Guide to North East Surnames: K

North East Surnames: Kell to Kirton

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Kell surname

County Durham surname

A name with a North East focus especially in County Durham, though the surname had an historic connection with the village of Wall in Northumberland. In 1881 there were 1,214 Kells in the Great Britain census with more than half residing in the northern English counties. The number of Kells in the northern counties in 1881 was as follows: Durham 479; Yorkshire 178; Northumberland 91; Lancashire 31 and Cumberland 3. In Scotland there were only 47 Kells with many of the remaining Kells found in London and the south east. The name is thought to be from a shortening of the Old Norse personal name Ketill. There is of course, a Kell’s Lane in Gateshead.

Kellow surname

A south west England name, with a possible North East origin

Historic County Durham surname originating from Kelloe. Kellaw was the surname of one of the medieval Prince Bishops of Durham. The surname occurs in Northumberland in 1256 and Yorkshire in 1339. However, the distribution in the 1881 census shows that there were only 536 people called Kellaw in Great Britain of which only 4 resided in the northern counties (Lancashire and Yorkshire). The focus for the surname in 1881 was south west England with 228 in Cornwall; 78 in Wiltshire and 31 in Devon; 9 in Gloucestershire and 6 in Somerset with the remaining population spread mostly across London and the south east. Perhaps these names have no connection with the Durham name of earlier times. There were 17 people in Scotland with the name Kellow in 1881.

Kelloe Church
Kelloe Church of St Helen © David Simpson

Kendrew surname

Yorkshire surname

A Yorkshire surname associated with North Yorkshire in particular. It was listed by Henry Guppy as a surname in the North or East Riding of Yorkshire. In the 1881 census there were only 366 people called Kendrew of which 288 lived in Yorkshire. There were 28 individuals in Durham; 23 in Lancashire; 2 in Northumberland and 6 in Scotland with the remaining 19 residing mostly in London and Cheshire.

Kettlewell surname

Yorkshire surname

A surname of the Yorkshire Dales derived from the place of that name in Wharfedale. Listed by Henry Guppy as a surname in the North or East Riding of Yorkshire. There were 941 people with this surname in the 1881 census of which 631 resided in Yorkshire. There were 71 in Lancashire; 33 in Durham and only one in Northumberland. Others were mostly spread across East Anglia and the south east.

Kettlewell and the River Wharfe © David Simpson

Kipling surname

Northern surname of Yorkshire and Durham

Henry Guppy considered this a surname of the North or East Riding of Yorkshire. In 1881 there were 736 people with this name in the census with Yorkshire being home to 223. County Durham was also important for the name Kipling with 223 individuals. There were 30 in Lancashire;  23 in Northumberland and 25 in Cumberland. Most of the remaining Kiplings could be found in London and the south east.

There is a place called Kiplin in North Yorkshire north of the River Swale just to the east of Catterick. It is the site of Kiplin Hall and its Anglo-Saxon name means settlement of the Cippelings, a tribal group of some kind. This may be the origin of the Kipling name, although there is also a Kiplingcotes in the Yorkshire Wolds to the north west of Beverley.

Kirkup surname

Northumberland and Durham surname

A North East surname which seems to have a strong focus in Northumberland. It was listed as a Guppy surname in Durham. There were 725 Kirkups in the 1881 census for Great Britain with 296 found in Durham; 210 in Northumberland; 54 in Cumberland and 22 in Yorkshire. Scotland was home to 20 people called Kirkup and the rest were found across East Anglia and the south east. The name perhaps derives from Kirkhope near Selkirk in the Scottish Borders or the surname is possibly related to a similar surname Kirkham which derives from a place in Lancashire.

Kirton surname

County Durham surname

Kirton is listed as a Guppy surname in Durham. The name originated in Lincolnshire but was closely associated with Durham by the nineteenth century. It was regarded as a south Durham name. The name probably derives from Kirkton – a place in Lincolnshire as the surname Kirketon occurs in the Assize Rolls for Lincolnshire in 1219. A Robert Kirton was mayor of Durham in 1783 and 1795 and a Richard Kirton was mayor of Durham in 1819.

In the 1881 census there were 1,382 people in Great Britain called Kirton of which 310 could be found in the County of Durham. Yorkshire was home to 170; Lincolnshire home to 158; Northumberland 123 and Lancashire only 16. There were 132 people with the name Kirton in Scotland. The remaining Kirtons were spread across England, notably in the south east.

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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Introduction to North East surnames

Border Reivers

Guppy’s surnames

North East Notable People


Border Reiver Surnames of the Anglo-Scottish Border. Poster Print.


North East England History and Culture