Guide to North East Surnames: O

North East Surnames: Ogle to Ormston

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Ogle surname

Border Reiver family surname Northumberland surname

Not a common surname but a one that certainly belongs to the North East. Ogles are named from the village of Ogle near Ponteland and were the owners of Ogle Castle and nearby Kirkley Hall. A Robert De Ogle is mentioned in Northumberland as early as 1181.

Ogle, Northumberland
Ogle, Northumberland © David Simpson

In 1415 a list of castles and towers in Northumberland included a number of properties belonging to a Sir Robert Ogle as follows:

Sir Robert Ogle was an MP for Northumberland from 1416 and from 1419, 1420, 1421, 1425 and 1435. A Sir John Ogle was an MP for the county in 1451; a Henry Ogle in 1654 and a William Ogle in 1685. A Saville Ogle was an MP for southern Northumberland in 1841.

There were only 961 people called Ogle in the 1881 census and 203 of these lived in the county of Northumberland with 90 in Durham; 164 in Yorkshire and 74 in Lancashire. There were 27 people called Ogle in Scotland and the rest were found across England and especially London and the south east. The place-name Ogle is said to mean Ocga’s Hill, named from the son of Ida, King of Bernicia.

Oley surname

North East surname of German origin

The surnames Olley (of Dorset and Wiltshire) and Mole could both be found in England before the seventeenth century, the first seems to be derivative of a Norman French place-name Ouilly (of which there is more than one in Normandy), the second is a nickname for a small mole-like man. However, in the North East of England, German surnames Ohlig and Mohl were anglicised to Oley and Mole after two families of these names settled at Shotley Bridge in 1691.

Ohligs and Mohls were Lutheran sword makers who fled from Solingen in Germany to escape religious persecution. They were attracted to Shotley by the fast flowing waters of the River Derwent and the remoteness of the area, which limited the possibility of industrial espionage in the form of strangers or spies, copying their sword making methods.

Shotley Bridge Swordmakers' plaque
Shotley Bridge Swordmakers’ plaque © David Simpson

In the 1881 census there were 74 people called Oley in Great Britain almost all of whom lived in the North East with 50 in County Durham and 12 in Northumberland. In London there were 10 people of this name plus one in Lancashire and one in Denbigshire (Wales).

The separate surname Olley with the double L was much more numerous and widespread and much less northern. There were 43 Olleys in Durham and also 43 in Yorkshire with 34 in Northumberland. Olley was most numerous in the counties of Norfolk (315) and Essex (127) plus 177 in London; 82 in Surrey and 37 in Kent and found mostly in other counties around the south and south east.

Oliver surname

Widespread surname in England with North East prominence

Very widespread across England but especially concentrated in Northumberland and Durham. Also found in Scotland and its Borders. Oliver can sometimes be a Border Reiver surname.

In the Great Britain census of 1881 there were 21,406 people with this name. In Scotland there were 2,056 Olivers and 920 people in Wales. Olivers were particularly numerous in the northern counties of England with proportionally very significant numbers in Northumberland and Durham when the population of these two counties is compared to Yorkshire and Lancashire.

There were 1,710 Olivers in Durham; 1,675 in Yorkshire; 1,206 in Northumberland; 1,161 in Lancashire; 11 in Cumberland and 19 in Westmorland. Other Olivers were distributed across the midlands, south west and south with the usual typical concentration in the populous London area. Oliver was the 49th most numerous surname in the county of Northumberland in the 1881 census but did not make it into the top fifty names in any of the other Northern counties of England. Oliver (Oliverus) occurs as a forename in England in the Domesday Book in 1086 and occurs as a surname in Devon and Cornwall as early as the thirteenth century.

Ord surname

Northumberland Durham surname

From a place in north Northumberland near Berwick and very much a North East surname from north Northumberland down to Teesside. The Ords were Lords of Ord near Berwick from the twelfth century. Later groups included the Ords of Longridge, Grindon and Holy Island. A William Ord was the MP for Newcastle upon Tyne from 1835 and a John Walker Ord was the author of the History and Antiquities of Cleveland published in 1846.

There were 1,991 people called Ord in the 1881 Great Britain census. Durham was home to 741 individuals; Northumberland 507; Yorkshire 199; Lancashire 105; Cumberland 6 and Westmorland 1. In Scotland there were 198 people called Ord with the rest scattered across England, including a small concentration in London and the south east.

Ormston Surname

Northumberland and Durham name with Scottish roots

Listed by Henry Guppy as a name peculiar to Northumberland, Ormston has its origins in the Lothians, deriving from a place called Ormiston to the east of Edinburgh. It probably first occurred in the Borders. The place-name from which the surname derives is part-Viking, incorporating the Norse personal name Orm.

Ormston without the ‘i’ seems to be the Northumberland and Durham version of the surname. There were 542 people called Ormston in the 1881 census of which 188 lived in Northumberland; 134 in Durham; 93 in Lancashire and 36 in Cheshire. There were only 22 people of this name in Scotland and only 18 in Yorkshire. The few remaining Ormstons lived mostly in London and the south east.

The surname variation Ormiston with the ‘i’ has more of a Scottish distribution than Ormston. There were 885 people with this name in the 1881 census of which 614 resided in Scotland. In the North of England there were very few Ormistons with 46 in Northumberland; 32 in Durham; 33 in Yorkshire; 22 in Lancashire and 21 in Cumberland and only a scattering elsewhere in England mostly in the south east.

Another similar surname is Urmston which has a very definite Lancashire bias and probably derives from the place called Urmston near Manchester. In 1881 there were 270 people with this name in the Great Britain census of which 239 lived in Lancashire and 20 in neighbouring Cheshire with 11 others living in England’s South and South West. It is possible that some of the 93 Ormstons found in Lancashire mentioned above were in fact Urmstons given that Ormston seems to be otherwise very much a Northumberland and Durham name that has little presence in neighbouring Yorkshire.

Ovington maypole
Ovington village near Barnard Castle is noted for its maypole © David Simpson

Ovington Surname

Durham and Yorkshire surname

Likely from the village of Ovington on the south side of the Tees between Barnard Castle and Darlington, although there is also an Ovington to the north of the Tyne near Prudhoe in Northumberland. There were only 223 people of this name in the 1881 census of which 109 resided in County Durham. There were 53 in Yorkshire; 19 in Northumberland and 13 in Lancashire with the rest distributed across the south and south west. A Robert Ovington was mayor of Durham in 1827.

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