North Surname Meaning, History & Origin

North Surname Meaning

The four points of the compass transposed in England into surnames. Of these, North was the second most popular as a surname.

North might describe where someone had come from. But the largest number of Norths in England in the past seem to have been resident in the north of England. This has led some to speculate that North the surname described someone who came from the north end of a village; or that it described a Norseman; or that its derivation was a place-name in Norfolk or somewhere else now lost.

North could also be of Irish or German origin. North in Ireland would be an anglicized form of the McNulty name found in Ulster (if it is not an English import). The German North in America, originally Nordt, was an anglicized form of nord meaning “north” and sometimes used as a personal name.

North Surname Resources on The Internet

North Surname Ancestry

  • from England (East Anglia)
  • to America and New Zealand

England.  The North surname is best known in Cambridgeshire and Norfolk.

Cambridgeshire and Norfolk.  A North line can be traced back to Robert North, born around 1390 in the village of Kirtling in Cambridgeshire.

From this family came Edward North who prospered as a lawyer and politician in the Tudor court and was ennobled as Baron North. He made his home at Kirtling Hall which has remained in the possession of his descendants. Notable among these descendants have been:

  • Sir Thomas North, the English translator of Plutarch
  • Roger North, who established a short-lived colony in Guyana under Sir Walter Raleigh in 1620
  • Sir Dudley North, the 17th century merchant trader and economics writer
  • Sir Francis North, the first Baron of Guilford, who acquired the family home at Wroxton Abbey in Oxfordshire in 1677.
  • and Frederick North, the English Prime Minister under George III who lost the American colonies in their War of Independence.

The architect Roger North of these Norths settled in the village of Rougham in Norfolk in the late 17th century. His line later extended to Hastings on the south coast where Frederick North was a prosperous landowner and local MP in the mid 19th century and his daughter Marianne a naturalist and botanical artist who exhibited her work at Kew Gardens.

Meanwhile Frederick Lord North. the English Prime Minister. was the second in a family line, the Earls of Guilford, which has extended to the present day.  

Yorkshire. The largest number of Norths were to be found in Yorkshire. The names of Wilelmus, Margareta, and Johannes del North were recorded there in 1379. Earliest family records show Norths in the West Ridings, around Huddersfield.

The Norths of Fenay lived at Almondbury near Huddersfield from 1520 to 1800. An Edward North, a husbandman of Kirkheaton, was recorded as a leasor of land in Westheton in 1565; and the North name was to feature prominently in Kirkheaton and Almondbury parish records of the 17th and 18th centuries. Joseph North for instance, who married Hannah Armitage in 1751, worked as a clothier in Almondbury.

Lincolnshire.  The North name also spilled southwards into Lincolnshire. It appeared in Boston registers from 1563.

John North, born around 1746, was the predecessor of two North brothers who emigrated to America in 1845. The family history was recounted in Mack Omer North’s 1966 book John North of Lincolnshire and His Descendants. Another North family from Louth emigrated to Australia in 1876.

America. Early North arrivals were into New England and, to a lesser extent, into Virginia.

New England.  John North was an early settler in New England, arriving from London in 1635 and being among the original settlers of Farmington, Connecticut. His line was traced in Dexter North’s 1921 book John North of Farmington, Connecticut.

Richard and Joan North had come from Buckinghamshire to Salisbury, Massachusetts in 1639. Their daughter Susannah (North) Martin was caught up in the Salem witch trials and hanged as a witch in 1692.

Other New England Norths were descendants of Thomas North who came to Providence, Rhode Island around 1670. These Norths later settled on Long Island.

Virginia.  An early North line began when Anthony North, originally from Leicestershire in England, married Joan Radcliffe in Essex county, Virginia in 1644.  His descendants remained in Virginia until the Revolutionary War.  One line through Robert North moved south to Georgia around 1790.

Pennsylvania. Many Norths in Pennsylvania probably originated from Caleb North who had arrived with his wife and eleven children from Westmeath in Ireland in 1729 (his forebears having settled there from Cambridgeshire a century earlier). He bought land from the Penn family at Gilbert Manor near Philadelphia in 1734.

Eight of his grandsons, the sons of Roger North, fought in the Revolutionary War. John Ringling North of Ringling circus fame, born in Wisconsin in 1903, may have been related to this family.

Meanwhile Daniel North arrived in Philadelphia from Wurttemberg in Germany in 1740.

New Zealand. Alfred North, the son of a London draper, trained as a Baptist minister and came out to Dunedin in 1882 to help form the Baptist Union of New Zealand. Son John and grandson Lawrence continued his Baptist mission.

North Surname Miscellany

North, South, East and West.  Of the four points of the compass, North has been the second most popular as a surname.  The numbers in England today are:

in England  Numbers (000’s)  Share (%)
West     57   66
North     14   16
East     10   12
South      5    6

Norths in Almondbury.  The village of Almondbury lies close to Huddersfield bridge in Yorkshire and there are intermittent North family name records there going back to the 13th century.

John North was willed lands in Huddersfield, Almondbury and Dalton by his mother Joanna in 1520.  His descendants, the Norths of Fenay, resided at Almondbury until 1800. With the death of Wiiliam North at that time the Fenay branch of the family then became extinct and their Fenay property passed by marriage to the Battys.

