Guide to North East Surnames: R

Surnames: Raine to Rutherford

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Radcliffe surname

Border Reiver family surname

The Radcliffe or Radclyffe surname does not seem to have any obvious North East distribution despite the surname’s historic association with Dilston near Hexham, the home of James Radclyffe, the eighteenth century Jacobite Earl of Derwentwater. The variation Ratcliffe seems to have had a strong  Lancashire and Yorkshire distribution with proportionally significant numbers in the Isle of Man. There were 3,482 people called Radcliffe in the 1881 census and only 12 lived in Northumberland and 12 in Durham. Lancashire was home to 1,393 and Yorkshire 778. There were 441 on the Isle of Man.

Scenery at Dilston
Scenery at Dilston © David Simpson

Ratcliffe was a more numerous surname than Radcliffe in the 1881 census occurring 10,242 times but was again most notable in Lancashire with 3,634 while Yorkshire was home to 1,348. There were 144 Ratcliffes in Durham and only 73 in Northumberland.

Radcliffe (which means ‘red cliff’) is the name of a place near the Northumberland coast to the south of Amble and also the name of places in Lancashire and Nottinghamshire. Places called Ratcliffe in  Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Devon have the same ‘red cliff’ meaning as Radcliffe as does Radclive in Buckinghamshire.

Raine surname

County Durham and Yorkshire surname

Raine is a well-known Durham name especially ‘up and down Teesdale’ according to Henry Guppy. It was also connected with Darlington and Newcastle. It was noted in the Darlington and south west Durham area since the sixteenth century. Notable Raines in County Durham included the clergyman and antiquarian James Raine (1791-1858). The surname sometimes occurs in the form Rain, a notable being the Sunderland surveyor, John Rain who created the endearing Rain’s Eye plan of Sunderland in about 1790.

Low Street Sunderland
Detail from Rain’s Eye Plan of Sunderland, late 18th century

There were 2,514 people called Raine in the 1881 census and it was notable, proportionally, in Durham where there were 266 individuals. In Yorkshire there were 700; in Northumberland 123; in Cumberland 81; Lancashire 55 and in Westmorland 20. In Scotland there were only 12, with most of the remaining 257 Raines living in the south east of England.

Rain surname

In 1881, the variation Rain was also most prominent in County Durham (153) followed by Yorkshire (67) and Lancashire (58) and it was a little bit more prominent in Scotland than Raine, with 72 individuals. A rare variation of the surname was Rayne that was also most numerous in Durham.

Reay surname

Northumberland and Durham surname

Reay is thought to be a Scottish surname of Starthclyde-Briton origin though it is predominantly a Northumberland and Durham surname. Henry Guppy noted that Wray, another variation was prominent in the York area. In the 1881 census there 2,249 people with the name Reay of which only 84 resided in Scotland. In the six northern counties there were 2,249 of which 946 resided in Durham; 661 in Northumberland; 494 in Cumberland; 110 in Lancashire and 12 in Westmorland. There were only 26 people of the name Reay in Yorkshire with the rest of England being home to 273 individuals.

Redhead surname

Northern England and Eastern Midlands

Found in the Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and North East England areas. In 1881 there were 1,827 Redheads with 389 in Lancashire; 242 in Northumberland; 197 in Durham; 195 in Yorkshire; 42 in Cumberland and 24 in Westmorland. They were also significant in some of the eastern counties, notably Cambridgeshire where there were 126;  in Lincolnshire where there were 93 and in Northamptonshire where there were 91. Others were spread across England particularly in the south east.

Reed surname

North Eastern and Border Reiver family surname

Reed / Reid / Read surnames

According to Henry Guppy the surname variant Reed was especially prominent in Cornwall and Devon with a secondary centre of prominence in Northumberland and Durham. There were other spellings in the past and in Bishop Hatfield’s Survey of Durham (1377-1380) a Ricardus Rede is noted in connection with Chester-le-Street.

