Great Britain with 52 in Durham; 7 in Northumberland and 7 in London.

Graham surname

Border Reiver family surname

A Scotland and Borders surname notable around the Carlisle and Dumfriesshire areas. The Grahams were a Border family found in both England and Scotland, but were associated primarily with the region between Cumberland and Dumfriesshire.

During the border raids of Tudor times, the Grahams were one of the most troublesome families hereabouts. Grahams were noted for their regular forays into Northumberland, where their arch enemies included the Robsons of North Tynedale. In 1552 the border Grahams were said to number five hundred and occupied thirteen fortified towers.

It is claimed that the Grahams were descended from a man called Graeme, who in Roman times helped to breach the Antonine Wall, the Roman wall between the Rivers Clyde and Forth, but this likely a legend. An alternative view is that the Grahams were of Norman French origin and settled in the South of England at Grantham in Lincolnshire from which they took their name. The name De Grantham was corrupted to De Graham and later shortened to Graham.

The Grahams moved to Scotland in the twelfth century, where a William De Graham is recorded in 1127. Grahams were accepted as Scottish following a marriage into the native Scottish family of Strathearn and they made Auchterader their seat. Following the Union of England and Scotland in the seventeenth century many troublesome Border Country Grahams were transported to Ireland and were forbidden to return. There they were joined by hundreds of other transported border tribesman including Eliotts, Kerrs and Armstrongs.

In the 1881 census for Great Britain there were 35,372 Grahams of which 13,712 resided in Scotland. Across the Border the surname was also very numerous in the northern counties. Cumberland, a not especially populous county was home to 4,114 Grahams. Of the other northern English counties there were 3,580 Grahams in Lancashire; 3,105 in Durham; 2,668 in Yorkshire and 2,162 in Northumberland. Westmorland was home to 303 Grahams. Most of the remaining 5,600 or so Grahams were spread across the remaining counties of England and especially London and the south eastern counties.

Graham ranked number one as the most numerous surname in the county of Cumberland in 1881. It was the 20th most numerous surname in Northumberland; 22nd most numerous in Westmorland and 29th in County Durham but did not feature in the top fifty names for Yorkshire or Lancashire.

Grainger surname

Yorkshire surname

Listed by Henry Guppy as a surname in the North or East Riding of Yorkshire but seems to have been quite widespread. The surname describes a ‘Granger’ someone who looked after a grange or farm.

The surname is famed in the North East through the nineteenth century builder, Richard Grainger who created much of the impressive neo-Classical townscape of Newcastle upon Tyne.

Grainger Street on a rainy day
Grainger Street, Newcastle on a rainy day © David Simpson 2021

There were 4,618 people called Grainger in Great Britain in the 1881 census of which 704 resided in Yorkshire. The number of Graingers in the other northern counties was Durham 249; Lancashire 216; Cumberland 105 and Northumberland 71. There were 274 Graingers residing in Scotland. The remainder were spread across England with a particular concentration in London and the South East.

Gray and Grey surnames

Border Reiver family surnames

Many surnames derive from colours like Brown, White, Black, Grey and Green. Grey which alternatively occurs in the form Gray is a surname closely associated with the North and is one of many old Border surnames still found throughout the region. It occurs as both Grey and Gray throughout Britain (and especially as Gray in Scotland). Gray is generally the more numerous of the two names throughout the whole of Britain.

In the list of castles and towers in Northumberland in 1415 the name Gray (and Grey) occurs a number of times in respect of ownership of such fortifications as follows:

  • Kyloe Tower near Holy Island : David Gray
  • Fenton Tower near Doddington : Sir Rad Gray
  • Nesbit Tower near Doddington : Sir Thomas Gray
  • Aydon Castle near Corbridge : Robert Raymese and Radi Grey
  • Horton Castle, near Chatton: Sir Thomas Grey.
  • Wark on Tweed Castle : Sir Thomas Grey
  • Wark ‘in Tyndale’ Tower : Sir Thomas Grey
  • Castle Heton near Cornhill : Thomas Grey of Heton

Other places associated with the Greys in the North East have included Wooler and Chillingham Castle.In later centuries the Greys of Fallodon and Howick in Northumberland became the most famous branch of this family in the north and their members included the Northumbrian born Earl Grey who was Prime Minister of Great Britain 1830-34.

