Guide to North East Surnames: A

North East Surnames: Addison to Ainsley

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North East Surnames A

Addison surname

Durham and Northern England surname

Proportionally this surname seems to have a particularly strong focus in the historic County of Durham, though it occurs in Yorkshire at least as early as 1308 in the form Addisone. The name is of course patronymic and means something like ‘Son of Addie’ or possibly ‘Son of Adam’.

In the 1881 Great Britain census the Addison surname was widespread across England and Scotland, though rare in South West England and Wales. In that census there were around 540 individuals with the name Addison in Lancashire; 368 in Yorkshire, especially in the northern parts of the North Riding; 367 in Durham and 935 in Scotland.

When populations of the English counties and Scotland are taken into account (see the foot of this page) Addison is proportionally most frequent in County Durham and seems to be evenly distributed across the county from the south west of the county to South Tyneside. However, only 79 individuals are recorded in neighbouring Newcastle and Northumberland.

Notable Addisons included Thomas Addison who was born at Longbenton near Newcastle and famous for first identifying what came to be known as Addison’s Disease.

Alder surname

Northumberland, Durham and Berkshire surname

Significant concentrations of the Alder surname are found in the North East of England (Northumberland and Durham) compared to all parts of England, Scotland and Wales with the exception of the London area. It was identified by Henry Guppy as a surname peculiar to Northumberland. In the late nineteenth century the surname seems to have been most numerous in London and the counties to the west of the capital and especially dense in Berkshire.

The name means ‘dweller by the alder trees’. An early possible record of the surname is a Ralph De Alre in Berkshire in 1221. Alders are recorded as property owners in Prendwick, Alnham and South Weetslade, all in Northumberland, in 1663.

In the 1881 census there were 300 individuals with the Alder surname in Northumberland and Durham (170 in Durham, 165 in Northumberland). There were 326 in Berkshire; 249 in Surrey and 386 in Middlesex (London). Across the much more populous northern counties of Lancashire and Yorkshire there were by comparison only 106 Alder individuals.

Allan surname

Scotland, Northumberland and Durham surname

The surname Allan is primarily a Scottish surname but there are significant concentrations in Northumberland. Allan is relatively rare in other parts of England and was identified by Henry Guppy as a surname ‘peculiar’ to Northumberland.

Former Dame Allan's Chools building, College Street Newcastle
Former Dame Allan’s Schools building, College Street Newcastle © David Simpson 2021

In the Great Britain census of 1881 there were 18,909 Allans of which 12,237 resided in Scotland. In England their greatest numbers could be found in the northern counties of Yorkshire (867); Northumberland (765) Durham (717) and Lancashire (588).  Proportionally, when population is taken into account the number of Allans is more significant in Durham and Northumberland than in Yorkshire – see county populations in 1881 at the end of this page.

The Allen surname with an ‘e’ in the spelling seems to be more prominent across the rest of England. In the 1881 census there were 56,627 Allens in Great Britain with around half of these residing in London, the South East and East Anglia. There were many in the North too. Lancashire was home to 5,165 Allens; Yorkshire 3,559; Durham 1,213 and Northumberland 498.

There may be more than one origin for the Allan and Allen surnames and their variants and in some cases differing spellings may have resulted from personal choice. Henry Guppy considered the Allen variant rare in the eastern and northern counties beyond the Humber and Mersey.

Alan/Alain was the name of a Welsh and Breton saint and many Bretons arrived from Brittany with the Normans in the Norman Conquest. Alan of Brittany was the Lord of Richmond in Swaledale. However, the Scottish and Northumbrian Allan surname could be from a Gaelic name meaning ‘rock’. Allen is also the name of the river in Allendale, Northumberland which may have given rise to the Alan-a-Dale character in the story and tradition of Robin Hood.

Notable Allans/Allens from the North East include Jimmy Allan (or Jimmy Allen), a Northumbrian gypsy piper and the opera singer from Seaham, in County Durham, Thomas Allen.

The Flatts near Chester-le-Street
High Flatts near Pelton, Chester-le-Street was a family seat of the Allans of Blackwell who built a wagonway from neighbouring Low Flatts inm 1693. Photo © David Simpson

The Allans of Blackwell Grange near Darlington were a notable North East family who originated in Staffordshire. The first to be associated with the North East was George Allan of Yarm-on-Tees whose eldest son, Thomas Allan of Newcastle (born 1651) was a colliery owner who built an early colliery wagonway ‘Thomas Allan’s Way‘ near Chester-le-Street. It was the first known wagonway linked to the River Wear. Another son, George Allan, born in 1663, was the builder of the mansion at Blackwell Grange.

In Newcastle upon Tyne a notable Allan is remembered in the former Dame Allan’s Schools in College Street, founded by Dame Eleanor Allan for poor children from the parishes of St Nicholas and St John in 1883.

Alnwick surname

North East surname with a Northumberland origin

Not a very common surname at all but the Alnwick surname is immediately identifiable as a Northumbrian surname because it would seem to refer to someone who originated from the Northumberland market town of Alnwick. It is proportionally most numerous in the North East of England.

