This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 5th June 1995, 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 FOLJAMBE?

During this week (5th-9th June) [Ed: NB 1995] a party of visiting Americans, all sharing the name FOLJAMBE will be in the area to explore their roots. The key places are Bakewell, Chesterfield, Tideswell and Wormhill. The "Peacock Players" have offered to entertain them one evening and have also approached the "Peak Advertiser" with a request that the name "Foljambe" be discussed. "It would be", as their Spokesman submitted, "a nice gesture".

It is certainly a Derbyshire name. All the earliest references centre on Derby, then spread out towards Sheffield and York. There is a Foljambe Road in Rotherham (Sheffield) and two Roads and an Avenue in Chesterfield.

It belongs to that class of surnames which began life as a nick- name. It is made up of two units: "Fol-" and "-jambe". Both are French and, directly translated, come out as "Foolish Leg".

At once it must be emphasised that the allusion to "direct translation" is very significent because the unit "Fol" and the word "foolish" have undergone some subtle changes in meaning since the Middle Ages.

The French took the word directly from the Latin expression "follis" which meant "a purse" or "leather bag". Later the "bag" was adapted to create a sort of primitive bellows. From thence the notions of "wind" and "emptiness" associated with the action of bellows were transferred to take in the idea of insignificance and ended-up as "empty-headed or "wind-bag" - i.e. a fool.

But it was not invariably a derogatory word. Today, just as "nice" has lost its precise meaning and is now a convenient and general means of expressing approval or appraisement, so also "fool" and "foolish" were once extensively used where not only the idea of diminution or impairment arose. Indeed, it may come as a surprise, but in Tudor Times, "fool" was used as a term of endearment. A famous Elizabethan Courtier referred to his Lady Love as a "Heavenly Fool" - and the Lady was delighted!

In Old French the word "fol" was something akin to the modern expression "Down Market" - for example, cheap flour made from Mill Dust was called "farine folle". Shakespeare also reveals how the meaning of the word has altered. He understood it to signify "slightly below average" or "nothing special." In "Romeo & Juliet" a Host describes an evening's entertainment as a "trifling, foolish Banquet."

The second unit "-jambe" is easily recognised as being the French for "leg" but its passage into that language is rather involved. The Classical Latin for "legs" is "crures" but for some obscure reason the later Latin "camba" was taken-up instead. This originally signified "hoof" and, by extension, came to mean the entire length of the leg of any animal, then that of a human being.

The characteristic bend of the hind-legs of beasts, especially dogs and horses, was the influencing factor because "camba" literally means "a bend." e.g. ("camber"). This word curiously enough can be traced both to an Ancient British form "cam" which meant "bent" or "crooked" and also to the Greek "kambe" of similar meanings. Sometimes the "c-" in "camba" changed to "g-" (gamba), hence words such as "gambol".

So combining the two units, the name clumsily converts to "foolish leg" and this confirms that it must have been first bestowed as a nickname. One of the few, in fact, which has come down to us through Norman French.

Even if allowance is made for the inevitable compression of ideas incorporated into nick-names, "foolish-leg" does not make perfect sense. It is willingly conceded that nick-names were a common form of identification among our ancestors and that many have persisted and prevail as modern surnames. Nick-names often reveal rough humour and keen observation and at times are outrageously offensive. But an examination of some of the Records suggests that many uncomplimentary titles were probably comfirmed with good reason. No doubt "Pinchpenny" and "Doolittle" merited the disapproval implied in their names!

Otherwise it can be accepted that our predecessors, like ourselves, acknowledged that people were not physically afflicted for their own amusement. And, while the habits of the time led to the community picking-on deformities as means of identification, it was not necessarily meant unkindly. A disability was a fact and it could not be ignored. So in the case of man who was lame or who had a withered leg, if he lived among French-speaking people, he attracted the name "Foljambe" and if he were surrounded by Englishspeaking neighbours, he would, have been identified under an Anglo-Saxon counterpart: Crookshank.

So, bearing in mind that the word "foolish" (fol) did not invariably carry the sense of criticism and disapproval as it does today, the name "Foljambe" might be better rendered simply as "the man with the damaged limb".

This runs counter to the suggestion often made that the name was given out of spite and mockery. But this does not seem to have been the case - at least not among ordinary folk. Kings, on the other hand, certainly attracted rude names such as "Crookback" (Richard III) and "Lackland" (John) but even then, such titles partake more of the nature of a sobriquet used by Chroniclers, rather than current nicknames.

The earliest reference appears to be for a "William Folejambe of Derby" in 1172 and the family seems to have of some consequence because records make mention of "Sir Thomas Foljambe, who was Bailiff of High Peak in the County of Derby" exactly 100 years later (1272).

There are numerous variations in the spelling but these are better followed up by bearers of them.

In spite of its undisputed antiquity, the name has not been borne by any outstanding personalities. It is the family name of the Earls of Liverpool, but even that is a late creation (1905) since the original title had earlier become extinct.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 5th June 1995.

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