According to Guppy, the form Read did not occur north of a line drawn from the Humber to the Mersey and is principally found in East Anglian counties. Overall Guppy observed that all three main variations are characteristically absent from the midlands region. Reid seems to be the Scottish version of the surname with Reed prominent in Durham, Yorkshire and Northumberland.

Reed was the 50th most numerous surname in the County of Durham in the 1881 census but did not make it into the top fifty names for Northumberland; Yorkshire; Lancashire; Cumberland or Westmorland.

The 1881 census seems to confirm the patterns of distribution that Guppy identified. Great Britain was home to 22,248 people called Reed in 1881 of which only 230 resided in Scotland but with 6,723 in the six northern-most counties of England. County Durham was home to 2,071; Yorkshire 1,861; Lancashire 1,152; Northumberland 1,151; Cumberland 441 and Westmorland 47. The remainder were distributed across the rest of England. When the proportions of county populations are taken into account it is safe to describe Reed as a North East England surname.

In the case of Reid, Guppy’s assertion that it was of Scottish predominance is confirmed with 23,863 of the 31,766 Reids in Great Britain in 1881 residing in Scotland. The six northern counties of England accounted for 3,513 of the Reids of which Lancashire with 1,649 individuals was most prominent, presumably from an influx of Scots into its industrial areas. Northumberland was in a distant second place with 592 Reids followed by Yorkshire with 526; Durham 417; Cumberland 307 and Westmorland 22. The remaining individuals were distributed across the rest of England.

Read was very much a south country name in 1881. Of the 20,456 individuals in Great Britain in 1881 some 17,533 lived outside of Scotland and the six northern counties. In the northern counties Reads were most numerous in Lancashire with 1,594 followed by Yorkshire 814; Durham 110; Northumberland 62; Cumberland 65 and Westmorland 58. Scotland was home to only 220 Reads.

The Reed, Reid and Read surnames could have a number of different origins. They could mean ‘red’ as in red-haired or of red complexion and ‘red’ is the most likely explanation in the case of the Scottish Reid. They could also be derived from an old word for a clearing or from the presence of reeds growing nearby or perhaps from a place in Lancashire called Read or maybe from the valley of the River Rede in Redesdale.

A Ralph Reed was mayor of Newcastle in 1716 and an Archibald Reed was mayor of that town in 1800, 1806, 1819, 1826, 1830 and 1831.

Rennison surname

North Yorkshire surname

A North Yorkshire and Dales area surname that is also notable in Northumberland and Durham. It was listed by Henry Guppy as a surname in the North or East Riding of Yorkshire. In the 1881 census there were 842 Rennisons in Great Britain of which 353 resided in Yorkshire; 135 in Durham and 111 in Northumberland. There were 47 in Lancashire; 12 in Westmorland and 10 in Cumberland. Many of the remaining Rennisons resided in the south east.

Richardson surname

North of England name

A North of England surname that Henry Guppy found especially prominent in Cumberland, Westmorland, Durham, Northumberland and the North and East Ridings of Yorkshire. A variation is Ritson (which also means Richard’s son) that was frequent in Cumberland, Westmorland and Durham.

Richardson was the 10th most numerous surname in the county of Westmorland in the 1881 census. It was 11th in County Durham; 15th in Northumberland; 18th in Cumberland and 30th in Yorkshire but did not make it into the top fifty names for Lancashire or Cheshire.

There were 51,493 Richardsons in the 1881 census of which 8,222 resided in Yorkshire. There were 5,460 in Lancashire; 4,942 in Durham; 2,744 in Northumberland; 1,478 in Cumberland and 540 in Westmorland. Scotland was home to 3,925 with the rest spread throughout England and especially the south east.

In Bishop Hatfield’s survey of Durham (1377-80), Richardson occurs in the names of John Richardson at Boldon; Roger Richardson at Tunstall near Sunderland and Thomas Richardson at Murton.