It was the 18th century Benjamin North of this family, a lawyer by profession, who had an antiquarian interest and developed the genealogy of the family. He and his immediate relatives were buried at Almondbury.  The inscription on their gravestone is no longer legible, but the following legend has survived:

“The body of Mary Anne, daughter of Benjamin North the younger by Sarah his wife, which child died 4th June 1777 aged one year and seven months; and the body of Sarah his wife which died 4th February 1790 aged 55 years; also interred the body of Mr. Benjamin North junr. who died 13th May 1796 aged 75 years.”

The North Family and Kirtling Tower.  Much of the history of Kirtling Tower is closely associated with the North family.  It was Edward North who constructed Kirtling Hall in 1537.  By 1660 it was the largest country house in Cambridgeshire, with 60 hearths.  The only surviving part today is the free-standing three storey gatehouse.

Between 1677 and the time it was demolished in 1801, Kirtling Hall was hardly lived in by its owners. However, in 1827 Maria North inherited the estate from her eccentric uncle who had joined the Greek Orthodox Church and was chancellor of his own university on Corfu. Maria and her husband set about restoring the dilapidated Tudor gatehouse that was all that was left of the original Hall.

The 11th Lord North and his wife converted to Catholicism before he inherited the estate. They introduced a number of Catholic tenants and domestic staff and briefly a Catholic orphanage.  His objection in 1905 to the new vicar using the family chapel for services caused a furious row between the two which led to the vicar’s resignation.

The 11th Lord North visited mainly for shooting while living mainly at Wroxton.  But his son moved permanently to Kirtling Towers after retiring from the army about 1929.

Norths in America by Country of Origin

Country Numbers Percent
England    302    65
Ireland     85    18
Germany     58    13
Elsewhere     17     4
Total    462   100

Eight North Brothers in the Revolutionary War.  Eight North brothers – Samuel, John, William, Roger, Caleb, George, Joshua and Thomas, all grandsons of Caleb the immigrant  – enlisted in the Continental Army and were present at the Battle of Monmouth in New Jersey in 1778.

After the war George North settled in Jefferson county, Virginia and served as its sheriff in 1809.  He later owned the Laurel Hill plantation.  Caleb moved to Philadelphia and was appointed its sheriff in 1819.

Reader Feedback – Abraham North in Virginia.  I have Abraham North who died in 1800. He was my 5th great grandfather. I have documents where Abraham paid rent to the Queen for the 600 acres he had in Bedford, Virginia.

I’ve seen Anthony North of Virginia before in documents and in different family trees. I’ve seen some trees that have Anthony as Abraham’s father. I’ve not seen any documents that prove that information though.

Sonja North Conner (

Norths from Lincolnshire to Indiana and Illinois.  It started with two young North brothers James and William, raised on a farm near Tydd St. Mary in Lincolnshire, who pooled their savings and purchased passage to America in 1845.

They landed in Quebec in Canada and then made their way to the vicinity of Lawrenceburg in Indiana. Both then enlisted in the US army when the Mexican war broke out and it was not until 1848 that James and William (the latter newly married) returned to Lawrenceburg.  Two brothers from Lincolnshire, John and Henry, soon joined them.

But John and Henry and their families were not to tarry long in Lawrenceburg.  They departed by way of the Ohio, Mississippi, and Illinois rivers for Peoria, Illinois and thence by land to Washington, one of the first prairie towns in Illinois.

There were few families in the Washington area in 1850.  Cabins were widely scattered.  Everyone traveled by horseback; and it was said that a good horse was worth $50, quite a sum in those days.  The North families settled to the north of town, in what was Tazewell county.

These prairie towns must have had their attractions because their two brothers, James and William, left Lawrenceburg in 1855 to be nearer them in another prairie town twenty miles away called Kappa.  Perhaps the attraction here was that the land was cheap – no more than $4-6 per acre.

In total, during the early years, eleven adult Norths made their way from Lincolnshire to America.  Family ties were strong in those days. Although separated during their first years in America, they all eventually all made their way to Kappa.  It was said of them:

“These Norths who came to America were truly pioneers.  They were poor; but their courage more than made up for their poverty.  At Lawrenceburg and Washington each was saving so that some day he could purchase a farm. The sites they eventually purchased near Kappa were of virgin soil and their hardships continued.  Homes had to be built, wells dug, land cleared, and crops planted. A few acres under cultivation at the end of the first year were the result of a major effort.”

North Names

  • Sir Edward North, a Tudor politician, was the first Lord North.
  • Sir Dudley North was a 17th century merchant trader and economics writer.
  • Frederick North, Lord North, was the English Prime Minister who under George III lost the American War of Independence.
  • John Ringling North ran the Ringling Brothers circus from 1938 to 1967.
  • Oliver North was the US Marine Corps officer caught up in the Iran-Contra scandal who later became a media personality.

North Numbers Today

  • 14,000 in the UK (most numerous in Sussex)
  • 8,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 8,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Australia)

North and Like Surnames

From our surname selection here, these are the names of those who have risen in British politics to become Prime Minister from the time the office was first established in the 1730’s (although missing here are noteworthies such as Palmerston, Gladstone, Disraeli, Attlee, and Thatcher).


Click here for return to front page

Written by Colin Shelley

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *