Apologies for this basic question, but I can not seem to find an answer to it:
if I upgrade my Router from the manufacturer's firmware to OpenWrt, does this preserve the settings like SSID name, device names and MAC adresses of allowed devices, their fixed IP adresses etc.
Should I backup the settings of the router before I upgrade?
Keeping an OEM backup file would be useful if you decide to revert to OEM. But it is not usable to transfer settings to OpenWrt. For that you will need to write down the settings and re-enter them manually.
Unless the manufacturer's firmware is effectively the same as current OpenWrt, no.
Most manufacturers' OEM firmware, even if based on OpenWrt, is so heavily modified and/or so outdated as to be a "completely different" kernel and OS. This is one of the side effects of publishing open-source firmware, GPL or otherwise.
Even in the case where the OEM is effectively using OpenWrt without invasive changes, their additions or configuration may not be compatible with an OpenWrt install without their additional packages.