A John Richardson was mayor of Newcastle in 1454, 1455, 1456, 1457, 1459 and 1461. A Nicholas Richardson was mayor of Durham in 1668 and 1669 and a John Richardson was mayor there in 1754.  A Thomas Richardson was mayor of Newcastle in 1888 and a Norman Richardson, mayor of Durham in 1963.

Riddell surname

Scottish surname with North East presence

In the sixteenth and seventeenth century a number of mayors and sheriffs of Newcastle went by this name. Riddells were a notable family at Tillmouth in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The surname is possibly derived from a place in Roxburghsire.

Thomas Riddell was mayor of Newcastle in 1510, 1521 and 1526. A William Riddell was Newcastle mayor in 1582 and 1595. A Sir Thomas Riddel was mayor there in 1604 and 1616. A Sir Peter Riddell was mayor in 1619 (and also the town’s MP from 1624 to 1629) and served as the town’s MP during the 1620s.

In the 1881 census there were 2,521 people with this name of which 1,597 resided in Scotland. Northumberland was home to 212; Durham 134, Lancashire 89 and there were 39 in Cumberland with others distributed across the rest of England. The variation Riddel was also predominantly Scottish.

Ridley surname

Border Reiver family Northumberland surname

A North East surname, especially associated with the Tyne Valley and lower parts of the South Tyne. The surname derives from a place of that name in the dale. Also notable were the Ridley Whites or White Ridleys who played an important role in the development of Blyth. This family came about from 1715 after a Matthew White of Blagdon married a member of the Ridley family who were owners of lands in Heaton and Heaton Hall including the mill at Jesmond Dene. Blagdon Hall is the home of Viscount Ridley.

Former entranceway to Blagdon estate.
Former entranceway to Blagdon estate © David Simpson

Notable Ridleys from the North East have included the nineteenth century composer of ‘the Blaydon Races’ Geordie Ridley and the sixteenth century Oxford martyr Bishop Nicholas Ridley.

In 1881 there were 5,794 Ridleys in Great Britain of which 3,430 lived in the six northern counties of England. There were 1,427 in Durham; 1,121 in Northumberland; 376 in Yorkshire; 245 in Cumberland; 208 in Lancashire and 53 in Westmorland and many of their remaining numbers were focused upon the south east.

Ridley : Border Reiver surname
Ridley : Border Reiver surname © David Simpson

A Nicholas Ridley was mayor of Newcastle in 1688 and 1706; a Richard Ridley was mayor in 1713 and 1732; a Matthew Ridley in 1733 and 1744 who was also MP for Newcastle (1747-74). Matthew Ridley was also mayor of Newcastle in 1751 and 1759 and a John Ridley was mayor of the town in 1840. A Newcastle by-election was won by a Sir George Ridley in 1856. An Edward Ridley was elected MP for south Northumberland in 1878.

Ridley Bastle and Ridley Cottage
Ridley Bastle and Ridley Cottage in the hamlet of Ridley, Northumberland © David Simpson

Ridsdale surname

Yorkshire surname with Northumberland root

Ridsdale seems to be primarily a Yorkshire surname though it presumably derives from Ridsdale (in Redesdale) in Northumberland. In the 1881 census there were only 792 people of this name in Great Britain of which 661 resided in the six northern counties of England. They were most numerous in Yorkshire with 525 Ridsdales. In Durham there were 56; in Lancashire 53; in Northumberland 20 and in Cumberland 7 with most of the remainder in the South East.

Robinson surname

Widely distributed surname especially in the North

Widely distributed across England and particularly the northern counties, numerous everywhere though historically it was relatively rare in the south west.

Robinson is one of the most numerous surnames in England and densely distributed in the North in particular. In the 1881 census it was the 2nd most numerous name in Westmorland (after Atkinson); 4th most numerous in the highly populated county of Yorkshire (after Smith, Taylor and Wilson); 5th in County Durham; 7th in both Lancashire and Cumberland; 11th in Cheshire and 14th in Northumberland.

