About the Marwick Name


The two magazine articles reproduced below are responses to queries about the origins of the Marwick name I received from my distant cousins in New Zealand and Australia when I first made contact with them in the mid-1980s.  


The Marwick Name

The Orkney Islands belonged to Norway until about 500 years ago when they were ceded to Scotland in lieu of a marriage dowry. The Norsemen (Vikings) first settled in Orkney over a thousand years ago and most of the placenames and many of the surnames in the islands are of Norse origin.  Marwick is one such name.

In western Norway, just north of Stavanger, is a district called Marvik.  When my wife and I visited Stavanger in 1960 I went into a bank one day to cash a cheque.  The teller looked at my name and told me that there was a district nearby that bore my name, but spelt slightly differently. The –vik part, meaning river mouth or sea inlet, became  –wick in Scotland as is seen in Lerwick and Berwick.  He produced a map and showed me the location.  It so happened that we were due to pass it on a steamer the following day.  What we saw was a barren, rocky area  and I remember thinking that if that was where my ancestors had come from it was little wonder that they had left it.

It is highly likely that the Vikings took the name to Orkney where, in the parish of Birsay on the largest island, there is a district called Marwick.  A small bay there is called Marwick Bay.  Dr Hugh Marwick, a noted scholar and writer, did a great deal of research on Orkney placenames and their Norse origins and his view was that the Mar- part of the name came from the Norse word for a shallow bay, which exactly fits the description of Marwick Bay.  When the time came when surnames became needed it would have been natural for people to have chosen the name of the district where they lived in Orkney or of the one they had left in Norway.

In all the family history research I have done worldwide I have not yet come across a Marwick whose origins cannot be traced back to Orkney.  It is therefore reasonable to assume that in Britain the name originated in Orkney where it is still very common.

Robert C Marwick


What's In A Name?

When I was growing up in Orkney it never occurred to me that I had an unusual surname.  Marwick is a very common name in Orkney and every Orcadian knows how to spell it.  That is not the case outwith Orkney  and when I am asked for my name I usually have to spell it for anyone who has to write it down.

I am frequently asked if I am related to Peat Marwick of whom a lot of people seem to have heard.  They must think that Peat Marwick is one person, unaware that Peat and Marwick were two of the founders of the firm of accountants originally of New York but now operating in many parts of the world.  The Marwick partner had strong Rousay connections.

In all my travels during my time in the Forces I never came across another Marwick.  I suppose that was when it first occurred to me  that it is not a common name beyond the bounds of my native county.  On a holiday in Norway many years ago I went into a bank in Stavanger one day to cash a cheque. The teller looked at my name and told me there was a district near the city that bore my name. in its Norwegian form of Marvik. The Norse  -vik, meaning sea inlet or river mouth, became –wick in Scotland where it is seen in such names as Wick, Berwick and Lerwick.  The obliging teller produced a map and pointed out the district of Marvik which, as it happened, we were due to pass on a steamer trip the following day. I learned from him that Marvik was also a Norwegian surname.

The part of Marvik that was pointed out to us from the fiord steamer appeared to be a barren, rocky, inhospitable place. I recall thinking that if my ancestors had hailed from that area it was little wonder that they had left it.  Norsemen had set out from these parts 1000 years ago and some had settled in Orkney.  Maybe they had brought the name to Orkney, particularly to the small district of Marwick  in the parish of Birsay.  Dr Hugh Marwick, in his “Placenames of Birsay,” states that there is some doubt about the origin of the Mar- part of the name but he comes down on the side of the Swedish dialect word of that spelling meaning “a shallow bay,” a fitting description of Marwick Bay in Birsay.

I have been deeply engaged in family history research for many years.  This has brought me into touch with Marwicks in Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa as well as in many parts of Britain.  Not all of them are evenly distantly related to me but nowhere have I found one whose  ancestry cannot be traced back to Orkney.  In this country the name seems to have originated in Orkney.

Some years ago a nephew of mine, Alan Marwick, found his way to Marvik near Stavanger. There he found a small village which also bore the Marvik name.  He went into the only shop in the village and discovered that the shopkeeper’s name was Olav Marvik.  Alan came away convinced he had found the ancestral home!  Who am I to say otherwise?

Robert C Marwick