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the Appleby one-name study and DNA project

the Appleby one-name study and DNA project

Surnames covered in our DNA project:



plus any other variants


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The current banner shows Alnwick Castle, in Northumberland - a county in the far north east of England, bordering Scotland.  This region is home to a number of Appleby lines - and our DNA project has confirmed genetic connections between several of these, which also match lines in Canada, USA and Ireland.

Origins and Distribution of the Appleby/bee surname

All the surname books I have checked seem to agree that APPLEBY (and the variant spellings) is a locative surname ... that is, it is derived from a place name.  


Appleby as a placename comes from the Anglian word for apple, or appletree with the suffix 'by' which comes from the Old Norse for a farmstead or village.  So the placename means "Apple farm" or "Apple settlement/manor".


Before surnames became commonplace, people were known only by a given name - and to distinguish between men with the same name, it became usual to add a 'by-name' or nickname to identify which 'John' or 'Thomas' you meant ... so 'John over the hill' or 'John the baker'. Some  of these names were quite derogatory! But the names applied only to the individual concerned and were not passed on to the man's children.


When hereditary surnames were stabilising in England around the 14th century (later in some parts of the country) the surname APPLEBY may have been adopted by someone who came from a town or village called Appleby ('de Appleby') or simply from a place where apples grew.    You can read more about how surnames developed in Britain on this page of the BBC website.

English places called Appleby

click on this map to discover the locations of the towns and villages in England that could have been the origin of some of our Appleby surnames.


The most well-known of these places was Appleby-in-Westmorland - everyone in the north of England would have known about the Appleby horse-fair (which still takes place today!) - however very few people with the surname Appleby have been found living in Westmorland itself - the place would have been famous enough for a man from this town to be known as 'from Appleby' across the Pennines in Northumberland or to the south in Lancashire.

appleby locations thumb

However, someone from one of the smaller villages or even a farm called Appleby located anywhere in the British Isles, who adopted the surname would probably have lived within walking distance of the place they were named for.

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Appleby/Applebee distribution in the census

click on this map to find out more about the distribution of the main two variants - APPLEBY and APPLEBEE by county in the 1841, 1881 and 1911 census.


Although as a result of industrialisation, families migrated towards London, and the large cities in Lancashire, Yorkshire, the Midlands and the North-East, there can still be found 'hotspots' of Appleby/bees in the areas where they lived a the time of the earliest parish registers.

Back in June 2013, there was some correspondence in our 'New Appleby Orchard' Newsletter about the origins of the surname.  Do get in touch if you have any ideas to add to the discussion.

I recently received a contact from a visitor to this website who pointed out that there is ANOTHER place called Appleby in Scotland that could be the source of some more holders of the surname.  (Click to enlarge the map on the right).  This tiny place could potentially be the origin of some of the APPLEBYs who appear in Cumberland and the Isle of Man - but I was only able to locate two references to the surname in the reference work 'The surnames of Scotland, their origin, meaning and history' (Black, George Fraser, 1866-1948) which is available in the Hathi Trust Digital Library)

map of Appleby in Wigtownshire

page updated December 2018