Grey's Monument, Newcastle
Grey’s Monument, Newcastle : Photo © 2015 David Simpson

Earl Grey is commemorated by the Grey Monument in the centre of Newcastle. The name Grey is thought to have originated in the South of England and described someone with grey hair rather than a grey personality. Some Greys may have taken their name from an unidentified place called Graye.

Henry Guppy considered Gray and Grey to be surnames of the eastern side of England, generally speaking from Northumberland to Kent but also spread across the border. In Northumberland and Durham he found that the two surnames mingled. Northumberland he considered the ‘home’ of the Grey spelling of the name, although the spelling Gray was still more numerous than Grey in that county.

In 1881 there were 6,556 Greys in the Great Britain census compared to 42,884 Grays. This difference in numbers was particularly pronounced in Scotland where there were only 500 Greys but there were 15,329 Grays.

Otherwise both surnames were most numerous in the northern English counties with the distribution as follows for Grey (with Gray in brackets): Cumberland 53 (173); Durham 709 (2,267); Lancashire 509 (1,960); Northumberland 728 (1,607); Westmorland 6 (10); Yorkshire 443 (3,317). The remaining Greys and Grays were spread throughout England and Wales and especially in London and the South East.

Gray was the 31st most numerous surname in Northumberland in 1881 and 44th most common in County Durham but did not feature in the top fifty names in the other four counties of northern England.

John Gray was the name of the Mayor of Durham in 1707, 1715, 1722 and 1735. A Joseph Gray was mayor there in 1751 and 1763 and a William Gray was Durham mayor in 1897 and 1935. A Ralph Grey was Mayor of Newcastle in 1671 and an Arthur Grey Mayor in that city in 1972 and 1973.

A Sir Thomas Gray was the MP for Newcastle in 1397 and 1399 and a Sir Thomas Grey was the MP for Northumberland in 1553 and 1554.  Sir Thomas Grey (the second) was MP for Northumberland in 1586. Sir Ralph Grey was a Northumberland MP from 1604-1611 and a Sir William Grey that county’s MP from 1621 to 1622.

A Sir Grey became Northumberland’s MP in 1754 and the Honourable Charles Grey became its MP in 1786. Henry Grey was an MP for Northumberland from 1831 and Albert Grey the MP for Southern Northumberland from 1880. Charles Edward Grey was MP for Tynemouth and North Shields in 1837 and Ralph Grey its MP from 1847. Sir George Grey was MP for Northern Northumberland in 1847.

Greathead surname

Yorkshire and Durham surname

In the 1881 census this was a name focused upon Yorkshire and County Durham. There were 474 individual Greatheads listed in the Great Britain census for that year with 128 residing in Yorkshire and 128 in Durham. There were 40 in Lancashire but only 4 in Northumberland. Most of the remaining Greatheads were scattered across the Midlands, London and the South East.

A Thomas Gretehed appears in records pertaining to the abbey of Whitby in 1351. The name means ‘big head’. The lifeboat pioneer, Henry Greathead of South Shields was born at Richmond in North Yorkshire.

Lifeboat, South Shields
Memorials to the invention of the lifeboat, South Shields : © David Simpson

Greenwell surname

County Durham surname

A notable Durham name with a strong North East focus. The family are thought to be descended from Guilielmus Presbyter who in 1183 held the lands of Greenwell near Wolsingham. Most of today’s Greenwells are thought to be from a family of Stobilee.

Greenwells include the nineteenth century antiquarian, archaeologist and Canon of Durham Cathedral, William Greenwell who was also a noted angler. Henry Guppy listed Greenwell as one of the surnames peculiar to Durham. A Thomas Greenwell was Mayor of Durham in 1836 and 1838.

There were 1,016 Greenwells in Great Britain in 1881. Of these some 640 resided in the County of Durham; 119 in Northumberland;  54 in Yorkshire; 23 in Lancashire; 12 resided in Cumberland and 2 in Westmorland. There were only 34 Greenwells recorded in Scotland with small numbers across London and the Midlands.