There were 95,941 people called Robinson in the 1881 census of which 20,085 resided in Yorkshire; 16,642 in Lancashire; 7,772 in Durham; 2,770 in Northumberland; 2,476 in Cumberland and 1,167 in Westmorland. The name was broadly spread across the rest of England and Wales with 1,345 in Scotland.

Robson surname

Border Reiver family surname Northumberland Durham surname

The name Robson is so very closely associated with Northumberland and Durham and was the name of a Northumbrian ‘grayne’ (or family tribe) which inhabited the valley of North Tynedale in the Elizabethan days of the Border Reivers. The reivers were violent sheep and cattle rustling families whose allegiance was first and foremost to their family name even if other members of the family group belonged to the opposite side of the Scottish border.

The name Robson means son of Rob or Robert and one suggestion is that their patriarch was Hroethbert, an Anglo-Saxon mentioned on a runic cross found at Falstone in North Tynedale. Border families preyed on their traditional enemies and in the case of the Robsons one of their great enemies was the Graham family who inhabited Liddesdale on the Scottish side of the border.

Falstone, North Tynedale
Falstone, North Tynedale © David Simpson

One day a group of North Tynedale Robsons made a foray deep into Liddesdale and stole a large flock of Graham sheep which they brought back into Tynedale. When it was found that the Graham sheep were infected with scab, which spread like wild fire through the existing Robson flock the Robsons were furious and made a second raid into Liddesdale. Here they caught seven members of the Graham family and executed them all, by hanging them from the neck.

As a ‘calling card’ The Robsons left a sinister note stating that ‘The next time gentlemen cam’ to tak’ their sheep they are no’ te’ be scabbit!’

Robson : Border Reiver surname
Robson : Border Reiver surname © David Simpson

In later centuries when the border troubles came to an end many Robsons left Northumberland to become coal miners in County Durham and Tyneside. Later some descendants turned their attentions to more leisurely activities like managing football clubs or national sides.

Robson surname in 1881 © David Simpson
Robson surname in 1881 © David Simpson and England’s North East 2021

In the 1881 census Robson was the 4th most numerous name in Northumberland after Thompson, Smith and Brown and was 6th most numerous in County Durham after Smith, Brown, Thompson, Wilson and Robinson. The number of Robsons in each county in the 1881 census is shown on the map above.

Henry Guppy noted this surname’s strong association with Northumberland and particularly Falstone in North Tynedale. He noted that it had extended southward significantly into County Durham but had little hold in Scotland north of the Border. He found it in Yorkshire in diminished numbers and noted that it petered out upon reaching Lincolnshire. The similar surname Robertson is predominantly Scottish, though Guppy listed it as a ‘County name’ in Northumberland.

A most notable Robson of a recent age was the football manager and footballer Sir Bobby Robson (1933-2009).

Rochester surname

Durham and Northumberland surname

A Turoldus de Roucestra occurs in the Domesday Book for Essex in 1086 and a Robert Rouchestre in the Assize Rolls for Essex in 1377 so it is assumed that at least these early occurrences of the possible surname derive from Rochester in the nearby county of Kent, though there is also a place called Rochester (High Rochester) in Redesdale in Northumberland, the county where the surname is particularly prominent.

In the 1881 census the surname occurs 784 times and is most numerous in Northumberland with 234 individuals followed by Durham with 187. It was relatively uncommon in the other northern counties with only 45 in Yorkshire and none in Lancashire and there were only 8 in Scotland. Most of the others were spread across the south and south east including 82 individuals in London; 76 in Essex and 25 in Kent.

Roddam and Rodham surnames

Durham surnames of Northumberland origin

Roddam is listed by Henry Guppy as a surname in Northumberland. Rodham with the ‘h’ is a variant form of the surname. A place called Roddam in northern Northumberland is the root of the family name, whose descendants, via County Durham, include the US politician Hilary Rodham Clinton. The name Roddam is said to date back to Anglo-Saxon times and the reign of King Athelstan. In the 1615 Visitation of Northumberland, the surname is still connected with the place called Roddam (Rodham). Two mayors of Newcastle were of this name in the seventeenth and early eighteenth century, namely a Robert Roddam in 1677 and a Jonathan Rodham in 1708.

