This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 6th November 2000, reproduced by kind permission of the author, the late Desmond Holden.

The “What's in a Name” series was a regular feature in the Advertiser over the period 1993‑2004, taking a refreshing look at the derivation of some typically Derbyshire surnames.

Articles are confined to the origins and meanings of surnames, and do not indicate any particular interest on Desmond's part in the genealogy, descent, or family history of individuals bearing the surnames featured.

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 AINSWORTH?
(Variations: Hainsworth, Eynsworth, Aynsworth)

This surname is taken from a place in Lancashire, now called Ainsworth but formerly "Aynsworth". The date of the change-over is not certain but seems to have been in the late 1500's. The modification could very well have been brought about under the influence of the spelling of other place-names in Lancashire such as Ainsdale and Aintree - though it should be noted they are not related in origin.

Ainsworth lies about half-way between Bolton and Bury on the B6196 highway. The name "Ainsworth Road" may still rest in the memories of those who travelled on the old railway line (L.&Y.R.) between Bradley Fold and Radcliffe.

It is merely coincidence that there are the two above-mentioned sites in Lancashire with this prefix "Ains-" and that neither corresponds in meaning. Hence the well-known race-track at Aintree can be interpreted as "the solitary tree" (c.f Monyash) and the name of the popular pleasure resort at Ainsdale means "The valley owned by a man called Einulfr". Furthermore there is a place in Cumberland, 9 miles south-east of Carlisle, called "Ainstable" and this signifies "The steep slope covered in bracken".

"Ainsworth", however, presents different matters. The first unit (Ains-) is based upon an Old English personal name, the exact spelling of which can only be arrived at by deduction because it has not yet been found in any old records. Nevertheless those skilled in the study of languages have reconstructed this name as being "Aeger". They are confident in their surmise because fortunately a Latinised form of the name, dating from 864 A.D. has been traced in the annals of Oxford and is entered up as "Egenes". It eventually provided the basis for the place-name "Eynsham" (6 miles north-west of Oxford) and this may be rendered as "The settlement (i.e. the 'ham') of a man called Aegen". Further supporting evidence can be found in the development of the place in Kent called "Eynsford" (5 miles south of Dartford). This means "the ford at Aegen's place". In a record dating from 960 A.D. it is written as "Aeinesford" and this spelling links it to that of its Lancastrian counterpart.

All this elaborate back-tracking is necessary because the earliest reference to "Ainsworth" dates from 1200, which is some 200 years after the great survey, called "Domesday" (1086). This reference takes the form "Hainesicthe" but another, written in 1285 has the more recognisable spelling of "Aynesworth".

At this point it is useful to comment on the second unit, "-worth". Its meaning is straightforward, being "an enclosure". Since such an "enclosure" had been carried out by somebody to assert ownership, then it follows that the name borne by that somebody would, in most cases, be advertised to all the world as "So-and-so's worth."

This pattern is repeated all over the country. Of the dozen or so corresponding major place-names in our own county, nearly all demonstrate this assertion of ownership, e.g. Wirksworth, being "the enclosure belonging to Weoarc".

Although the same deductive processes which have yielded the name "Weorc" have successfully given us "Aegen" they do not tell us much about it. It was certainly given in Old English communities, but how frequently it was conferred is simply not known. There is some speculation that it might be associated with the Celtic word "eoghain" which means "young man". Then it could possibly be taken as referring to younger members of a land-owning family to whom this specific enclosure was allotted. But even so, why the name disappeared is uncertain. Perhaps it became confused with a group of more or less related names, including "Owen" and "Ewen". Certainly, as a distinct personal name it vanished from use and now survives only in place-names.

The first records of the surname occur in Lancashire and all indicate association with the place which might go to support the notion that there was formerly some sort of establishment or estate which had originated in the former "worth" or enclosure. In 1281 mention is made of "John of Ainsworth" and in 1285 "of Aynesworth". The name "John" emerges again later in 1401 as "John of Aynesworth". The recurrence of the admittedly popular name "John" allows for a fleeting suggestion that since the same names ran in families, maybe there was some sort of estate of inheritance. The first instance of the surname standing alone is found in Pleasington (12 miles north of Blackburn). It relates to a Lawrence Ainsworth and is dated 1573. The name does not seem to have spread far afield. It is heavily concentrated in this corner of the country, especially in Manchester.

The most celebrated bearer of the name is Harrison Ainsworth (1805-1882) who was born in Eccles which is to the south of Ainsworth, about 10 miles distant. He wrote innumerable historical romances, of which "The Lancashire Witches" is still popular.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 6th November 2000.

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