Cumbrian surnames

Cumbrian surnames may not, for the most part, be exclusive to old Cumberland or Westmorland. But, there many surnames that are strongly associated with the twin counties.

Are there Birds on your family tree? Is it a Pears tree? Then you could have a Cumbrian connection.

It’s not guaranteed, of course: few names are exclusive to any one place. Our ancestors moved around more than you might think, and many names are derived from local topography, or nicknames, or patronyms, or occupations.

But there are still some surnames that ‘jump out at you’ as being at least possibly Cumbrian surnames. And others which, while undoubtedly Scottish in origin have or had a big presence in Cumberland/Westmorland as families followed the drover roads south. 

As this is a big topic, I have spit it into two posts. Part 2 will look at commonly found Cumbrian surnames, and at the origin of surnames.

Part 1 is shorter, and looks at the riding names (the border reivers), and at the big landowners and politicians who dominated Cumberland and Westmorland for centuries.

 Border reivers

The reivers didn’t actually take a great deal of notice of borders: roving (and raiding) freely was after all, what they were about. Their primary allegiance was to themselves, and they weren’t averse to teaming up with another clan from the ‘other side’ if it suited their interests on that particular occasion. 

That said, some reiver clans were heavily Scottish (eg, the Irvines, the Johnstones, the Maxwells. Others are more associated with modern-day Northumbria (eg, the Charltons, Milburns, and Robsons).

Traditional Cumbrian surnames that indicate reiver ancestry are:

Armstrong, Bell, Elliot, Graham, Hetherington, Hodgson, Liddell, Nixon, Noble, Salkeld.

Though again, the were Scottish Armstrongs and Grahams, and there are Hetheringtons in the north-east.

The big landowners

Some families dominated Cumbrian history down the centuries, as major landowners, politicians. Their titles may seem to have little to do with Cumbria, nor did they all have Cumbrian surnames.

For instance, William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland sounds about as Cumbrian as the Duke of Norfolk. 

Yet the former owned the estate of Penrith and Inglewood. While the Howard (Norfolk) dynasty’s primary residences were Arundel Castle, in Sussex – and Greystoke Castle in Cumberland. 

The Cavendish family held the title Duke of Devonshire – the latter’s ownership of land in Cumbria has left its mark on Carlisle in the form of Devonshire Street (the street sign is pictured). 

There is also: Portland Place and Portland Square; Cavendish Terrace; Howard Court, Place and Street, and; Norfolk Court, Road, Street, and Terrace.

Other ‘big’ families in Cumbria down the centuries include:

Aglionby, Brougham, Carleton, Clifford, Dacre, Dalston, Fleming, Fletcher, Huddleston, Lawson, Lowther, Musgrave, Senhouse, Vane.

Obviously, simply sharing a surname with one of them doesn’t mean you have any claim to the family silver!

More family history advice

If you are tracing your family history, you can find posts on other topics, such as wills and family tree mistakes, by checking out the topics index page.

You can find people who feature in articles on the names index page.