Only 32 individuals are listed with this surname in the 1881 census with almost all of them living in County Durham or Westmorland yet 15 of these gave their birthplace as Northumberland. In 1881 they basically consisted of four families living at Kirkby Stephen (in Westmorland) and Darlington, Westoe and Chopwell in County Durham. The heads of each household were respectively born at Newburn, North Shields (x2) and Ponteland.

The Lion Bridge and Alnwick Castle
The Lion Bridge and Alnwick Castle Photo © David Simpson 2018

Anderson surname

Scottish surname with strong North East presence

Anderson is primarily a Scottish name but with proportionally significant numbers living in the North East of England. The name has something of a Scandinavian feel to it but it is unlikely to have a Scandinavian root. Recorded in Scotland as a surname in the fifteenth century as ‘Androsoun’ with variations Androwson and Androson occurring in Yorkshire later in that century. It means ‘son of Andrew’. Anderson can be a Border Reiver surname but as we have said, its distribution was widespread across Scotland and it is not specifically a Borders surname.

A number of sixteenth and seventeenth century mayors of Newcastle upon Tyne were called Anderson some of whom including a Henry Anderson, Bertram Anderson and Sir Francis Anderson also served as Newcastle’s Member of Parliament.

In 1881 Anderson ranked 18th amongst the commonest surnames in Northumberland and 26th in County Durham but was not one of the top 50 surnames in Yorkshire or any of the other Northern counties of England. There were 59,775 Anderson individuals listed in the 1881 census for Great Britain of which 34,116 resided in Scotland. The number of Anderson individuals in Northumberland and Durham was respectively 2,494 and 3,225.

A prominent house called Anderson Place associated with two different families called Anderson stood at the heart of Newcastle upon Tyne until the second quarter of the nineteenth century and was situated on land that became part of the site developed for the wonderful Neo-Classical streets of the ‘Grainger Town’ area.

Anderson Place, Newcastle
Anderson Place, Newcastle

In the North East notable Andersons include folk musician Alistair Anderson and the film director Paul Anderson.

Appleby surname

Durham and Northumberland surname with a Westmorland root

Probably originating from Appleby in Westmorland (now in Cumbria) although there are places called Appleby in Leicestershire and Lincolnshire. There is also a place called Eppleby in Yorkshire which has the same meaning as Appleby – ‘the apple farm’ – a Viking place-name. Eppleby is in the Richmondshire area of North Yorkshire, a short distance to the south of the River Tees. A Hugh De Apelby is recorded in Yorkshire in 1204. By the seventeenth century one group of Applebys were associated with Acklington in Northumberland, however the surname seems to be most strongly associated with County Durham.

Interestingly, Appleby can sometimes be a gypsy surname, especially of interest given that Appleby in Westmorland is the site of the famed annual gypsy horse fair. Significant proportions of the Appleby surname are found in North East England.

In the 1881 Great Britain census, Durham was the primary county for Applebys with 795 individuals, followed by London (Middlesex), with 550 and Northumberland with 467 Applebys. Despite its probable origin there were no Applebys living in Westmorland and very few in Cumberland in the 1881 census.

Applegarth surname

Durham surname

Listed by Henry Guppy as a surname ‘peculiar’ to County Durham and still very much a North East surname and a rare one with a strong link to County Durham. There were only 199 individuals with this surname in the 1881 Great Britain census of which 142 lived in County Durham.

The surname derives from a Scandinavian place-name of which there are examples in Cumbria and North and East Yorkshire. The place-name means ‘apple enclosure’ or in other words an orchard. However, the earliest probable record of the name is a William De Applegart in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk around 1115, though a Robert Applegarth is mentioned in Yorkshire in 1279.

Applegarths in Durham in 1881 are notable in the Bishop Auckland, Sedgefield and south west Durham areas and around Chester-le-Street. Individuals include farmers at Sedgefield, Cornforth, Brafferton and West Auckland.

Arkle surname

Northumberland surname

This was primarily a Northumberland surname in the Great Britain census of 1881 but a rare one. It is included in Henry Guppy’s list of farming surnames peculiar to Northumberland. A Richard Arkill is mentioned in the Assize Rolls of Northumberland in 1256 and the surname is thought to derive from a Scandinavian personal name. Guppy found this name most prominent in the Morpeth area.

In 1881 there were around 1,185 people listed with the surname Arkle and its variants of which 256 were residing in Northumberland (all but two using the spelling ‘Arkle’). There were 87 in County Durham, again with an overwhelming majority using ‘Arkle’. This demonstrates a very significant proportion in the North East. In Gloucester there were 247 individuals, however all used the spelling Arkell.

Arkle, incidentally, is also the name of a stream, the Arkle Beck, a tributary of the Swale that forms the valley of Arkengarthdale between Teesdale and Swaledale.

Armstrong surname

Border Reiver surname numerous in North East England

A very numerous North East and Borders surname found especially in Northumberland and around Carlisle and one of the most famous (and notorious) of the Border Reiver names. It is also found in Northern Ireland particularly the Fermanagh and Armagh areas where it is likely derived from Border Reiver deportations of the early seventeenth century. A small number of Armstrongs featuring in the 1881 census in North East England were in fact born in Ireland (see Irish surnames in the North East).

