ELIOT

This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 20th December 1993, 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 ELIOT?

The most interesting unit of this name is in its final "-ot". People who study language would call it a "diminutive suffix", which is their way of describing a bit tagged on to another word to give it the idea of smallness. Probably of all the diminutive suffixes that are to be found, the one now most frequently used is "-et" or "-ette", as in "leaflet" or "maisonette". However the suffix "-ot" went out of use so long ago that where it survives, the idea of "smallness" has been forgotten. Who, now, would identify "chariot" as once meaning a "small carriage"?

In the case of a surname, then, the unit "-ot" first signified "smallness" in the sense of being a child, and, as time went by of "belonging to (parent's name)" and, ultimately, descent. In fact, "-ot" was used much like how the Americans now add "Junior" to indicate the son of a father of the same name.

We have encountered diminutive suffixes before. When we looked at the name "Jenkinson" (22nd March) it was explained that the unit "- kin" also stood for little and that "Jenkin" was shown to mean "Little John". Similar developments were to be found for "Hodgkinson". (26th April).

But then, we next ask, who did someone called "Eliot" belong to? And the answer should be self-evident. He was the "little one who belongs to Eli." This name, with its many variations such as Elias and Elijah was once a great favourite all over Christendom. It has passed into all modern European languages and undergone so many permutations that today it is difficult to recognise it, say, in the German "Ley", the Russian "Llya" and even the Irish "Heely".

That is why the origin of the present surname is no longer easily discernible. Corresponding names such as "Phillpott" and "Wilmot" are based on names currently bestowed on boys - "Philip" and "William" whereas today few parents would not feel like saddling their bairns with a name such as "Elijah". As a first-name it has plummetted in favour - indeed it made its last fleeting appearance in a Register of popular names as far back as 1850!

Some people called "Elliot" (the spelling is significant) might be able to look to a different source. It is the family name of the Earls of Minto, in the County of Roxburgh, Scotland. In this case it has been suggested that "Elliot" is an Anglicised version of the Scots dialect "elloth" which refers to a low-lying hill. To establish such a Scottish connection would involve considerable research. Furthermore even verifiable bearers of that name, dwelling more towards the Borders, tended to spell the name as "Eliot" anyway, so investigations are considerably hampered.

Otherwise, the variations on the name, Eliot, Elliot, Eliott, etc. are not necessarily significant. There is also a host of related derivatives such as Ellis and Ellison. It is one of the most widely distributed names in the British Isles, and, apart from the possible Scottish exception, cannot be looked upon as belonging positively to any precise locality. In fact, it was because the name was so widespread and so familiar that it was adopted by the famous writer George Eliot (1819-1880). It might be mentioned that she did have a very slight association with Wirksworth but that cannot have influenced her choice in any way, since the numbers of people called "Eliot" or its variations in the County of Derby matched those elsewhere. The Local Directories contain well over a 1,000 entries.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 20th December 1993.

URL of this page: http://names.gukutils.org.uk/Eliot.shtml
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