Guide to North East Surnames: M

Surnames: Maddison to Musgrave

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Maddison surname

County Durham surname

A surname that Henry Guppy linked to County Durham. Maddisons,  he claimed included the ‘Mad Maddisons’ of Saltwellside’. There was certainly a strong Durham concentration of this surname in the 1881 census when 1,380 of the 3,027 individuals with this name lived in that county. Their numbers in the other northern counties were 255 in Yorkshire; 247 in Northumberland and 110 in Lancashire. There were only 3 in Cumberland and 1 in Westmorland and the whole of Scotland was home to only 7. Outside the region the surname was spread across the south and in the midlands where, notably, Lincolnshire was home to 436 individuals of the name.

An early occurrence of this name can be found in County Durham in 1430 with a mention of a William Maddison and also in Yorkshire where a Thomas Madsyson is mentioned in respect to York in 1525. In the 1575 Visitation of Durham a Peter Maddison of Unthanke is listed.

Makepeace surname

County Durham surname

Listed as a surname in County Durham by Henry Guppy, Makepeace is also significant in western parts of Northumberland. In the 1881 census there were 1,000 individuals with this name in Great Britain, of which 289 resided in County Durham. There were 104 in Northumberland; 44 in Yorkshire and 18 in Lancashire with 8 in Cumberland and none in Westmorland. Others were spread across the midlands and south.

The name derives from a peace maker of some kind and although it has a distinctly North East distribution, early recorded occurrences of the surname are in Leicestershire and Staffordshire in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.

Mallam surname

County Durham surname

Listed as a surname in County Durham by Henry Guppy, who associated this surname with Sunderland. In the 1881 census there were 244 people of this name in Great Britain of which 52 resided in County Durham; 23 in Yorkshire; 43 in London; 34 in Oxfordshire and small numbers elsewhere including 3 in Northumberland. Perhaps the name derived from Malham in Yorkshire.

Marley surname

Notable in Durham and Yorkshire

The Marley surname is quite numerous in the North East and the name may originate in the region. The surname derives from a place-name Marley, although there are several places of this name throughout the country including Marley Hill in County Durham, a place-name that means ‘boundary clearing’. Some Marley place-names are thought to describe a woodland clearing inhabited by the ferret-like Martens.

Newcastle Castle including the Blackgate
Newcastle Castle including the Blackgate © David Simpson

Bishop Hatfield’s survey of Durham (1377-80) includes John Merley at Kibblesworth, Wolsingham and South Bedburn and William Merley at Satley, Wolsingham and Stanhope.

Famous people with the surname Marley included Sir John Marley, the mayor and defender of Newcastle during the Civil War in 1644. In 1750 a woman called Elsie Marley, became famous as the landlady of a pub called the White Swan at Picktree near Chester-le-Street.

Elsie was seemingly very popular with her customers until she acquired some terrible unknown illness which caused her to go delirious. The disease proved fatal when in a moment of madness, poor Elsie escaped from her sick bed one night and ran across a nearby field. She fell into a disused coal pit and drowned.

Elsie is commemorated in a local folk song Di ye’ ken Elsie Marley Hinny?  The first verse states:

‘Di’ ye ken Elsie Marley hinny?,

the wife that sells the barley hinny,

lost her pocket and all of her money

a’ back o’ the bush in the garden hinny’.

A later verse refers to the lads of nearby Lambton who are to pay for Elsie’s new straw hat. Marley place-names in the North East include Marley Hill in north west Durham and Marley Pots in Sunderland.

There were 1,922 people called Marley in the 1881 census of which 522 resided in County Durham. In Yorkshire there were 266; in Lancashire 120 and Northumberland 82. There were only 4 Marleys in Cumberland and 1 in Westmorland. There were only 154 people called Marley in the whole of Scotland and most of the others were spread around the south east with another notable grouping in the south west with 133 in the county of Devon and 48 in Somerset.

Marshall surname

Widespread name in England, numerous in the north

A fairly widespread name in England. It was the 24th most numerous name in Yorkshire in the 1881 census and the 45th most numerous in Northumberland but remarkably did not make it into the top fifty names in the county of Durham which lies between the other two counties. Nor did it make it into the top fifty names for Lancashire, Cumberland or Westmorland.

