This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 25th January 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 "BURTON"?

This surname is widely distributed over the British Isles. It is what is called a "habitation name" - that is to say, it was conferred upon the original nominees to indicate that they came from a particular place in the area which was called "Burton". There are, in fact, at least 31 places in the U.K. called either "Burton" simply or in combination with another name, e.g. "Burton upon Trent".

The name is made up from two units: "Bur" and "ton". The first signifies "a fortress" and the second means "a farm or an enclosure". So, together, they indicate that a man once called "Burton" was identified as "he who belongs or comes from the fortified enclosure". Although the name occurred most frequently in the Midlands and Northern England, the earliest records seem to suggest a tendency to focus in Shropshire.

The name "Burton" is closely linked with the name "Burke" and its variants, since both are derived from the very old words "burc" or "burk" - meaning a "Fortress". These words can be traced back even earlier to forms which now give us placenames such as Edinburgh, Hamburg and Luxembourg, all of which show how important defence was to our ancestors.

The second unit of the name "ton" is derived from the root word which now gives us "town" Although the original forms of the word were extremely different, such as "tun", "toon"; "tone" as well as "town", they all meant the same thing: a "place that was enclosed" and the enclosure could have described almost anything from a farmyard, garden, as well as a settlement. Eventually the expression was used to describe a group of dwellings, enclosed, usually, by a wall.

The number of people who were identified as belonging to or coming from such "fortified enclosures" must have been countless and today the local telephone directory alone lists nearly 300. It might be interesting to note that old meaning lying behind the word "Town" is still preserved in the dialect word "tine" which in some parts of the country refers to the process of building a hedge.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 25th January 1993.

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