This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 12th July 1999, 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 BULLEN?

"Good" is among the twenty-or-so words which change their meaning when referring to more than one item. Hence we signify "benefit" when speaking of "the common good" but otherwise "commodities" in saying "perishable goods". Exactly the same occurs in Latin. "Pro bono publico" also means "for the public benefit" while "bona vacantia" can be equated to "unclaimed property".

The meaning attached to "bona" (plural of "bonus") - i.e. "merchandise" - was extended to several sites by the Romans. They include Boulogne, Bologna, Banoster (a town on the Danube) and (possibly) Bonn. Only Boulogne and Bologna are relevant to this feature.

In Italy the Romans took over the old capital city of the Etruscans which had been called "Felsina" and re-named it "Bononia". This can be translated in a way as the equivalent of a modern "goods centre". The Romans recognised that it was the focus of many routes and they steadily converted it to being one of the major commercial cities of their vast Empire.

Nearer home, on the channel coast, another great centre of trade provided an important link with Britain via Dubris (Dover). It is not always realised that Britain had long standing connections with the European mainland. There is evidence that the Phoenicians bartered with the natives of Cornwall for tin. And, incredible as it may now seem, in the earlier centuries of the First Millennium corn was actually exported from Britain to the Continent in exchange for implements of bronze and high, quality textiles. The chief harbour on the Channel Coast of the Region now called Normandy had been named "Gesoriacum" but for reasons similar to those involving Felsina, it was given a new name "Bonania" and which finally emerged as "Boulogne".

Trade with the continent still continued long after the Romans departed this Island and was maintained even under the Saxons although not on so large a scale. But, following the Norman Invasion (1066) commerce rapidly expanded. The territory on either side of the channel was now under one ruler and with Norman merchants settling in London and other trading centres, the exchange of goods between England and the continent developed rapidly. The constant stream of traders and craftsmen crossing the channel led to the introduction of surnames based on places in France. Not surprisingly "Paris" was one of them. It was so well-established even before the 12th century that it is especially noted in the case of Matthew Paris (c.1200-1259) the celebrated medieval historian, that his name was inherited as a family name and not conferred or adopted.

In the case of "Bullen" and its variations, it is clearly a place-name and would have meant "the guy from Boulogne". In taking foreign names into the language our ancestors tended to substitute whatever noises in English seemed about the same! The combined palatal nasals of "-ogne-" in "Boulogne" did not occur in English but the syllabic consonant in "-en-" was found to do quite as well! This practice can often obscure other imported surnames. An example is "Stamp" which is the best our medieval predecessors could make of "Etampes" (30 miles south of Paris)

Many of the immigrants from Normandy were involved in the woollen industry. The extensive pasture-lands in East Anglia provided a source of wool and hides which found a ready market on the continent. As might be expected, many of the earliest imported names are to be found in that region. In the case of men from Boulogne the concentration is very noticeable. In Suffolk (1121) we find Helias de Bolonia: in Lincolnshire (1204) William Bulein and in Essex (1205) Richard de Boloygne. It should be noted that in these examples the use of "de" simply meant "from" and had no aristocratic significance.

Strangers from Bologne were not restricted to the south of England. In Cheshire (1289) there was listed a Thomas de Bolenne and way up north in Edinburgh (1394) dwelt Aleyn de Bolenne and in Glasgow (1460) was found Thomas Bullyn.

The most celebrated bearer of the name was Anne Boleyn (c. 1507-1536) the second wife of Henry VIII. How her family acquired the surname is not really clear. The trading connections with Normandy are revealed through her great grandfather being described as a prosperous merchant in London, of which city, as Sir Geoffrey Boleyn, he was Lord Mayor in 1457. Her father became Earl of Wiltshire and Ormonde (County Tipperary) and introduced the surname into Ireland where it is still prevalent around Cork.

There are about ten variations on the surname although only "Bullen" and "Bollen" are listed in the local directory. In keeping with its origin, "Bullen" is noticeably concentrated in East Anglia, and numbers fall off as one moves away. Apart from its Tudor associations, the name has not been borne by any "headliners". Though, to be sure, when lawyers want to know how to put a case together, they consult a guide book jointly compiled by "Bullen & Leake". Otherwise of "Bullen" there are about half a dozen entries in the local directory and the name is known to many of us in Matlock on account of our friend Karl at the Bank Road News.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 12th July 1999.

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