There were 52,160 people called Marshall in the 1881 census and it was very widely distributed. Yorkshire was home to 9,377; Durham 1,908; Lancashire 4,166; and Cumberland 295. Other counties of note included Nottinghamshire where there were 1,767 Marshalls and Derbyshire where there were 1,050 but in truth the surname was spread throughout the country. In Scotland there were 9,316 Marshalls.

A John Marshall was the mayor of Hartlepool in 1654, 1656, 1658, 1661 and 1667.

Martin surname

Widespread surname in Britain

A widespread general surname across England but one of the ‘General’ Guppy names for Northumberland connected with the Langley Mills and Haydon Bridge area of South Tynedale that was associated with the ‘Mad Martins’. The 1881 census does not show any obvious link to Northumberland. Of the 73,000 or so people with this name in Great Britain in the 1881 census only 894 resided in Northumberland. The name can sometimes be of Irish origin.

Haydon Bridge
Haydon Bridge © David Simpson

Marwood surname

Durham surname

Marwood is a part of Barnard Castle and the old name for the area before the castle was built. There were 787 people of this name in the 1881 census and they were most numerous in Yorkshire with 368 individuals followed by County Durham with 65. Others included 57 in London; 49 in Lincolnshire; 47 in Devon; 37 in Surrey; 36 in Lancashire; 1 in Northumberland; 1 in Cumberland and only 1 in Scotland,

Metcalfe surname

Yorkshire Dales surname

The Metcalfe surname is strongly associated with the Yorkshire Dales and in particular Wensleydale where we find Nappa Hall, a fifteenth century house built by one of the family as a defence against the Scots. The surname occurs in three main forms in the 1881 census: Metcalfe, Metcalf and Medcalf which all have a similar distribution and when grouped together account for 14,480 individuals in that census.

It is predominantly a Northern surname and occurs in the 1881 census in the northern counties (grouping the three variants together) as follows: Yorkshire 5,958; Lancashire 2,245; Durham 1,650; Westmorland 376; Cumberland 287 and Northumberland 280. The figure in Westmorland is very significant for such a low-populated county.

If the three variations of this surname were included as one, it would have been one of Westmorland’s top fifty surnames where it would have ranked 16th in 1881 but none of the three variations make it into the top fifty surnames in their own right for any of the northern counties in 1881.

The surname in all its forms comes from an old medieval term ‘mete-calf’, which refers to a calf that has been fattened up for eating. It is likely that as a surname it was originally some kind of nickname.

Middlemas and Middlemiss surnames

Borders and Northumberland name

These are Borders, Lothians and Northumberland surnames and were listed by Henry Guppy as surnames ‘peculiar’ to Northumberland. The surname sometimes occurs as Middlemast or Middlemost.

Grouping all the variations together there were only 1,710 in the whole of Great Britain in the 1881 census. Some 687 of these were residing in Scotland; 360 in Northumberland; 95 in Yorkshire and 35 in Lancashire. The surname did not occur in Westmorland or Cumberland in the census. First recorded in the fifteenth century the surname derives from the ‘middlemost’ or ‘middlemaist’ lands of Kelso in Tweeddale across the Border in Scotland.

Middleton surname

Widespread, significant in Yorkshire

A midlands and northern name including some notorious medieval members from the Border country of Northumberland. Quite numerous and widespread, there were 15,744 individuals of this name in the 1881 census of which 2.256 resided in Scotland. In Northern England there were 4,855 Middletons as follows: Yorkshire 2,539; Lancashire 1,157; Durham 811; Northumberland 185; Cumberland 97; and Westmorland 66. The surname was otherwise spread across England.

In 1415 the Tower of Belsowe (Belsay – now Belsay Castle) was recorded as the home of Sir John Middleton who was an MP for Northumberland from 1414 and again from 1417. A William Middleton was the MP for Newcastle upon Tyne from 1414 and a Sir William Middleton was the MP for the County of Northumberland from 1722 and 1774. A Sir Arthur Middleton was an MP for the City of Durham from 1874, although he was born Arthur Edward Monck.

The 1575 Visitation of Durham features a Thomas Middleton of Barnard Castle and George Middleton of Silksworth.

Milburn surname
Northumberland and Durham surname Border Reiver name

A name of North East England, especially Northumberland. Milburn was a name used to describe someone whose ancestor lived near a stream with a mill and the name is thought to have originated in Northumberland. The family names Milburn and Charlton were well known in Northumberland long before ‘Wor Jackie’ Milburn and his equally famous footballing relatives Jack and Bobby Charlton achieved fame.

