This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 3rd May 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 CARMAN?

This name has been specially, requested by a reader. It has close similarities with "Carter", "Carrier" and "Charman" and shares their meaning - i.e. a person who transports goods. However it can also signify "a peasant farmer" and this will be looked at in the present feature, leaving the other details for a later issue.

"Carman" is not very common. There are only 15 in the local directory. This infrequency can be attributed to the fact that it is directly derived from a Germanic source which provides both the disagreeable expression "churlish" and the personal name "Charles" which has often been viewed askance - e.g. "Ain't he a proper Charley!" To be described as "churlish" implies that somebody is a vulgar boor. It attributes to him all the characteristics of a "churl" and that was a word which the Norman aristocracy poached from its Anglo-Saxon equivalent "ceorl".

Among the English it had been a perfectly acceptable title because it signified "Man" whereas the Normans contrived to debase its meaning to something akin to "yokel" and even "yobbo"!

As a personal name "Charles" also meant "Man". It was not unknown to our English ancestors but it was never popular and, indeed, after the invasion went quite out of favour - probably for the very good reason that it was hugely admired, in the frenchified form "Charles", by the Normans on account of their first king "Charles the Great" or "Charlemagne".

After 500 years however it resurfaced because James I (1603-1625) thought it might prove lucky since all his previous five namesakes had successfully been stabbed, blown-up, assassinated, slaughtered in battle and gone mad! He ought to have taken warning that many kings called "Charles" had also come to grief - e.g. Charles VIII of France just about knocked off his head after passing under a low arch! So James began by naming his son "Charles" who became Charles I - and we all know what happened to him! Charles II spent years in exile and Charles, the Young Pretender (1720-1788) ended up as a chronic alcoholic in Rome.

The name later acquired a dubious popularity during the 18th century, largely because people who still supported the Stuarts and detested the Hanoverians saw it as an artful way of registering their allegiance to the Cavaliers. It remained very popular right until 1925 and then went quite out of favour. Only recently has it shown signs of a slight comeback.

Going back now to our early English ancestors, the infrequency of "Charles" among them as a personal name can be attributed to the fact that "carl" or "churl" had been part of the everyday vocabulary and meant simply "a Man". Conferring it as a baptismal name would have been the equivalent, modern usage, of naming a boy "Lad" or "Chap".

The old meaning still survives in the expression "Man and Wife'. In an early English version of the Bible "ceorl" is used in context where it means "husband" (e.g. John, IV 17). Furthermore Anglo- Saxon society regognised three forms of status: the "Earls" who were the governors; the "Thanes" who did the fighting and the "Churls" who farmed the land. To have been called a "churl" was no disparagement.

After 1066 these distinction were swept away. William the Bastard (as modern historians now describe him) seized all the land and parcelled it out among his cronies. A few highly favoured "Earls" were permitted to retain their rank but the rest of the Saxon community had the new and hated feudal system imposed upon them. The former "ceorls" and "churls" were re-named "serfs" and from having once been an acceptable and recognised status name, it was debased into a term of contempt and abuse. In 1380 the poet Chaucer refers to one of his characters as "the foul churl, that swine!"

Nevertheless there is tenuous evidence that a few favoured "churls" enjoyed a special and localised status, and acquired the name "Churlmen" or "Carmen".

What little evidence is available to the Peak Advertiser suggests that is was certainly something to be a "Carman" but exactly what it entailed must be left to the social historians. For example, in Northumberland (1196) a certain "Simon" is specifically picked out as the nephew of "Kareman" and in Kent (1201) a man called "Hamo" is noted as being the son of "Karlman". In 1325 the wife of "Thomas le Carman" bears the dignified designation of "Dame Anne" which could go to reinforcing the suggestion that she and her husband had some standing among their neighbours.

Spelling variations are not significant. In Cambridge (1279) a certain "Robert" appears both as "Carleman" and "Karlman". The evolution of "Carlman" into "Carman" is not exceptional either. It illustrates a trend whereby the letter "-l-" in the middle of a word loses its sound, although it may be retained in writing - e.g. half, alms.

Because the Normans did not succeed in tyrannising the Scots, the name did not evolve among them: nor is it listed in Ireland. Strangely enough the only personality appearing in the Standard Biographies is is William Carman (1861-1929) a Canadian-born writer whose poems about life in the open air are still included in Anthologies.

Site Index Site Index © Desmond Holden
From "The Peak Advertiser", 3rd May 1999.

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