This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 29th June 1998, 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 BENNETT??

"Bennett" is based on the personal name "Benedict". It comes from a Latin phrase "bene dicte". The "bene" part means "well" and "dicite" is "speak up everybody". In modern English it corresponds with "Let everybody speak favourably". When the two Latin terms are combined the word "benediction" is discerned. By a steady process of development it has come to mean a "Blessing". It is also the name of a Service in the Roman Church. It is used to describe an Invocation uttered before meals, although "Grace" is more usual. Another development in Latin brought into being the word "benedictus" which meant "blessed" or "fortunate". That in turn generated the personal name "benedict" upon which many surnames, including "bennett" have been built.

As a first name "Benedict" was highly regarded in Western Europe on account of its having first been borne by St. Benedict of Nursia (480-543). His great contribution to Western Christian civilisation was a manual which set forth what has long been called "The Rule of St. Benedict". Expressed very simplistically he encouraged people who wanted to follow a religious life not to copy the practices of earlier believers and run off into isolation - like, for example, St. Simon who spent most of his on top of a pillar, 60 feet high! It was not right simply to meditate upon one's own spiritual well-being but to form communities and live in proximity with ordinary people and, above all, to undertake useful occupation and not to be wholly reliant on charity. His followers certainly did very useful work indeed, as in the case of their Monastery at Fecamp (Normandy) where the celebrated liqueur originated.

Although the name "Benedict" is frequently encountered in the Chronicles of the Middle Ages and we even have our own St. Benedict the Bishop (628-689) who is associated with Wearmouth and Jarrow, nevertheless it appears to have steadily declined in popularity among our Anglo-Saxon Ancestors and their successors. In records going back as far as 1650 it has never appeared in the "Top Fifty". Probably its strong identification with the Monastic Movement against which King Henry VIII (1509-1547) worked so strongly and all the turmoil during the Reformation led to its loss of favour - except, perhaps in Catholic circles. Another reason why it wasn't much admired was probably because in the Medieval Pharmacopoeia "Oyle of Benedictine" was a laxative, now called "Castor Oil". And, of course, it has attached itself to young men who are conned into marrying some scheming female when they'd much rather have stayed single! (Blame Shakespeare. He started it in "As You Like It").

It invariably happens that personal names take on shortened forms and in the case of "Benedict", as early as 1190 it had shown up in the Records of Nottingham as "Benefit" and in Scotland (1402) as "Benet". In Yorkshire (1301) mention is made of a "Robert, son of Benite" and between 1208 to 1581 variations such as "Benet" (Durham), "Bennet" (Cambridge), "Benetes" (Stafford) and "Bennett" (Cornwall) are encountered.

It should be noted, however, that not every "Ben-" is necessarily identified with "Benedict". The surname "Benn", for example, could just as easily be based on the Nordic name "Bjorn" and from which have evolved names such as "Benson", "Bennison" and "Benns". It would be a matter of individual family research to decide between them. In Scotland there has developed "Benzies" (pronounced "Benjizz" - c.f. "Dalziel" and "Menzies"). The name turns up so frequently in the older Registers for Derbyshire and Cheshire that it is tempting to speculate whether it influenced Jane Austen in naming the heroine of "Pride and Prejudice" "Miss Elizabeth Bennett". (Note that Bakewell is specifically mentioned in Chapter One in Part Three). Locally also we have Bennett Barn near Chinley (after William Bennitt - 1603) and Bennettston Hall (after Christopher Bennet who lived in the time of Henry VIII). It is off the A623 towards Sparrowpit. The name is one of the most widely distributed across the country. It is now nearly always spelled "Bennett" although in Scotland the form "Bennet" prevails. With a final "-s" ("Bennetts" etc.) the meaning is the "Child of Bennett". Otherwise variations in how it is spelled are rarely significant. There are over 1000 entries under "Bennett" in the Local Directories. Although the Standard Biographies, not surprisingly, refer to over 40 persons who were called "Bennett" not one of them is a "Head-Liner" - though, of course, many are well-known in specialist circles. Possibly Arnold Bennett (1867-1931) is still sufficiently remembered on account of his novels, which are set against a background of his native Potteries in Staffordshire and which are still established classics.

Gordon Bennett (1841-1918) of Scottish-American parentage was a flamboyant character whose lifestyle has been generously described as "picturesque". For a long while, even today, the expression "Gordon Bennett" is uttered as a mild expletive.

This year (1998) our Carnival Queen in Miss Melissa Bennett to whom the "Peak Advertiser" addresses this feature in compliment.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 29th June 1998.

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