Like many northern surnames Milburn and Charlton were Border names associated with the lawless cattle and sheep thieving clans – the Border Reivers of the Border country. It is perhaps no coincidence that the ‘freebooting’ Borderers who roamed the Northumbrian fells in Elizabethan times were very keen on football. Border football matches were played with great vigour, violence and enthusiasm.

North Tynedale
North Tynedale photographed from the Kielder dam © David Simpson

Some well-known footballers of more recent times like Ashington’s famous sons may be descended from the Milburns and Charltons who once inhabited North Tynedale, where they lived in close proximity to the Dodds and Robsons.

Together these families were known as the four graynes or clans of North Tynedale. Milburns were perhaps the least known of the four but played their part in many a border raid often siding with the Charltons and Dodds on their regular forays into Scotland.

Milburn : Border Reiver surname
Milburn : Border Reiver surname © David Simpson

In the 1881 census there were 3,063 people called Milburn of which 2,667 resided in the six northern counties of England. Some 940 resided in County Durham; 699 in Northumberland; 396 in Cumberland; 365 in Yorkshire; 177 in Lancashire and 90 in Westmorland with 48 in Scotland and the rest located elsewhere in England.

Miller surname

Widespread with a strong Northern and Scottish presence

Three central groups were identified by Henry Guppy for this surname: A Dorset group that was very numerous but also a northern group in Lancashire, Durham and Northumberland. The third group were, according to Guppy, the Millers of the Essex area. In Scotland the surname often occurs as Millar.

In the 1881 census Miller was the 45th most numerous name in County Durham and the 47th most numerous in Northumberland but did not make the top fifty names in the northern counties of Westmorland; Cumberland; Yorkshire; Lancashire or Cheshire.

There were 53,884 people called Miller in the 1881 census which included 16,609 in Scotland (these numbers do not include ‘Millar’). In the six northern counties of England there were 11,180 made up of 5,034 in Lancashire; 2,202 in Durham; 2,037 in Yorkshire; 1,273 in Northumberland; 567 in Cumberland and 67 in Westmorland.

Minto surname

Scottish Borders and North East

A Borders surname from a place of this name near Hawick in Scotland. It also has a significant distribution in the North East of England. In the 1881 census there were 838 people called Minto of which 365 resided in Scotland. South of the border there were 279 in Durham and 72 in Northumberland with only 20 in Yorkshire; 17 in Lancashire and 3 in Cumberland with others mostly in the south east of England.

Mitford surname

Border Reiver family surname

From Mitford near Morpeth where the family owned a castle in medieval times and who have origins that can be traced back to the Norman Conquest.

John Mitford (or de Mitford) was the MP for Northumberland from 1372, 1388, 1390, 1391, 1393, 1394, 1397 1401 and 1402 and a Walter Mitford was the MP from 1380. William Mitford was the county’s MP from 1413, 1416, 1419 and 1421. Henry Mitford was the MP for Newcastle upon Tyne from 1588 and from 1593.

From 1802 senior male members of the Mitford family have held the title Baron Redesdale. This baronial branch included the notorious Mitford sisters (Nancy, Diana, Unity, Jessica), society girls of the 1930s noted for several scandals and for their often extreme political views and associations.

Nancy Mitford was best-known as a novelist, Diana Mitford was known as a prominent fascist who married the British Union of Fascists leader Oswald Mosley, Unity was a friend of Adolf Hitler, Jessica was a Communist and social campaigner and Diana became the Duchess of Devonshire. Despite their Northumbrian family connections none of the sisters were actually born in Northumberland.

Mitford was not a very common surname in the 1881 census with only 196 individuals of which Northumberland was home to 49 and Durham 34 with only 9 in Yorkshire. As a rare name it was dispersed thinly in pockets around the country including 25 in London; 9 in Scotland and 4 in Wales.

Moffat surname

Border Reiver family surname of Scottish origin

From the name of a place in the Scottish Borders to the north of Dumfries and still prominent in that region as well as in the North East. In the 1881 census the surname occurs 8,492 times in the forms Moffat (the most numerous), Moffatt, Moffet and Moffet. Of these, 4,309 occur in Scotland and 2,928 in the six northern counties of England as follows: Lancashire 774; Northumberland 699; Durham 579; Cumberland 495; Yorkshire 295 and Westmorland 72 with the the small remaining number found across the rest of England.

