This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 17th June 2002, reproduced by kind permission of the author, Desmond Holden.

The "What's in a Name" series has been a regular feature in the Advertiser.
Articles are confined to the origins and meanings of surnames and Desmond regrets he is unable to undertake research into the genealogy, descent or family history of individuals.

Editor's Note: Articles are provided for general interest and background only. They are not intended to provide an exhaustive treatise for any individual family history - investigations of which may yield quite different results. Or, in Desmond's own words:

"In the end it must remain with individual bearers of the names to draw upon family traditions and to seek out such documentary evidence as is available to decide the matter for themselves."

WHAT'S IN A NAME … Are you called CROOK?
Variations: Crooke, Crookes, Crookson, Cruik, etc.

A reader from Pilsley asks about this name. She understands her family originated in Lancashire. In the records for that county (1310) there is reference to "John" who is described as the son of William del Crok. The "Crok" (i.e. Crook) in this case means a bend in a river and as a surname would have described a person as dwelling within such a curve. If a Lancashire association were to be established the "bend" would presumably have been found at a site where the River Douglas meanders over the same level ground which was of such benefit to the builders of the Leeds-Liverpool Canal centuries later. The site is now named "Crooke" and stands just outside Wigan on the B5375, south of Standish. If elsewhere it could be either a settlement in Durham, 6 miles north of Bishop Aukland (Junction A690/A689) or on the B5284, half way between Kendal and Bowness. Families with Scottish ancestry might possibly look to "Crook of Devon" for their origins. This name literally means the bend of the River Devon. The "Crook" can readily be discerned where the river sharply bends westwards into Glen Devon. Look on the A977, 6 miles west of Kinross.

The bearers of surnames derived from such locations have the possible advantage of being able to pinpoint their place of origin - something which they do not share with those whose name relates to some other factors and none of which is free from ambiguity.

For instance there is a widely-held belief that the surname "Crook" described a person who manufactured hooks, crooks, handles, etc. This cannot be discounted but it is questionable. Even in the largest medieval communities the demand for such items could hardly have been so consistently extensive to furnish a livelihood based on their production. If of iron, it surely could have been taken up by the local smithies; and if of wood or horn, by other artisans. It is significant that no corresponding occupational description is listed. In fact the earliest references to "Crook" suggest it evolved from the personal name of "Krokr". This was a popular old Norse name among the Saxons and had been introduced by the Scandinavian invaders. Its meaning is obscure but inspired guess work suggests it could have been "Crow". That bird sports a dark plumage and it is possible it provided a nick-name for a person with black hair and a swarthy complexion. Evidence of its being a personal name may lie in the fact that the earliest reference in England is to Rainald, the son of the Croc (Hampshire 1086) and in Scotland to "Robert Croc", who is described as having moved from Shropshire, giving his name to Crookston (Glasgow).

Otherwise "Crook" could have been bestowed upon members of the community who were deemed "bent" or crooked", that is, sly and devious. (Note that the modern usage of "Crook" as being one of the criminal fraternity first appears in 1879, in the USA).

The word was also used to describe bowing and scraping and might possibly have been levelled against persons who, in our present. day slang, would be called "Creeps". Incidentally, if "Krokr" (i.e. the personal name) had meant "Crow" this might reflect the mythology of the Norsemen who believed the birds were special to Odin and reported to him daily upon what was going on in the world. It might then have passed into a nick-name for a tale-bearer.

Another interpretation is that it was yet another nick-name directed towards folk who were deformed. While this cannot be ruled out, it should be accepted with reservation. For a long while it was held that because of what was thought to be a deficiency of calories in medieval diet, the incidence of rickets - described as "Bow legs" or "Crooked shanks" - was extensive. Recent research throws doubt on this. In many respects the food consumed by our ancestors was more healthy than much of the junk food available today. Furthermore our predecessors tended to particularise deformities as, for example, "Crookfoot" and "Crookback". Many such afflictions would have developed later in life and were work related, such as a pronounced stoop by miners from prolonged crouching underground. And of course they would be an age to have already acquired a surname. A clue to its less familiar meaning lies in the interpretation of the Scottish name "Crookshank". This has been shown to be a location name based on the River Cruik (Kincardine) and is not applicable to "Bow legs". This strongly reinforces the suggestions that surnames based on "Crook" are largely related to water courses. (Note the "Shank" in this context is northern English and Scottish dialect describing that part of a hill which links the mass with level ground, and takes its name from a fanciful resemblance to the thigh bone!).

The name, variously spelled, is well represented locally. There are about 70 varients in the directory. The standard biographies name about half a dozen, of whom Sir William Crooked (1832-1919), the scientist, is the best known.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 17th June 2002.

URL of this page:
Logo by courtesy of the Open Clip Art Library