North Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Select North 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
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 Resources on

North Ancestry

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
  • 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.

Frederick Lord North 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.

Norths of Fenay lived at

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
and Almondbury parish records of the 17th and 18th centuries.
North for instance, who married Hannah Armitage in 1751, worked as a
in Almondbury.

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
Another North family from Louth emigrated to
Australia in 1876.

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

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

Pennsylvania. Many
Norths in Pennsylvania probably originated from Caleb North who had
arrived with his wife and eleven children from Westmeath in Ireland in
(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
, 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


North 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.

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.

was the 18th century
Benjamin North of this family, a lawyer by profession, who had an
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:

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
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.

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.

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

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
1809.  He later owned
the Laurel Hill plantation.  Caleb
moved to Philadelphia and was appointed its sheriff in 1819.

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
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)
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
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
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

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.
, Lord North, was the English Prime Minister who under
III lost the American War of Independence.
John Ringling North ran the
Ringling Brothers circus from 1938 to 1967.
was the US Marine Corps officer caught up in the
Iran-Contra scandal who later became a media personality.

Select 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)



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