This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 25th August 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.”

WHAT'S IN A NAME … Are you called BECKHAM?

This surname is frequently heard today. It is borne by the well-known football sporting personality, David Beckham. So many enquiries concerning it have been put to the present writer that it has been selected for discussion although it is not represented in the local directory. It is a location name and originates from Norfolk. It comprises two sites: East and West Beckham but they are so close as to constitute a single entity in the local government of North Norfolk. At what date they separated is uncertain: in the Domesday Survey (1086) there is mention only of "Beccheham" and it takes nearly 300 years for any separation to be noted: West Becham (1300) and Est Bekkam (1379).

The two places stand a short distance south of the main highway (A148 - Cromer-Holt) and less than 1½ miles separates them:

The presence of a water course rising near East Beckham and called "Scarrow Beck" could be misleading and encourage speculation that it has something to do with the surname. It is, however, a widespread expression descriptive of any stream of less importance than a river. (Note "Becksitch" at Belper).

The surname comprises two units: the Old English personal name, "Beocca" and the long-established word "ham" which is also Old English and can mean "settlement." The unit "Beocca" occurs in several place-names in the adjoining counties and can be detected as far as Lancashire and the West Riding. Nothing is known about the "Beocca" of East Anglia but it would seem that he was a personage of some standing. Whether the same personage gave his name to the other places or it was on account of personalities of the same name who lived locally is indeterminate.

It may be suggested with some confidence that the name itself is based on an Old English word "bacc" which is preserved in a few other contexts. There is the term "pick" meaning "to point out" as well as describing the tool often referred to as "a pick-axe" (note: the sounds of "p" and "b" are interchanged regularly in language development). There is, as well, the word "beche" which is an implement used by miners for certain types of drilling. The surname "Beck" also includes a reference to being an occupational name and refers to one who makes or wields a pick or mattock. It may be significant that this surname is listed as being special to Norfolk. Exactly what meaning our Anglo-Saxon predecessors gave to the name "Beocca" (which later modifies to "Becca") can only be a matter of inspired guesswork. But, just as a man might clear ground through the energetic use of a pick-axe, so also might the leader of a tribe clear away the enemies of his people. The fact that such a personality could have been a tribal chieftain is persuasively suggested in the place-name "Beckingham" in the neighbouring counties of Nottingham and Lincoln. It means "the place occupied by Beocca's people". The unit "-ham" is found in countless place names and can be interpreted more or less according to the particular location. In the case of Beckham it is submitted that it might carry the implication (of) its being a strategic outpost for the chieftain. This view is supported in that the Romans also selected it for a camp.

As a surname "Beckham" does not seem to have been widely adopted. This might be that in Norfolk habitation names were largely used to indicate origin and people seem more to have been identified through occupational names. In any case "Beckham" itself would not have been particularly well-known beyond its immediate vicinity and would not be readily recognised among a new community into which emigrants from Beckham might have moved. Even today only a handful of names are listed in the Norfolk directory. In fact only one historical record of the name can be found: "Roger de Beckham" in 1379 - it relates to West Beckham. However the name seems to have crossed the Atlantic. There is a Beckham County in Oklahoma and a town called "Beckham" in South Carolina. One notable personality was Thomas Becon (1519-1567). He was very insistent on being identified as a native of Norfolk. He was something of a controversial clergyman and is slightly associated with our Peak District.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 25th August 2003.

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