Morland surname

Lancashire and Durham surname

This surname was most prominent in the counties of Durham and Lancashire in the 1881 census with 148 individuals in each out of a total Great Britain population of 844. There were 113 in Yorkshire; 55 in Westmorland; 23 in Cumberland; 14 in Northumberland and 78 across the whole of Scotland with many of the remaining numbers in the south east. A John Morland was the mayor of Durham in 1676 and a George Morland in 1690, George was also the city’s MP from 1689.

The variant surname Moreland had fewer numbers than Morland in the 1881 census with 644 individuals in Great Britain. It was most prominent in Lancashire (with 150 individuals) but was not particularly significant in the North East of England.

Morpeth surname

Northumberland surname

From the town of Morpeth in Northumberland. Like Alnwick, this is a rare surname. In 1881 there were 224 people with this surname of which 122 resided in Northumberland; 42 in Durham; 8 in Lancashire; 3 in Yorkshire and 1 in Cumberland and the remaining 48 mostly residing in London and Surrey.

Morpeth Clock Tower.
Morpeth, showing the town’s clock tower in Oldgate © David Simpson

Mortimer surname

Significant in Yorkshire

A name connected in distribution with Yorkshire and particularly north eastern parts of that county. Historically it was the name of powerful medieval barons, although their influence was mostly in the Welsh marches of Shropshire and Herefordshire. It is of course the surname of the Middlesbrough-born comedian, Bob Mortimer (born 1959).

There were 7,657 people with the surname Mortimer in the 1881 Great Britain census including 1,871 in Yorkshire but the numbers in the other northern counties including Lancashire were not particularly significant and the surname generally does not seem to have shown any obvious regional pattern in its distribution in the 1881 census. Another county with a significant number of Mortimers in 1881 was Devon where there were 840 people of this name.

Mowbray surname

Norman origin, strong northern presence, especially County Durham

The name seems to have had an important distribution in Yorkshire, the North East, Lincolnshire and the Lake District. Robert Mowbray was the name of a powerful Norman Earl of Northumbria. The name derives from Montbrai in Normandy. The Vale of Mowbray is the name of the broad vale around Northallerton and Thirsk that links the Vale of the Tees to the Vale of York. Mowbray Park is the name of the city centre park in Sunderland.

In 1881 there were 1,370 people called Mowbray in the Great Britain census of that year of which 244 resided in Scotland. Their numbers in the North of England were 354 in Durham; 129 In Yorkshire; 84 in Lancashire; 42 in Northumberland and 11 in Cumberland. The rest were more thinly spread across the midlands and south.

Musgrave surname

Border Reiver family Westmorland surname

The surname Musgrave comes from Cumbria, or at least that part of Cumbria formerly known as Westmorland, where we find a place called Musgrave. The place-name means the grove where mice lived and the first owner of the surname will have originated from this place. Musgrave was an important surname in the days of Border warfare, when the Musgraves were allied to the English Crown. Musgraves were often appointed as wardens of the Scottish Border marches, responsible for maintaining law and order in the troubled Border country.

A folk ballad sometimes known as Lord Darlington and Little Musgrave links the name of Musgrave with County Durham. In the ballad Musgrave is caught sleeping with the lord’s wife in a bower at Oxenhall, on a cold November’s night. His discoverer, a little foot page quickly informed Lord Darlington of his find. The Lord silently approached the two lovers as they slept:

‘Arise, arise my little Musgrave,

and put your clothing on,

It shall never be said in all my life,

that I slew a naked man.

The first blow, his wife got a deadly wound,

the very next blow Lord Darlington gave,

Musgrave lay dead upon the ground’.

Another traditional version of the ballad is called ‘Lord Barnard and Little Musgrave’ and has been recorded by the Irish folk group Planxty.

The surname occurs in the form Musgrave 1,816 times in the 1881 census and in the form Musgrove 1,448 times. The 1881 figures for Musgrave are given first followed by Musgrove as follows: Yorkshire 640 and 103; Durham 206 and 178; Cumberland 179 and 59; Lancashire 154 and 173; Northumberland 25 and 85; Westmorland 14 and 14. In Scotland there were 11 Musgraves and 38 Musgroves with many of the remaining Musgraves and Musgroves focused upon London and the south east.

A John Musgrave was the mayor of Newcastle in 1443 and a Cuthbert Musgrave was mayor there in 1560.

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