This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 11st August 1997, 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 BUSWELL?

From time to time attempts have been made to trace the origins of all the names currently found in the United Kingdom. The most recent (1994) accounts for some 70,000 but "Buswell" is not mentioned! This is at first surprising since the name is well-represented in the Midlands - especially in the Counties of Leicester, Northampton, Warwick and Oxford.

However since the afore-mentioned account endeavours to explain the meanings of surnames (and their variations) it is possible that "Buswell" was passed over simply because it was deemed to be an obvious misspelling of "Boswell". During the time when surnames were evolving, the records would have been made out in the crabbed handwriting employed by Medieval Scribes and the letter "-o-" could easily have been mistaken for "-u-". Scripts at that time were based upon what is called "Gothic Lettering" and even in the modern elegant Printed Forms, these two characters can easily be confused. Hence what applies to "Boswell" can also be attributed to "Boswell".

This suggestion (and it is put no higher than a suggestion) that "Buswell" is another version of "Boswell" carries some credibility in that there is a place in Scotland called "St. Boswell's". It is in the County of Roxburgh, standing on the A699 Road, about 5 miles South-East of Melrose. However no saint of that name is described in Butler's "Lives of the Saints" and there is no Commemoration set forth in the Roman Missal. So, one is obliged to conclude that the name is a later and corrupt rendering of the name of a Holy Man strongly identified with the neighbourhood, and whose name, in Gaelic, was "St. Boisil". His day is 23rd February and his date of death, 664 A.D.

It is accepted that "Boisil" modulated into "Boswell" and provides the source of the present place-name but on the evidence to be presented, it seems that "Boswell" was actually imported from England in the first place. Even so, there is no place in England called either "Boswell" or "Buswell" which seems strange, because these names have all the appearance of being location names. The rather heavy presence near Leicester of the similar forms found in Husband's Bosworth and Market Bosworth is certainly enticing but these names lead nowhere.

As it happens the Scottish connection provides the best clue as to its origin. This is because in the Records for Fife during the 13th Century, one encounters a Sir Roger de Bosvil. It is not generally appreciated that the Norman Invaders, following the Conquest (1066).. were well represented in Scotland. The name, then, is Norman-French and can be traced to a small place on the Channel coast. It was apparently once called "Beuzeville" but (according to the Harmsworth Atlas) is now called "Beuzeval".

The second unit of the name, "-ville" signifies "settlement". The first, "Beuze" is based on the Germanic personal name "Boso" for which a modern equivalent would be "Dare-Devil".

How it made its way North is not clear but it is certain that many Scots families now called "Boswell" (or "Buswell") can trace their origin to this source. It is interesting to speculate how it influenced the naming of "St. Bowell's", but this is something local historians are better qualified to deal with.

It is reasonable to suppose that if a name of Norman-French origins could have progressed as far North as Fife, it is equally as reasonable to assume that the same name could have established itself this side of the Border. It is known for certain that a family called "Bosville" was flourishing in the West Riding. The Records suggest that they were associated with the Manor of Gunthwaite, which is 2 miles due north of Penistone. In the York Register we encounter "John de Bosevil" (1273) and "Agnes de Bosseville" (c.1300).

The heavy concentration of the name in the Midlands Counties can probably be explained by reference to the fact that many followers of William the conqueror were granted lands there. This accounts for the proliferation of Norman-French tags to places in the Region: Melton Mowbray, Newton Harcourt, Kibworth Beauchamp, etc. It is not inconceivable that there might have been a place to which "de Beuzeville" could have been permitted to recruit a small armed force whose members followed him around and were known "the de Beuzeville men". They may have been a sort of Roving Company from which members dropped out and settled sporadically. They were known to their new neighbours as "one of the Beuzeville lot" and front that their name evolved. Still this ideal is not put forward with much confidence.

The name is certainly belonging to the Central Region: William de Boesavilla (Stafford: 1130), Robert de Bosewill (Norfolk: 1199). Simon de Bosevil (Bedford 1216) and Henry de Bosvil (Northampton: 1273).

What often happens in cases where "aristocratic surnames" are borne by ordinary folk, is that original bearers had assumed them as identifying themselves as servants of the over-lord whose name they adopted. Indeed the practice of servants being addressed in the same way as their employers by fellow-servants from other households and by tradesmen was still being observed even during the present Century.

There is a place in the North Riding called "Bossall" about 9 miles North-East of York. This also might have originated some localised forms of the surname, but it is extremely doubtful.

The name "Boswell" is well-known in Scotland, especially in connection with James Boswell, the celebrated biographer of Samuel Johnson. In the form "Buswell" it is known to us here in Bakewell on account of our friend Tristan at the News Agency in Rutland Square.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 11st August 1997.

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