This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 8th February 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 DALTON?

This name is made up of two parts, "dal" and "ton" which appear in modern times as the words "dale" and "town". Consequently it is what is called a "Habitation Name" and originally it would have been given to identify persons who dwelt in a protected settlement in a valley. Not surprisingly, it is widely distributed in the North of England where there are many valleys - Derbyshire, Lancashire, Durham, Northumberland, Westmoreland, Cumberland and Yorkshire. In fact the earliest record is dated 1155 and is found in Durham.

The unit "dal" can easily be recognised as being the same as "dale" or "dell" and in the older languages of the North was used to describe a deep or low-lying place. (The word "vale", despite it similarity, is not related). The final syllable, "-ton" is derived from a word which meant "enclosure" and from which the modern word "town" has evolved. Hence the first "Daltons" were "those people who come from a fortified enclosure in the valley".

A few families can however trace their name to a completely different source. It is based on the French place-name "Autun" which is some 60 miles south-west of Dijon. The name itself means the "town of the Emperor Augustus" which was originally rendered: "Augustodunum" and which in time became "Autun". (Note the presence of "-dun" in the name, which is related to our "tun" or "ton"). Certain families in France would indicate that they came from this place by calling themselves "de Autun" and no doubt some of them settled in England around the time of the Norman Invasion. Their name modified to "Dalton" and it is possible that the bearers of that name in the Midlands might look to their origins in that quarter. Sadly, attempts to "Frenchify" the name by writing it "D'Alton" are purely romantic!

The most famous bearer of the name is John Dalton (1766-1844) the man who found out all about Atoms, and who came from Cumberland.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 8th February 1993.

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