In Great Britain in the 1881 there were 241 Roddams and 235 Rodhams. In the following list, their numbers in each county are given with the number for Roddam given first and Rodham second. Durham 154 and 116; Northumberland 26 and 24; Cumberland 12 and 12; Westmorland zero and 24. In Scotland there were 6 and 7 (the 6 Roddams were in Fife the 7 Rodhams in Edinburgh). The remainder were scattered thinly across the rest of England.

A notable North Easterner of this name is the Stockton-on-Tees born TV producer Franc Roddam (born 1946).

Routledge surname

Cumberland and the North East

A Border Reiver surname strongly associated with Cumberland and Northumberland but found throughout the North East. It was listed by Henry Guppy as a surname of Cumberland or Westmorland.

In the 1881 census there were 2,548 people with this name of which 1,982 resided in the northern counties of England. It was most numerous in Cumberland in the 1881 census with 759 individuals followed by Durham 361; Lancashire 354; Northumberland 300; Yorkshire 170 and Westmorland 38 with others spread across England and particularly the south east. It was the 36th most numerous name in Cumberland in 1881.

The name derived from a place or location, possibly in Cumberland or Northumberland. The second element ‘ledge’ likely being a ‘letch’ – a watercourse or stream of some kind.

Rowell surname

Northumberland and Durham Border Reiver surname

This Northumberland name is associated with the Tyne Valley area. It is the name of a noted former footballer with Sunderland AFC, the Seaham-born Gary Rowell (born 1957). A mercer by the name of Henry Rowell was the mayor of Durham in 1656 and in 1659.

There were 2,616 people with this name in Great Britain in 1881 of which 524 resided in Durham; 382 in Northumberland; 122 in Yorkshire; 74 in Lancashire; 15 in Cumberland and 4 in Westmorland. There were 40 in Scotland with the rest spread across England and especially the south east.

Rowntree surname

Yorkshire and Durham

A North East, North Yorkshire and midlands surname probably best known as the surname of a City of York confectionery manufacturer. The surname was listed by Henry Guppy as a surname of the North or East Riding of Yorkshire. In the 1881 census there were 1,098 people called Rowntree of which 461 lived in Yorkshire; 299 in Durham; 115 in Northumberland; 46 in Lancashire; 43 in Cumberland and 14 in Scotland with the few remaining Rowntrees mostly focused in the London area. The name derives from Rowan Tree, presumably from someone who lived near one.

Russell surname

Widespread surname

Mostly a surname of the southern half of England but an outlying centre can be found in the North and East Riding of Yorkshire. It was the name of a prominent and wealthy Durham coal-owning family, the Russells of Brancepeth. An earlier association of the surname with Northumberland came in the form of Sir Francis Russell who was an MP for that county from 1572 and from 1584.

In the 1881 census there were 39,072 Russells in Great Britain including 10,309 in Scotland but there was a good representation in the North of England with 2,267 in Lancashire; 2,043 in Yorkshire; 720 in Durham; 462 in Northumberland; 172 in Cumberland and 29 in Westmorland.

Brancpeth Castle
Brancpeth Castle © David Simpson

Rutherford surname

Border Reiver surname in Scotland mostly but Northumberland too

In England this surname is predominantly found in the North East and especially Northumberland. It is of course a Scottish surname and derives from a place-name in Roxburghshire.

Rutherford was the 35th most numerous surname in Northumberland in the 1881 census but did not make it into the top fifty names for any of the other northern counties of England. There were 2,719 Rutherfords in the 1881 census of which 2,879 resided in Scotland.

In the North of England in 1881 there were 1,525 Rutherfords in Northumberland; 1,204 in Durham; 376 in Yorkshire; 310 in Lancashire; 192 in Cumberland and 16 in Westmorland with the others distributed across England.

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