This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 21st October 1996, 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 CAMERON?

Some time ago a Reader wrote to the "Peak Advertiser" and expressed concern that it had come to her notice that the name she bore, "Cameron", meant "crooked nose". She wanted to know if this was really the case and could she be told more about it.

There is no denying that the name can carry such a meaning, but it has also another which is perfectly innocuous because it simply describes a form of landscape. The ambiguous allusion to "a form of landscape" has been introduced deliberately because "Cameron" has not been conferred upon any major location. It belongs to the Scottish Lowlands and one would need to have available very large scale maps in order to pin-point all the half-dozen or so sites listed in the Official Gazetteer, and, in fact, the only places incorporating "Cameron" and which appear in any current road atlas, if at all, are a series of neighbourhood names in the County of Fife, about 4 miles south of St. Andrews.

The earliest records refer to all such locations as these in various forms of spelling but basically they combine two units: "cam" and "brun". The second unit, "brun" means "slopes". This word eventually ended up in the dialects of Scotland and Northern England as "brae" and has become familiar because it is frequently used in poetry - "ye banks and braes of bonnie Doon".

It should here be noted that when describing elevation in the landscape there is also the word "mor" and this means "hill". The difference lies in that the special characteristic of a hill rests in its height and prominence, whereas in the case of a slope, it is usually whether it is curved or gentle or steep. The expression "brae" describes more particularly the land beside a river and which usually slopes downwards towards the stream.

It could very well have been that the banks of whatever river give rise to the name "Cameron" were of such pronounced inclination or convolutions as to attract the designation "crooked" - i.e. "cam". It would be interesting to examine the lie of the land through which flows "Cameron Burn" and where the "Cameron Reservoir" has been developed. The configuration might very well bear out all this speculation - but one must be careful and not let the imagination run too freely!

Even so, the idea of "crookedness" lies behind other place-names where the features of the landscape will justify such an interpretation. A good example is "Cold Cam" which stands above a very pronouncedly crooked escarpment. It can be found just off the A170 road, south-west of Helmsley in the North Riding. Whether similar features have led to the naming of "Combs" in Derbyshire just south of Chapel - is a matter of some speculation and the point is not settled.

What is certain, though, is that "cam" is an extremely old word and it belongs to the primitive languages once spoken in these islands, long even before the Roman invasion. It is distantly related to other words which carry the sense of "curved", "bent", "crooked" etc. Examples include "camber" - the curve on a road surface; and "chamber" - originally a room with a curved ceiling. It is easily recognised in the vernacular expression about having "a game leg" - meaning that the limb has suffered injury or is defective, thus impairing its use. It is pronounced "gammy" by the way.

Hence, if bearers of the name are of Scottish Lowland ancestry then their surname can be interpreted as: One who dwells on the steep slopes. However if one is of Highland descent the same name has a different meaning and a slightly different origin. The first unit, "cam" certainly continues the motion of "bent" or "askew" but the second, "-ron" is based on the Old Gaelic word for "nose". This took the form "Sron" and in passing it might be noted that in a rather roundabout way it can be related to the Ancient Greek word "rhinos" which also means "nose".

The first syllable, "Cam-" certainly means "bent" or "crooked" but that does not necessarily signify that the original person called "crooked nose" was positively grotesque in that respect. It could simply have been that his nose was aquiline or a little more prominent than the norm.

Unfortunately the designation was conferred over a thousand years ago and no pictorial representations survive, so we will never really know. Tradition has it that that the man so-called was the younger son of an early King of Denmark. He allied himself with Fergus II of Scotland and helped him in battle - all around the year 404 AD. A detailed history of the Cameron people would be out of place here. All that is relevant in this context is that today the clan is associated with that region in the County of Inverness around Loch Eil and Loch Arkaig.

From being a clan surname it has also passed into being the first name for a boy. It has long been popular in Australia and is becoming more frequently encountered over here since the beginning of the decade.

In Scotland it is deemed to be one of the widely distributed names and even locally the directories list over 100 subscribers.

The Camerons have certainly played their part in the story of our island. They have formed themselves into two regiments and a Reformed Presbyterian Church. Pro bably the most colourful character was Sir Ewan Cameron, who is also called Lochiel (1629-1719). He is said to have killed the last wolf in the Highlands single-handed.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 21st October 1996.

This is a Genealogy Website
URL of this page:
Logo by courtesy of the Open Clip Art Library