In the north-east of England, if nowhere else, people from Sunderland are called "mackems". Does anyone know why this should be? Wikipedia suggests a number of possibilities. Are any of these correct?

8 Answers 8


The Wikipedia entry has sourced its answer from the Oxford English Dictionary entry for 'mackem'. As far as word origins are considered, probably as authentic as it gets.

EDIT: As it seems that everyone cannot access the OED link, here's an excerpt. There are two possible origins attributed:

Probably with allusion to the phrase mack 'em and tack 'em and variations thereof, freq. said to refer to the shipbuilding industry of the region


Perhaps partly also with allusion to the pronunciation of make typical of Wearside, as contrasted with that of Tyneside.

  • Thank you. It looks like they're not really sure, either. Feb 11, 2011 at 18:56
  • @FumbleFingers: You...don't need a subscription to view that link? :s May 10, 2011 at 9:38
  • @Ankur Banerjee: It just asks for login details.
    – neil
    May 10, 2011 at 9:49
  • @neilL: Strange, it doesn't ask me. Maybe that's because I'm accessing it from a university network. May 10, 2011 at 13:27
  • @Ankur Banerjee: Your uni probably gets multiple access dirt cheap on account of it being mainly used by students. The headline subscription price for the rest of us is nearly $300 p.a. - even if I weren't unemployed I doubt I'd fork out that much. May 10, 2011 at 16:08

As Sunderland was once known for shipbuilding there was only 2 main forms of employment...shipbuilding by day and stealing from the ships they'd helped build by night. Apparently there was a saying "they mak'em then tak'em" meaning they build (the ships) then steal from them. The mak'em bit stuck and so we are now known as 'makems' or so they say!!?

  • 1
    That's just what Wikipedia says in OP's link anyway, and he obviously doesn't entirely trust that. So I'm not sure repeating it here actually gets us anywhere. It seems to be a very recent coinage though, probably just after the entire Sunderland shipbuilding industry finally shut down completely. So maybe it is a whimsical memorial tribute to the (recently) bygone age. If OED can't establish the origin of so recent a term, I doubt we'll find it here unless the actual person who coined it posts an answer. May 10, 2011 at 2:37
  • @FumbleFingers: OED lists multiple uses of the word through 80s / 90s. So probably not a recent coinage. May 11, 2011 at 15:00
  • 3
    @Ankur Banerjee: Depends on your definition of recent. Even the phrase "they mak'em then tak'em" only seems to have appeared in 1973, and OED put considerable effort into establishing that the first printed use of Mackem to mean Sunderlander was in 1988. Which maybe not coincidentally was the year the last shipyard was closed. I'd call that recent, in that it's not exactly an established tradition. Anyway, here's what looks like a trustworthy link... sunderlandwiki.com/index.php?title=Mackem May 11, 2011 at 15:20

My uncle was from Sunderland and was clear that it was a reference to the difference in accent which differentiated a Tynesider from a Wearsider. Geordies would say "maek" and "taek", Wearsiders "mak" and "tak". Nothing to do with shipbuilding. There was probably more shipbuilding on the Tyne than the Wear.

I should add that my uncle and my parents were born in the 1920s and knew this usage from childhood. It's not a recent coinage.

  • Whilst I agree with your note about the accent, there was definitely not more shipbuilding on the Tyne than the Wear.
    – Ste
    Jun 22, 2012 at 9:47

It may have been a derogatory term at first. As the people of Sunderland Mak or made the ships but all the money stayed in Newcastle!

As a mackem of today and a proud inhabitant of Sunderland it is a local term we love as it defines us as separate from the people of Newcastle.

The most insulting term you can call anyone from Sunderland is a geordie.


I'm a born and bred Sunderland lad and a proud Mackem.

I can confirm the term comes from the ship-building history as we used to "Mak" the ships, or make the ships.


To just add to the comment about "Mackem" also being related to football, the word effectively seems to have two meanings now: someone who's from Sunderland, and someone who supports Sunderland AFC. Clearly, many or most Sunderland fans will be from the city anyway, so there's no distinction for those people. But, someone from outside Sunderland, and who therefore isn't a Mackem in the "traditional" sense of the word, will be referred to as a Mackem if they support that team.


As a child in Newcastle, it was explained to me that the Wearside (Sunderland) ship-builders would vigorously underquote those on Tyneside (Newcastle). They would make the ships, but run out of resources, and hence the more reputable shipbuilders on Tyneside would take the partially finished ships and complete the work. Hence "They mack'em and we tack'em". This is translated as one of the following:

  • They make them and we take them
  • They make them and we tack them, i.e. fix them up.

As you might guess, this explanation was given to me by a loyal and wildly biased Geordie, who would never have a good word to say about "the great unwashed" from local rivals Sunderland, so is added more as an aside, rather than genuine etymology.


It comes from when miners, Geordies (Newcastle) called Sunderland makems. It's also to do with football and the rivalry, but the name "Mackem" came from the mining days and is an insulting word towards people of Sunderland.

  • -1 : No mackem that I know is offended by the term.
    – Ste
    Dec 5, 2013 at 11:46

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