This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 30th June 2003, 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.”


The following miscellany is made up with requests from readers, and which, for various reasons, have not lent themselves to comprehensive discussion. The "Advertiser" would feel it ungenerous to pass these requests over and rather than do that, has elected to assemble them and comment upon them within the limits of what information can be garnered.

Are you called BALLINGTON

Strange to say the earliest record of this surname is for Alexander de Bolinton (1199), not in Cheshire but in Essex, at a site 5 miles North of Bishop's Stortford and just off the A11 highway. Here it is only a neighbourhood name, whereas the principle sources are either of two places: Bollington, 3 miles north of Macclesfield and just a few miles over the Derbyshire / Cheshire border; and, Bollington (now Little Bollington) a less important site 3 miles south west of Altringham on the A56 highway. It would be interesting to investigate how it was that this surname apparently journeyed south by 150 miles into Essex! It is suggested that the name certainly originated in Cheshire, and that a bearer, for some reason moved into Essex and was identified as being "of Bollington". The surname appears also to have travelled a little in its own area: Hugh Bollington is named as living in Buglawton which is 1 mile north of Congleton in 1613. Otherwise there are no obvious aspects in the landscape in Essex to account for the name - but equally so, the only source of the name in Cheshire is "Bollin" a local watercourse and for which name no satisfactory explanation is yet available. The River Bollin rises near Macclesfield and flows some 20 miles to join the Mersey near Lymm. Interpreting the name is pure guesswork. The unit "-ton" is familiar enough and means "settlement". (Modern English - "town") Expressed briefly, "Bollington" is the personal name "Bollin" tagged on with "-ton." Whoever it was who was "Bollin" and what was his standing in the community is a mystery. As a suggestion - and it is put no higher - the name of the river provided the personal name, and could have had some connection with fishing. It might have been a native name which during the occupation by the Romans chimed in with their word for a fishing net (bolus) and the two blended to give "Bollin".

Are you called BONATHON

This is unmistakably Cornish and is related to several sites in that county. The most likely source, however, is Bonython which stands ¼ mile east of the A3083 highway between Helston and Lizard. It is constructed on the expression "Bos Nectan" which means "The place where Nectan lives". The unit "bos" (originally "bod" or "bot") means "dwelling" or "abode" and is discernible in Boscawen - the place by the Elder-Bushes (Cornwall), Booth (Hayfield), and in the words "booth" and "bothy". The personal name "Nectan" is well within the Celtic tradition and is found in Scotland also. It originates in the extremely ancient word "nig", meaning "wash" and a suggested interpretation is "he who is unsullied" - presumably noting a person of high moral character. It was borne by a northern King who is associated indirectly with Iona and St. Columba. It is pronounced as bon-EYE-thon.

Are you called EMBERTON?

Very little information is available. It is a place in Berkshire, between Olney and Newport Pagnell on the A509 highway. In the Domesday Book (1086) it is named "Ambretone" which appears to have been the nearest approximation the French-speaking clerks could get to its older, pre-Saxon name of "Eanbeart's Tun". The meaning is not clear. The "-ton" of course means "settlement" but the prefix eludes explanation. Inspired guess-work suggests the "Ean-" meant "eagle" or "hawk". "Beort" is known to have meant "bright" and "shining" and so possibly the name could be interpreted along the lines of "the settlement of him who may be likened unto a bright, soaring bird". The name is recorded only once: William de Emberton in 1211.

Are you called MEAD?

This surname can refer either to a site or to an occupation. If the former, it joins the ranks of such names as Woods, Hill, Brooke etc. - all of which are derived from local geographical features. In this case "Mead" signifies "meadow" or "pasture". It is taken from the Old English "maed" - and it is related to the word "mow" - to cut down. Except in poetry "mead" is rarely used although it is frequent in place names - e.g. King's Mead - an electoral ward in Derby. Since just about every medieval community claimed a "mead" those who lived near or worked on it were given a corresponding surname. Usually this was qualified with terms such as "by" or "near". Hence John Atmede (Essex: 1268) and Henry del Myde in Lancashire (1292). The local directory includes Mead, Meadows, Medland and Medd. The name was conferred so widely that unless bearers of the name can point to a particular site or draw on authentic family tradition, it is now impossible to pin-point the original "mead" upon which their surname is based. The occupational source of the name is derived from the Old English "meodu" which took the form of "mead" and described a type of alcoholic drink distilled from honey and water. The word is extremely old: originating in Sanskrit (c. 2000 BC) as "madhu" (sweet) and which provided the Latin "mel" and Greek "methys" (hence "amethyst" - a gem which was believed to ward off intoxication!) As a surname it would have been conferred upon a person who made and sold the beverage. It is now almost impossible to differentiate between the locational occupational sources of a particular surname, but "Meader" definitely indicates the latter: Alexander le Meder (Oxford: 1180). Women were especially proficient in the occupation as for instance, Matillis Medwyf (York: 1327).

Are you called OVERDALE

This is certainly a location name and, if Derbyshire-based, will be found in the neighbourhood of Bradwell. The unit "over" is likely to be the comparative adjectival form of the Old English "ufor" meaning "higher". Examination of the site will confirm that the River Noe flows through Hope Valley and "the Upper Dale", which is drained by "Overdale Brook", descends into it. No example of a corresponding surname is available and only map references provide any information. The earliest mention is dated 1776 as "Ovderdale Head", though later mapped as "Over Dale". The word "Head" may be significant. Very often "heads" or "spurs" associated with this sort of landscape were held to have fanciful resemblance to the heads of beasts. In this case imagination seemed to have settled on the otter because the location is marked as Otter Dale on successive Victorian maps. Local traditions may well be worth consulting in this matter. Otherwise there might have been a local farm known as "Overdale Farm" and workers there could have adopted that name as a surname. This was a practice widely followed and, in the case of domestic servants, persisted even until the late 1930s.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 30th June 2003.

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