North East Surnames beginning with:

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Historic counties of Great Britain and Ireland
Historic counties of Great Britain and Ireland showing the six northern counties of England © David Simpson and England’s North East 2021
Note on the populations of English counties in 1881

When comparing figures for individual numbers of a surname in 1881 it is important to be aware of the actual population of each of the Northern English counties. As you can see from the figures below, 500 individuals with a particular surname in Westmorland would be proportionally much more significant than 500 people of the same surname residing in Lancashire. You might well describe such a surname as a ‘Westmorland name’ but the numbers would not be significant enough to describe it as a ‘Lancashire surname’, at least not as defined by the 1881 distribution. The 1881 northern county populations were as follows:

  • Northumberland: Population 434,658. The county included Newcastle upon Tyne, Wallsend, North Shields, Tynemouth and Whitley Bay and a mining district in the south east of the county including the port of Blyth. As well as indigenous Northumbrian surnames, ‘Border names’ are often abundant in this county, occasionally taking on a form that is distinct from similar Scottish surnames.
  • Durham: Population 869,130. The county included Sunderland, Gateshead, South Shields, Jarrow, Darlington, Stockton-on-Tees and Hartlepool. Numerous small mining towns and villages lie across the county between these major centres of population and like the industrial centres were often the home to surnames that originated in Northumberland and North Yorkshire as well as home-grown in County Durham.
  • Yorkshire: Population 2,895,049. This county included the iron town of Middlesbrough on the south bank of the River Tees in the north east corner of the county as well as ‘West Riding’ towns like Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield, Halifax, York, Huddersfield to the south. Most of the population of Yorkshire was and still is focused upon the urban and industrialised south west of the county where there is a close relationship in terms of surnames with neighbouring Lancashire across the Pennines. The far south of the county around Sheffield is also very populous. The rural East Riding along with the city of Hull may have a close relationship with neighbouring Lincolnshire. From a North East point of view many of the surnames we describe as ‘Durham and Yorkshire’ are almost always specifically focused upon North Yorkshire and south Durham, though often stretching across the whole of Durham in distribution.
  • Cumberland: Population 251,520. The main centres in this county included Carlisle and the industrial coastal towns of Whitehaven and Workington. As in Northumberland, ‘Border surnames’ have a strong influence here, often originating from or stretching into Scottish counties of the western borders, notably Dumfriesshire.
  • Westmorland: Population 64,204. This was a relatively small and rural county in terms of population. Characterised by small market towns and farming villages, it has its own distinct surname distribution. Along with Cumberland it is now part of Cumbria.
  • Lancashire: Population 3,466,597. This highly populated county included Liverpool and Manchester as well as major towns such as Bolton; Preston; Burnley; Oldham, Rochdale and a number of mill towns. The historic county also stretched into the south Lakeland area in what is now (along with Cumberland and Westmorland) part of Cumbria. The industries of Lancashire were a great draw for immigration from Scotland; Ireland and Wales, particularly in the nineteenth century.
  • Cheshire: We occasionally include details of surname distribution in Cheshire (its population in 1881 was 644,895) where relevant, though surnames in Cheshire and indeed Lancashire and to some extent West Yorkshire often take on a distinctly different character and pattern of distribution to surnames in the other northern counties. Welsh surnames are also quite significant in Cheshire given its location on the Welsh Border. In fact some suburbs of the city of Chester are located within Wales.
  • Counties of the Midlands and South: In addition to the six northernmost counties plus Cheshire, there were a further 32 other counties in England as follows: Bedfordshire; Berkshire; Buckinghamshire; Cambridgeshire; Cornwall; Derbyshire; Devon; Dorset; Essex; Gloucestershire; Hampshire; Hertfordshire; Hertfordshire; Huntingdonshire; Kent; Leicestershire; Lincolnshire; London (Middlesex); Norfolk; Northamptonshire; Nottinghamshire; Oxfordshire; Rutland; Shropshire; Somerset; Staffordshire; Suffolk; Surrey; Sussex; Warwickshire; Wiltshire and Worcestershire.
  • The South East: Of these other English counties, London and some of its neighbouring counties were particularly populous as of course they still are. There were just short of 3 million people in Middlesex (London) and additionally in Surrey there were 1.4 million people. In Essex there were more than half a million people and the population in Kent (996,770) was just short of a million. Such a populous region as the South East often inevitably includes Northern surnames that have gravitated southward but rarely do these surnames have any proportional significance within the population of the South East.
  • Scotland: The total population of Scotland in 1881 was 3.4 million, focused primarily on the central lowland belt stretching from Glasgow to Edinburgh.
  • Wales: The total population of Wales in 1881 was just over 1.5 million and focused upon Cardiff, Swansea and the industrial mining valleys of the south.

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