Guide to North East Surnames : A

North East England Surnames : A

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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 is widespread across England and Scotland, though rare in South West England and Wales. In this census there are 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 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 (above) 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 1881 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.

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 (above) and the opera singer from Seaham, in County Durham, Thomas Allen.

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.

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. 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 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.

Interestingly, Appleby can sometimes be a gypsy surname , especially given that Appleby in Westmorland is the site of the famed 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 individuals 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 farming 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

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.

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, so numerous in the north of England 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 from Cumbria, 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 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 that allegedly haunted 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 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.

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. 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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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