This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 20th September 2004, 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 ALEXANDER??
Variations: Sanders, Saunderson, McAlister

The term "aphetic" is applied to words which have lost their first syllable and become new words: esquire/squire. It often occurs in personal names: as Anthony/Tony and Elizabeth/Betty. Where a personal name is the basis of a surname and has generated such "pet" (or Hypocoristic) forms, the number of surnames can be extensive and confusing. This is very much the case with "Alexander". Apart from being a surname alone the hypocoristic forms yield such names as Sand, Callister, Alistair etc.

The name combines two Greek words: "alexein" (to defend) and "Andros" (man). Together they signify "He who defends his fellow- men". The unit "andros" is frequently met in words such as "android" - popular in science fiction! The other unit is less used. It was common in medical use, descriptive of items designed to ward off afflictions but with the introduction of immunisation and anti-biotic it is infrequently encountered now.

Although the name is inseparably associated with the Greek Warrior, Alexander the Great (356-325 BC) it was already an ancient name when he was born. It is recorded as early as 1300 BC. Nevertheless his reputation stood so high in the ancient world and onwards that his name, (variously spelled) was widely adopted - especially in central Europe from where it was carried to Scotland (see later). It was even approved by the Hebrews: there are at least four personalities named in the Bible. Even though Alexander was a Pagan, the Christian Church produced several saints of the name, one being that same Pope who prescribed the blending wine with water during Eucharist. The authentic life of Alexander would have ensured his admiration among all generations, but various writers compiled fanciful histories of his life and exploits which became collectively known as "the Alexandrine Romances" and enjoyed a popularity during the Middle Ages similar to those told of King Arthur. Under the name of Iksander a Mahometan version makes him uphold their characteristic disapproval of sacred images. And not to be outdone a Christian history actually makes him a Saint - along with Pontius Pilate!

It is a matter of curiosity that "Alexander" became almost the national name in Scotland, nearly out-rivalling Malcolm and Donald. It was borne by three successive kings, beginning with Alexander I (1107-1124). He was the son of Queen Margaret, who had spent her youth in Hungary and had a fondness in its recollection. So great was the impact of its introduction that the name, in the aphetic form of "Sandy", is a generic name for Scotsmen the world over!

As a personal name, however, it is first recorded in Lincolnshire in 1135, but as a surname beyond that date both in Scotland and England there evolved such a bewildering variety of names that merely to enumerate an example of each would convert this column into something like a telephone directory. For example the surname "Alexander" appears 20 times in our local guide, that of McAlistair 15, while forms based on Sanders or Sanderson exceed 100. Some surnames were based on popular or homely adaptations of the name which are difficult to unravel as in the case of "Eckie" and "Sawney".

Of Derbyshire personalities mention may be made of Sir Thomas Sanders of Mugginton (near Weston Underwood) who was a Colonel in Cromwell's Army.

The most familiar appearance of the name for many people is in the hymn books as Mrs Cecil Frencis Alexander (1829-1895). She wrote many popular hymns, especially "All things bright and beautiful" which is a verse wherein the English language is skilfully handled. Frederick Sanderson was a distinguished headmaster of Oundle School. Foreign versions of the name have entered the national consciousness as, for example "Sandro" Boticelli, the Renaissance artist, Eugene Sandow, the celebrated "strong man" and "Lenin" the Russian leader. Older readers will remember Sandy Powell and Sandy MacPhearson, both of whom worked overtime on the radio to entertain us during the war. And who can ever forget the shocking activities of Sawney Beane, dubbed as the "Ogre of Ballantrae".

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 20th September 2004.

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