Armstrong Border Reivers
Armstrong Border Reivers © David Simpson 2017

In the 1881 census there were 23,076 Armstrong individuals in Great Britain (so this does not include Northern Ireland). Of these, 9,880 lived in the four northernmost counties of England. In those four counties, 3,726 lived in County Durham; 3,170 in Northumberland; 2,794 in Cumberland and 190 in Westmorland. When the population of each county in 1881 is taken into consideration, the proportion of Armstrongs in the County of Cumberland is quite remarkable. In Yorkshire there were 1,492 Armstrongs in 1881. It was the 10th most common name in Northumberland in 1881; 19th in County Durham and ranked 5th in Cumberland but was not amongst the top 50 names in Yorkshire.

Black Middens Bastle
Black Middens Bastle in North Tynedale was atatcked by a party of Armstrongs in 1583© David Simpson 2021

The name Armstrong is found throughout the English speaking world and will be forever famous as the surname of the first man on the moon. Neil Armstrong was very probably descended from the Armstrong clan which inhabited the Border country between England and Scotland in Elizabethan times. Armstrongs were Border Reivers, murderous livestock thieves who inhabited both sides of the border in the days before England and Scotland were united under one monarch.

Famous Border Armstrongs included Kinmont Willie and Jock O’ the Side, who are commemorated in Border ballads and folklore. Armstrongs are mentioned as early as the thirteenth century and are thought to have originated in Cumberland, although one theory traces their family origins back to Siward Beorn, an Anglo-Viking earl of Northumberland.

The best-known story relating to the origin of the Armstrong family name claims descent from a man called Fairbairn, an armour bearer to a Scottish king. Legend claims that when the King’s horse was killed during a battle, Fairbairn lifted the king onto his horse by the thigh using only one arm. Fairbairn was apparently awarded lands in Liddesdale for saving the king’s life and from that day on Fairbairn and his descendants were supposedly known as Armstrong.

Armstrongs (or ‘Armstrangs’) are noted in connection with Cumberland and Northumberland respectively as early as 1250 and 1279. Henry Guppy identified the surname as very prominent in Northumberland and especially the Haltwhistle area though their principal centres were Eskdale in Cumberland and Liddesdale in Scotland. Guppy also noted it as numerous in County Durham and present in Newcastle for 300 years.

Cragside near Rothbury, Northumberland was the home of Lord William Armstrong. Photo © David Simpson

Notable Armstrongs with a North East connection include the famed industrialist Lord William Armstrong; pitman poet, Tommy Armstrong; TV presenter Alexander Armstrong actor Alun Armstrong and a ghost called Archie Armstrong who allegedly haunts Haughton Castle in North Tynedale.

Jesmond Dene, bridge and Armstrong's Banqueting House
Jesmond Dene, bridge and  William Armstrong’s Banqueting House, Newcastle upon Tyne © David Simpson 2021

Atkinson surname

Northern England surname

A very numerous surname in general and especially across northern England with particularly high densities in the north Lancashire and south Cumbria area. It is a common English surname identified by Henry Guppy in a number of northern counties. There were 32,956 individuals with the Atkinson surname in Great Britain in 1881.

In 1881 there were 3,747 Atkinsons living in Durham; 1,870 in Northumberland; 1,408 in Cumberland; 5,686 in Lancashire and 9,754 in Yorkshire. In that year it was the 20th most numerous name in County Durham; ranking 21st in Yorkshire and 37th in Northumberland. Atkinson ranked number one as the most numerous name in the little county of Westmorland in the 1881 census with over a thousand individuals. The name means ‘son of Adkin’, a kinship of Adam.

Henry Guppy considered this a North Country name found north of the Wash and Mersey – having its principal home, in his view, in the counties of Durham, Cumberland and Westmorland.

Notable Atkinsons associated with the North East include the Yorkshire-born Beamish Museum founder, Frank Atkinson and ‘Mr Bean’ and ‘Blackadder’ actor Rowan Atkinson. Mayors of Newcastle have included a Robert Atkinson in 1590; a Joseph Atkinson in 1694 and 1707 and a Charles Atkinson in 1775 and 1783.

In Bishop Hatfield’s survey of Durham (1377-1380) the name Atkinson occurs in connection with the park at Wolsingham (Thomas Attkynson).

Aynsley or Ainsley surname

Northumberland and Durham surname

Although its is likely to have derived from a place-name in Nottinghamshire or Warwickshire, early incidences of this name occur in Scotland (notably Roxburghshire) in the thirteenth and fourteenth century.

It is listed as a Guppy farmers’ surname peculiar to Northumberland and it is still proportionally very much a Northumberland name. In a Visitation survey of Northumberland in 1615 the name Ansley is listed in connection with the place called Shaftoe in the south of the county.

There were 2,068 Aysnleys (or Ainsleys) in Great Britain in 1881 of which 550 resided in Northumberland and 496 in County Durham. There were 497 across Scotland mostly in the lowland counties. It was quite clearly a prominent North East surname in both its forms by the nineteenth century. It was once the name of a noted mustard manufacturer in Durham City.

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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