This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 10th May 1993, 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 BUNTING?

The exact significance of this surname is unknown. It is possible that it might have originated from a place name - Buntingford. This is a settlement in Hertfordshire, on the main A10 highway, approximately half-way between Cambridge and London. The "ford" part of the name certainly refers to the fact that the town stands on a crossing place on the River Rib - a tributary of the River Lea which eventually runs into the Thames estuary at a point opposite Greenwich. It is reasonable to surmise that the "ford" at Buntingford might well have been marshy and well-stocked with reeds and attractive to large colonies of the variety of bird known as the Reed Bunting. Even so, this still does not provide any clue as to the ultimate source of the word "Bunting".

However the name was well established by the Thirteenth Century and is on record a century earlier; in the Rolls of the Abbey of Bury St. Edmunds, the first allusion to the name is dated 1188.

The antiquity of the name is attested from it being used in a well-known song, popular with nursing mothers - "Bye, Baby Bunting" and this confirms the fact that "bunting" is an old form of pet-name, or endearment - but, yet again, what it means is still shrouded in mystery. It has been suggested that it is based on the French word "bon" or "bonne" meaning "pretty" and to which has been added the diminuitive suffix "-et" or "-ette". This frequently occurs in names such as "Annette" or "Nicholette" (i.e. "Little Anne" and "Little Nicola"). To this suffix is then added another one "-en" which also means small (as in "kitten" meaning "little cat"). The form "-en" has now changed to "-ing" and so we are left with only "bunting" which signifies "a pretty little thing".

Well, the foregoing explanation is certainly very persuasive but it is not entirely convincing. An alternative suggestion is that the name might be linked with the flour-milling trade. Millers once used to sift flour through a type of coarse, open-weave cloth to which the name "bunt" was given and the process of passing and working the flour throuh the material hence was called "bunting". It could be, then, that a person who now bears the name "Bunting" might once have had an ancestor whose occupation was "bunting". Exactly why the cloth should have been called "bunt" is not known but there is some slender evidence that it was a type of cloth used also for packages and therefore linked to the word which gives us "bundle". In passing, it might be noted that the coarse cloth used for sifting was put to a secondary use in the way of providing material for banners and flags. The cloth would have been coarse enough to begin with and would have deteriorated during the sifting process and would have had very little further use except for display. Hence the modern word "bunting" to describe flags and streamers.

It was also the practice of our forebears to give people names which said something about any noticeable physical feature such as "Long" or "Redhead". Hence it is suggested that "Bunting" might very well be derived from a Scots word "buntin" meaning "short and thick" and so quite appropriate to describe a small, cuddly infant. This notion is further reinforced by relating it to the Welsh word "bontin" which refers to the haunches and from which the word "bontinog" has been constructed, and which means "large haunches" or "expansive waistline". No doubt, then, in earlier times, when it was customary to identify members of the community by their physical characteristics, a person with a somewhat expansive girth might be alluded to as "Bontinog" and which has eventually come down to us as "Bunting".

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 10th May 1993.

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