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About the study

In the course of researching my own ancestry I found myself pursuing early references to the Mellanby name and possible variants. Over time I realised that I was spending more time on one-name research than on my personal history. I have accumulated quite a lot of data from earlier times and developed some ideas on surname origins. I have therefore some of the material for a one-name study but it is in a somewhat disorganized state. Registering my name with the Guild marks the beginning of an attempt to do a structured study of the Mellanby name.

Variant names

Mallenby is a variant that became established in the 19th century and the name Mellenby may be earlier than the more common Mellanby. The name may come from the place-name(s) Melmerby and there are a number of earlier versions (1316 to 1734) that are based on this. Another early form is Mellerby which reflects a local pronunciation of Melmerby in which the middle 'm' is silent. Many transient versions of Mellanby occur involving vowel changes, one or two 'l's and 'ie' at the end of the name instead of 'y'. The name Mallaby is another suggested variant but there is little evidence for this apart from the spelling similarity.

Name origin

Mellanby is thought to derive from the place-name Melmerby. There are three Melmerby villages in the North of England, one in Cumbria and two in North Yorkshire and it is uncertain which ones may be the origin of the name. However there is a faint but credible trail that Mellanby may come from the Cumbrian village . This is based on old written records and modern day confirmation that the pronunciation of Melmerby is sounded as 'Melerby' in contrast to the Yorkshire Melmerbys which are pronounced as written. Then in the 16th century Melmerby and Mellerby variants appear in the same areas of County Durham and one individual is recorded as both Mellerbye and Mellenby.

In the 17th century a small family of Melmerbys lived in the Ripon area of North Yorkshire. This is the location of one of the Yorkshire Melmerby villages so it is possible, even likely, that they took their name from this village. At present it is not known the Durham and Yorkshire Melmerbys are related, if at all.

A previous researcher of Mellanby family history asserted that the Mellanbys around Teesside are descended from two Swedish brothers who migrated there at some time. No reason was given for this but it may be assumed that the construction of the word 'mellanby' has something to do with this since 'mellan' means 'between' in Swedish and 'by' is the familiar Scandinavian place indicator so 'Mellanby' plausibly sounds like a Swedish surname. However no records have been found to support this suggestion.

Much more on origins can be found in the Link quoted at the end of this Profile.

Historical occurrences of the name

The most distinguished bearer of the name was Sir Edward Mellanby, a scientist, whose most notable work was to show that the disease, rickets, was caused by a deficiiency of Vitamin D. Sir Edward advised the Goverrnent on nutrition during the Second World War and was appointed a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Sir Edward came from a family of scientists which includes his nephew Kenneth Mellanby, ecologist and scientific administrator. Among a number of publications, Kenneth's book on the effects of organochlorine pesticides on wildlife, 'Pesticides and Pollution', is probably the best known.

Fame by association can be claimed for William Mellanby who, in 1750, was mate of the brig Mary, sailing out of Whiby, when a certain James Cooke was a member of the crew. Cooke, a mere seaman at the time, later joined the Royal Navy and in due course became known as Captain Cook, the famous navigator.

Name frequency

There are 118 records for Mellanby in the 1881 Brtish Census and 150 in the 1911 Census

Distribution of the name

The name Mellanby is concentrated in County Durham, more than half the entries in the 1911 Census being in that county. Next comes North Yorkshire which accounts for around a quarter of the entries. Many of these Durham and Yorkshire records are in the Teesside area which straddles the two counties. The Census records minor concentrations in London, Cumberland and the West of Scotland. Mellanbys are known to have travelled to the Americas in the nineteenth century (perhaps earlier) and personal contacts have been made with Canadian researchers but no numbers are available as yet. Occasional references occur in Australia and New Zealand.


Some personal data has been collected for around 250 Mellanbys who were born in the days before civil registration (1837 in England). In a few cases this is supplemented with information from wills, property records, maritime archives and local newspapers.

Some data is available post 1837 but much of this is related to personal ancestral searches so is somewhat limited.


Some time ago I registered a surname project with Family Tree DNA. For the moment I am the only member so no data is presented, however I will breathe some life into the project if some recruits can be found. My own results are recorded in a haplogroup project also at Family Tree DNA. A long term aim of the one-name study could be not only to investigate within-name DNA variations but to look into distant relationships with other families.